House of Commons Hansard #203 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was service.


The House resumed from November 7, 2012, consideration of the motion that Bill C-464, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act (parental leave for multiple births or adoptions), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Sana Hassainia NDP Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to explain to my colleagues why it is so important that we pass Bill C-464.

This legislation will have major implications for Canadian families. It will have a profound impact and affect the day-to-day lives of numerous Canadians.

Bill C-464 proposes changes to the Canadian Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act that would offer better coverage for parents blessed with multiples.

The birth of a child brings such joy, but it also comes with anxieties and hard work. As wonderful an event as childbirth is, it comes with a set of responsibilities that require a tremendous amount of time and energy from the parents. And those responsibilities increase tenfold when multiples are involved. Taking care of an infant is a tremendous job; taking care of two, three or even four infants is even more demanding.

Unfortunately, the current legislation makes no distinction between these two types of childbirth. Whether one child or multiple children are brought into this world, parents receive the same coverage and support. That is a major flaw that Bill C-464 addresses to bring justice to parents of multiples and to truly encourage parents to have children.

The current legislation works well enough for those who are expecting or adopting a single child. They receive employment insurance benefits for up to 35 weeks of leave. The amount varies, but it is up to 55% of regular salary, to a maximum of $501 per week. Generally speaking, this helps new parents take care of their child during the first weeks of life, but for those who have twins, for example, it is often insufficient, given that they have twice as many demands.

As anyone who has experienced a multiple birth knows, having twins presents twice as many challenges. Parents have two mouths to feed. They have to buy twice as many clothes and twice as much food. Sometimes they have to renovate their house or even move, not to mention the fact that two children require twice as much time from their parents. These details cannot be ignored. Psychologically and physically, multiple births also demand more of parents. They have to care for, feed and nurture two babies.

I think I speak for all parents in Canada when I say that it is a challenging experience. However, our current legislation does not recognize that. It treats parents who have one baby the same as those who have two or more. But that is definitely not the reality. This only makes sense: two children, twice as many needs.

I can think of a number of good reasons to provide concrete assistance to parents who have multiple births. It is important to note, for instance, that compared to 1991, the number of multiple births in Canada has risen by 50%. At present, over 3% of pregnancies in Canada are multiple pregnancies, and we can only expect the number of multiple births to increase in the years to come.

We have to help these people. These parents need to be able to look after their children properly. We will be providing concrete assistance to Canadian families who truly deserve it. As elected members representing Canadians, it is our duty to support these families and to encourage them to add to their family for the common well-being of our society.

Not only is it the right thing to do, but it simply makes sense because it will help our society in the long term. A society that looks after its children is a healthy society, and families with less debt contribute to Canada's economic development. That is why Bill C-464 increases the maximum number of weeks of parental benefits to 70 in the case of multiple births or adoptions. It is simple: 70 weeks divided by two gives each parent 35 weeks of benefits to stay at home and take care of their children together.

We would all agree that this is a much more appropriate period of time given the responsibilities associated with the arrival of two or more children at once.

Promoting gender equality is another important reason. We have come a long way in that regard in the past few decades, but we still have work to do. Giving the same rights to all parents, no matter how many children they welcome into their family, is a step in the right direction. I am also thinking of the fathers. We must not forget them. In a potentially difficult situation, they have to be given the same support as mothers. Making it possible for fathers to stay home with their families also helps mothers and the entire family to better cope with this challenge.

Bill C-464 does exactly that. It allows the father and the mother to take enough time to deal with the challenges of a multiple birth.

I know that I am speaking on behalf of parents who have experienced a multiple birth when I say that Bill C-464 will be of great assistance to them.

Multiple Births Canada is a Canadian organization that focuses solely on this issue. After studying the main provisions of the bill, the organization provided its unqualified support. The associations of parents of multiples in Montreal, Quebec City and Trois-Rivières also back Bill C-464. Need I say that we have strong support from Vancouver to Halifax for this bill?

Naturally, as is the case with any public policy, there is a cost associated with passing Bill C-464. In these uncertain economic times, we absolutely have to ensure that we make good use of taxpayers' money. We all agree with that. That is why I am pleased to inform you that Bill C-464 is an affordable and very effective initiative. With a modest amount of money and some goodwill, we can improve the quality of life of many Canadians and, at the same time, improve the economic health of Canadian families in these difficult economic times.

It is important to remember that the bill proposes changes to employment insurance. Taxpayers as a group will not have to foot the bill for this; workers will pay for it themselves. I sincerely believe that this is a fair, feasible and cost-effective measure. The public as a whole will not bear the burden of this new policy. It will be placed on those who will benefit from it. This is an honest and low-cost way for us to offer better coverage to parents.

What kind of money are we talking about? Experts have estimated that this change to employment insurance would cost approximately $27 million a year. As my colleagues are aware, Canadian workers already pay into employment insurance. They are entitled to these benefits. We must remember that this is not just an expense; it is an investment in the health of our families and in lowering household debt, and it is a tangible incentive to increase Canada's already too-low birth rate.

Workers who adopt or give birth to two or more children are also entitled to support. They do not deserve inferior treatment simply because they had a multiple birth. They also pay into the employment insurance system every week. It only makes sense to be fair and practical and to offer Canadian families appropriate coverage that is suited to their needs.

I believe that it is our duty as a society to help those who choose to start or expand a family. I know that my hon. colleagues here in this House share this determination to improve the lives of our constituents. The current system works well for most new parents. However, as I have already explained, there is a glaring deficiency when it comes to multiple births, which have been on the rise over the past few years.

That is why Bill C-464 seeks to help young families who are facing this big responsibility. This bill is thoughtful and efficient and would provide financial assistance to families who are greatly in need of it. The household debt of families with more than one child is often too high. Bill C-464 responds directly to that need.

We are all well aware that the issues that Canadians care about most are the economy and the importance of family. I can assure hon. members that Bill C-464 very effectively addresses both of these concerns.

It is through helping families—the heart of Canadian society—that we will improve the lives of Canadians. By so doing, we will also help Canadians get out of debt: a family with less debt is a family that can more effectively participate in Canada's economic development.

We are also responding to Canadians' demands by promoting gender equality within families. Such gender equality also benefits all Canadians who just want to thrive within their families.

Another issue that is of concern to Canadians is the dramatic drop in our country's birth rate. No doubt, one reason for this drop is that families are in tight financial situations and cannot afford to have a lot of children. Once again, Bill C-464 responds to this concern because it encourages Canadian families to have more children and provides security in the case of multiple births. Encouraging families to have children is a very good thing to do in a country with a declining population.

Finally, Bill C-464 is being introduced in the House today in order to meet the needs of parents that are not taken into consideration by employment insurance, despite the fact that, in the case of multiple births or adoptions, parents need twice as much help. This is a fair, sustainable and pragmatic bill.

For all of these reasons, I am quite convinced that passing this bill would be very helpful to thousands of Canadians.

I ask my colleagues to set side all political gamesmanship and work together to develop and improve our society as well as our economy. This is how we will move forward. Let us take advantage of this historic opportunity and deliver a clear statement that Canada is a country that is concerned about the welfare of families from coast to coast to coast.

Once this legislation has been passed, we will be able to look back with pride at what we have accomplished. Future generations will be grateful.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question relates to the cost of the bill.

In my colleague's remarks she mentioned that experts estimated the cost of the bill at $27 million, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated an $80 million cost and department estimates go up as high as $100 million. I would like the hon. member to take the House through how those costs were calculated for the $27 million in her bill and tell the House what specific experts were called upon to come to that number.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Sana Hassainia NDP Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, obviously studies have already been done on this subject. Of course, the figures vary from year to year, depending on the number of births.

Where is the money going to come from for this program? Parents already pay EI premiums. This bill is an attempt to mitigate an injustice in the present system. While all parents pay premiums, the fact is that a parent with a single baby is currently entitled to 35 weeks of benefits. A parent of multiples is also entitled to 35 weeks of benefits.

A parent who subsequently has a second child is entitled to an additional 35 weeks of benefits, for a total of 72 weeks of benefits, whereas the parent of multiples will have been entitled to only 35 weeks of benefits overall.

Of course it is up to the government to decide where it wants to invest its money. We know that we want to invest these dollars in the health of Canadian families.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am somewhat sympathetic as to what the hon. member is talking about, especially since over the weekend my son's wife gave birth to my first grandchild, and I am very happy.

Having said that, I wonder if the member sees the benefit of, and to what degree she would be open to, amendments in committee. At the end of the day I think all members recognize the importance of keeping mums and dads at home at the time of birth and in the first little while when the baby is developing.

Could the member comment on the degree to which she feels her bill would be better if it were amended in committee and how open she is to that?

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Sana Hassainia NDP Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, the bill that I have introduced would clearly meet the needs of Canadian parents of multiples, whether these are the result of multiple adoption or multiple birth.

We are prepared to study this issue in committee, and we would gladly welcome any amendments, if need be.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for Verchères—Les Patriotes on her speech. Her bill is a completely legitimate initiative.

We know for a fact that multiples have low birth weights and that multiples born prematurely often require a higher level of care than a single baby.

Could the member for Verchères—Les Patriotes talk to us about the consequences for parents of multiples of having two babies who wake up and eat at different times and who require more postnatal care than single babies?

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Sana Hassainia NDP Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for asking that excellent question.

A multiple pregnancy generally results in some health problems and multiples, for example those born prematurely, may have serious health issues. A woman who gives birth to multiples may also experience serious postpartum health problems.

Therefore it is very important to allow the mother the time she needs to recover, with the help of the father who stays home to care for one or both babies in order to give her time to catch her breath, slowly get back on her feet and return to work later. Even her employer will benefit, because she will be healthier, both mentally and physically, when she returns to work.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-464.

Any child is a gift. I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Winnipeg North on the birth of his first grandchild. That is certainly a momentous occasion.

Any child is a blessing. I would also like to call out in the House the birth of Aurélie and Clémentine Smith, twins born at Christmas to very good friends of mine, Paul Smith and Gillian Hewitt Smith. Children are blessings that should be recognized in our communities and today in the House.

First, the bill would amend the Employment Insurance Act to double the maximum number of weeks of parental benefits for new parents who are blessed with multiple children from a single pregnancy or those who adopt more than one child at the same time. Second, the bill would amend the Canada Labour Code to protect the jobs of these parents for 72 weeks in federally regulated workplaces.

Unfortunately, the government cannot support Bill C-464. While we understand the good intentions of the hon. member, her bill would be economically challenging and would run contrary to the structure and ideals of our EI system.

This government more than any previous government understands the importance of family. The families of Durham certainly understand that and I understand that as the proud father of Mollie and Jack, our two children. My wife, Rebecca, and I have had to make decisions in relation to child care and who works in our household.

However, the bill that is presently before the House would not be financially responsible at this time and would undermine the insurance-based principle of the EI system. It was estimated by the member of Parliament for Verchères—Les Patriotes that the extension of parental benefits proposed through her bill would cost $27 million. However, the government estimates that program costs alone could be closer to $100 million, not mentioning possible administrative costs. Therefore the financial implications on the EI program could be four times the hon. member's estimate.

Apart from the costs of the legislation, which as I said would approach $100 million, the NDP has proposed over $3.8 billion of new EI spending per year. That is $3.8 billion that would need to be contributed by workers and employers through increased premiums to pay for these benefits. In these fragile economic times, when the EI account is still in a deficit situation, this would not be economically or financially prudent.

These premium increases would come from the pockets of hard-working Canadians who would have less money to bring home to support their families. Employers would also have to spend more money on premiums, which in some cases could be the difference between a business thriving, surviving or going bankrupt.

Just this weekend I met with Scott Delong, a small business owner in the Durham area who is already being squeezed by provincial changes to WSIB. He cannot afford yet another burden, such as the one the NDP is proposing. While our government introduced a new rate setting mechanism to ensure stability and predictability for EI premiums, the NDP is proposing measures that would see EI premiums rise over 16% in a single year.

Allow me to speak for a moment to the insurance-based principles of EI.

First and foremost, we have a good system currently in place that supports parents while providing flexibility so that they can decide what works best for their families. Under the Canada Labour Code parents welcoming a new child into their home can legally take 37 weeks off work to care for that child following the birth or adoption. They are also entitled to 35 weeks of parental benefits under the employment insurance program. The EI parental benefit is designed to temporarily replace income lost while caring for a child. It makes it easier for parents to stay home and care for their newborn or newly adopted child. It is also flexible, allowing parents to share the 35 weeks as they see fit.

The legislation is clear. The EI parental benefit is not tied to the number of children born or adopted at any one time. In fact, no jurisdiction in Canada currently provides additional leave under its employment standards legislation for parents of multiple newborns or multiple adopted children.

The EI program is an insurance program. It is not a social welfare program where the financial needs or circumstances of each individual are considered or measured when determining eligibility, entitlement and the rate of weekly benefits. To put it another way, EI special benefits are meant to replace a portion of an individual's income while they are away from work. What is being insured is the loss of wages, not the personal circumstance of the claimant. To support the bill would fundamentally change the approach to EI special benefits, which is not something the government could support.

Let me also briefly touch on a federal court of appeal decision from January 24, 2013, just weeks ago, which deals with the subject matter we are discussing today. A brief summary of the case is that a Canadian couple was fighting for 35 weeks of EI benefits for each parent because they had given birth to twins. The federal court of appeal was clear in its decision that the act allows for 35 weeks of parental leave for each pregnancy, not for each child resulting from a pregnancy or adoption. The court also found that it did not constitute discrimination, nor inequality under the charter.

Canadian families are a key priority for our government. We have proven our commitment by assisting families with dedicated initiatives, such as the Canada child tax benefit, the national child benefit supplement and the universal child care benefit. Over 1.5 million families benefit from the universal child care benefit each year. It is a program that was created by our government to provide parents a choice in how they will manage their families. Also, 3.3 million parents claimed the child tax benefit. The average Canadian family is now saving $3,000 per year in taxes from what they paid before our government was elected. In my recent byelection in Durham hundreds of parents told me how much they appreciate the choice and assistance these family-centred policies provide.

The child tax benefit and the universal child care benefit are in addition to the 15 weeks of maternity leave granted to mothers, as well as the 35 weeks of parental leave currently offered under EI. As the Prime Minister said previously, we believe that families are the building blocks of our society. Our government has reduced taxes and increased benefits so that parents will have flexibility when it comes to how they raise their children. This is because we believe parents are best suited to decide how to raise their children.

In conclusion, the government cannot support a bill that would increase the cost to the EI account of up to $100 million per year. We also cannot support a bill that would change the fundamental nature of a national program that has already proven to be flexible and adaptable to the needs of families. Therefore, I ask all members of the House to join me in supporting our current robust EI system by voting against Bill C-464.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate this morning, not just as the critic for human resources and skills development for the Liberal Party but as the father of three boys. There is a fairly significant storm hitting the east coast today and schools have been cancelled in Cape Breton and in many districts. As my wife teaches at the community college, she is home today. Therefore, I will be very cautious not to try to overstate how much impact I had in those early days in rearing the three boys. However, from my perspective, I was a spectator in something that I thought was pretty impressive with all that goes on with raising three pretty high-energy boys who were sort born in steps and stairs.

Young mothers almost need a third arm, with all the bags, strollers and kids. We can only imagine the impact when they are trying to do this for twins. When there is a situation with multiple births, we can only appreciate the additional effort and work that has to go into that situation. It is certainly not a normal situation. It is not an abnormal situation, but it is certainly one that I think deserves this opportunity to look at the bill that was brought forward by my colleague.

There are a number of points that I want to raise in my 10 minutes. The challenge is to find that balance between the special circumstances that arise in cases of multiple births and balancing good, fair, reasonable social policy against the cost to the people who fund the program. That is where we have to come up with something pragmatic that also makes sense.

Millions of employers and employees pay into the employment insurance fund. It is our responsibility, as legislators, to ensure that changes in legislation and regulation are looked at and vetted here. Unlike what we have seen with the changes to the current EI system, when we look at working while on claim and some of the other changes that have had a significant impact on seasonal industries, I believe it is in Canadians' best interests that these changes be vetted.

However, I have some questions that I think need to be answered before the bill can be properly judged. I do not think we have seen all the information. There have been a couple of points made. I certainly am not confident in the information that I have. I believe the vetting of this issue and the opportunity to hear witnesses on both sides of the issue would serve us well. It would serve the committee well and that would serve the House well, as this goes forward.

However, I do not think that we can dismiss the intent of the bill, which is to help families deal with unforeseen and challenging circumstances. That is why I want to support the bill going to committee so that we can assess the merits of the bill.

Canada is one of the most generous countries when we talk about maternal and paternal benefits. Being a proud member of the Liberal Party, I think there is much that the Liberal Party has done in contributing to the reputation that we hold in the world. In 1971, the government led by former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau brought forward the first maternity leave, the 15-week maternity leave. Nineteen years later, Prime Minister Chrétien's government increased those parental benefits to 35 weeks and reduced the hours of eligibility from 700 to 600, allowing more parents to spend more time caring for their children without worrying about losing their jobs or where to find income.

It is noteworthy that my colleague from Durham is speaking on behalf of the Conservative Party. It is worth pointing out that when Mr. Chrétien brought that legislation in to increase the benefits, the Canadian Alliance, in fact, voted against those increases. I was not surprised to hear that he was not ready to get up and champion this particular piece of legislation.

Bill C-464 is admirable in the sense that it is trying to help parents who face a special situation. I think all of us here in the House can agree that multiple births are a very special situation. The Dionne quintuplets were very special and captured the excitement and imagination of an entire country. Many times, in multiple births, there are problems with the pregnancy and delivery, whether it is twins, triplets or quintuplets. There is physical, emotional and psychological stress placed on the parents and children, not to mention the financial burden that comes with multiple births. I think those challenges are high and worth noting.

According to Multiple Births Canada, 57% of twins and 98% of higher order multiples are born pre-term, with low birth weights and postnatal concerns. These facts cannot be overlooked or lessened. They are part of the basis of why this bill should at least be studied.

However, some of the arguments put forward in support of this bill have flaws as well. For example, the fact that some countries, most notably Europe, have additional benefits for multiple births argues that Canada should. However, in many of these countries, the total benefits provided are less than what Canada's current system already provides.

Proponents of the bill say that the additional challenges multiple-birth parents face warrant an additional 35 weeks of unpaid leave and EI benefits; if a single birth parent gets 35 weeks, it would automatically mean that parents of twins should get double, or at least should be viewed as getting double. With twins, I am not sure that there is twice as much work, so to take that correlation and apply it here to simply double the 35 weeks I am not sure is something we are able to do or it makes sense to do.

What we should be charged with as elected officials is to try to get something right, to try to get something that works for the parents that is responsible in terms of protecting the employment insurance fund.

According to the PBO, there are approximately 13,000 multiple births per year, and 6,700 parents would be eligible for this extended benefit. The PBO estimates this cost at approximately $80 million per year. That seems fairly high. However, it is approximately the same cost as Bill C-44, the government legislation that created the new special parental benefits last fall. This is another reason we should absolutely send this bill to committee to have it looked at.

My time is winding down here, so I am just going to sum up. I am sure there are things we can agree on in this House. Multiple births are very much a special circumstance. Whether we ultimately agree that parents of twins, triplets or other multiples should get twice the benefits as parents of single births is not the most relevant question with respect to whether this bill should go forward. This bill is at second reading, so it is about trying to gather more information.

For this circumstance, I believe we should support the bill. Whether doubling is the right way to go, I do not know, but I think we should recognize the challenges faced by the parents of families with multiple births and at least support this legislation as it goes forward to committee.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking my colleagues, particularly the hon. member for Verchères—Les Patriotes, for her positive contribution to the deliberations we must have as MPs regarding the issue of parental leave in cases of multiple births or adoptions. This is an important debate, one that must reflect the reality of modern families when it comes to balancing labour market demands and the needs of families.

In Canada, multiple births are on the rise. Over 100,000 children under 13 were born in a multiple birth. Of those children, 41,000 are under five years old. Between 1974 and 1990, the number of twin births rose by 35% and the number of triplets and quadruplets jumped by 250%.

Multiple birth babies represent 2% of births in Canada, but they account for 16% of all low birth weight babies. Just under 50% of twins are born prematurely or are underweight, and that percentage rises to 90% in the case of triplets, quadruplets and quintuplets. These babies need more attention and care.

Low birth weight and premature babies need more assistance than full-term babies, especially if they are very small or born at less than 35 weeks gestation. Premature babies need help surviving outside of their mother's womb. They might have special needs because certain parts of their bodies may not have had the time to develop fully. Preemies can have difficulty breathing because their lungs are not fully developed. They often have difficulty breathing, feeding and maintaining their body temperature. In hospital, they will often be placed in an incubator in order to keep their body temperature up.

Premature births represent a serious public health concern because they are the leading cause of infant mortality in many countries. Premature births are very costly, both for our health care system and for the families involved.

As the member for Verchères—Les Patriotes said, these families face enormous and constant challenges. Babies born in a multiple birth are often premature and experience developmental problems and lasting effects. These families are often under increased physical and financial stress. The NDP wants to give them a break and support them from the beginning.

In North America, the rate of premature births has increased over the past few decades. Many factors, including delayed child-bearing and the use of assisted human reproductive technologies, have contributed to the rise in multiple and premature births. The growth in the number of obstetrical interventions, namely those related to premature births for medical reasons, is the main reason for this increase. In Canada, the rate of premature births has steadily increased from about 6% in the early 1980s to 8% in the past few years.

Mothers living in low-income neighbourhoods can experience many social and economic disadvantages. In poor neighbourhoods, there is a higher rate of unemployment, a lower level of education, and a high rate of tobacco, alcohol and drug use. Clearly, these mothers will need more support.

Normally, under Canadian legislation, parents can take a total of 35 weeks of parental leave following the birth or adoption of a child while receiving the benefits set out in Canada's Employment Insurance Act. These measures apply regardless of the number of children that are born or adopted at the same time. That is already within the purview of Canada's employment insurance program.

The Canada Labour Code allows natural and adoptive parents to take parental leave of up to 37 weeks under the same conditions as maternity leave, that is that employees, including managers and professionals, are entitled to 17 weeks of maternity leave if they have completed at least six consecutive months of continuous employment with the same employer before their leave begins.

The employee can take this leave any time during the period that begins 11 weeks before the expected date of delivery and ends 17 weeks after the actual delivery date. Female employees who have given birth can take both maternity and parental leave, but only one period of time for each type of leave. Employees who want to take parental leave must do so in one block of continuous time that is not interspersed with periods of work.

Furthermore, an employee, a mother or father, who takes care of a newborn or newly adopted child is entitled to parental leave of up to 37 weeks, as was said earlier. However, the total length of maternity leave or parental leave must not exceed 52 weeks.

What the member for Verchères—Les Patriotes is seeking in this bill is not something that is new elsewhere in the world. For example, in Luxembourg, parental leave is an individual right for both parents, if they both work. Each parent who meets the qualifying conditions is entitled, on his or her request, to six months of full-time parental leave per child. In cases of multiple births or adoption, the length of leave is multiplied by the number of children from the same birth or adoption. If there are four children, it is multiplied by four.

A Norwegian father will soon be able to take 14 weeks’ leave to care for his newborn child and receive 100% of his salary. A member party of the government coalition announced on Friday, October 5, 2012, that the government would extend parental leave by two weeks to 49 weeks with full pay and to 59 weeks at 80% of salary. We are nowhere near that.

In Norway, parental leave includes maternity leave and paternity leave. Of those 49 weeks, the father's small share, which is not transferable to the mother, will be increased from 12 to 14 weeks. That measure, which will come into force on July 1, 2013, was officially announced in the finance bill introduced on October 8, 2012. The purpose of this provision is to involve men to a greater degree in child-rearing, but also to reduce professional gender inequalities, since mothers are often penalized for being absent from their jobs for extended periods of time. This will make the Norwegian system one of the most generous in the world.

The current state of affairs is a problem. Canada is no longer a leader in child welfare. It ranks in the bottom third of OECD countries for child mortality, health, safety and poverty. Canada may have been a leader in 1971, but it will have to catch up in 2013.

The social determinants of health are increasingly being recognized and studied. Several organizations that focus on health are examining them. One of those organizations, and not the least of them, is the World Health Organization. The WHO defines the social determinants of health as the circumstances in which individuals are born, grow up, live, work and age, as well as the systems put in place to deal with illness.

We know that parents who give birth to twins and triplets find it much harder to manage. Parental leave makes it possible for the parents of young children to interrupt or limit their professional careers so that they can be with their children at important points in the child's development and have the assurance that they can return to their jobs when their leave expires.

In closing, in view of the sharp increase in the number of multiple births in Quebec and Canada, the member for Verchères—Les Patriotes has introduced a private member's bill to provide financial support for families in the case of multiple births or adoptions. The member is making children our main priority. The NDP supports her. The public and, especially, parents who have experienced multiple births support her as well. I thank her.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario


Kellie Leitch ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, there is no argument that children are a blessing. I became a pediatric orthopedic surgeon in part because of my love for children, so I understand that the hon. member has only the most compassionate motives in proposing this legislation. However, accepting the bill as it stands would run contrary to the intent of the Employment Insurance Act, as I will explain.

On multiple births, the EI legislation is very clear. It stipulates that regardless of the number of children born or adopted, the maximum number of weeks of EI parental benefits that can be paid as a result of a single pregnancy or adoption is 35 weeks. The legislation allows one parent to receive the benefit, or both parents to share the benefit at the same time or consecutively. The Federal Court of Appeal recently ruled on this issue and the decision of the court affirmed the legislation as it stands and rejected the charter argument on unequal treatment.

The bill seeks to increase the maximum number of weeks during which parental benefits can be paid from 35 weeks to 70 weeks in the case of multiple births or adoptions. Unlike a social welfare program where the financial needs or circumstances of each person are considered in determining eligibility, EI is an insurance program. It is the loss of wages that is being insured against. EI benefits replace a portion of those wages of a person's losses for their time away from work. Allowing this change would undermine the insurance nature of the EI program and change its purpose.

In addition to the 35 weeks of parental benefits, a new mother also qualifies for an additional 15 weeks of maternal benefits. The principle of maternity benefits is that a new mother should be protected from an earnings loss while she is physically unable to work or seek work in the weeks surrounding the birth of a child or children. The EI program ensures that working families who experience loss of income receive support to balance the demands of both work and family by providing the flexibility they need to stay home and care for their children, their newborn or adopted child.

Our government has delivered several initiatives recently to provide greater financial stability to parents facing difficult circumstances, through the Helping Families in Need Act. We amended the Employment Insurance Act to facilitate access to EI sickness benefits for claimants who had fallen ill or injured while collecting parental benefits. Also, a new EI benefit for parents with critically ill children will help ensure that families do not suffer undue financial hardship due to their child's illness.

As a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, I have seen the immense pressure a family faces when they have a sick child. I can say from personal experience, having seen parents present at the bedside of their child, that it is crucial that they be there when their child needs them. As parents in my riding of Simcoe—Grey have said, they are very pleased that the government has made this substantial investment in supporting families in their greatest time of need.

As well, there is a new grant now available to parents of murdered and missing children. These parents face tremendous emotional stress and often have to take time off work to cope with this tragedy or to be part of the criminal justice process.

We recognize our responsibility to help parents balance work and family responsibilities. We have repeatedly shown our commitment to support families and will continue to do so. Through Canada's economic action plan we have strengthened the universal child care benefit to help more than 2 million young children and 1.5 million families every year. Since it was introduced, this benefit has lifted approximately 22,000 families out of poverty.

We are helping working parents by making major investments in creating new child care spaces. Our government has allocated billions of dollars to support early childhood development and child care through transfers to the provinces and territories, direct spending and tax measures for Canadian families. To assist low and middle-income families, we have provided additional support through the Canada child tax benefit and the national child benefit supplement.

In addition, through foster-to-adopt programs, foster parents are eligible for EI parental benefits as soon as they have taken the necessary steps to adopt a child into their care. Moreover, self-employed persons are now able to opt into the EI program to receive maternity benefits as well as parental sickness and compassionate care benefits. In addition to this, Canadian Forces members who are ordered to return to duty while on parental leave or whose parental leave is deferred as a result of a military requirement also have an extended eligibility window for EI parental benefits.

Regarding the suggested change to EI, we have estimated that the cost to workers and employers would be approximately $100 million per year if implemented. This is in addition to the $4 billion a year in EI measures the NDP would like to create, including a 360-hour work year, that would drive up EI premiums by 16%.

I was fortunate enough to be involved in the EI rate-setting consultations that occurred in the fall of 2001. I heard from businesses and workers all across the country about the importance of stable and predictable EI premium rate-setting. While our government introduced a new rate-setting mechanism to ensure stability and predictability for EI premiums, the NDP is proposing measures that would see EI premiums rise by over 16% in a single year.

Nothing is more important than the role a mother or father plays in caring for their child. The family is the fundamental unit of society, the backbone of a successful country. Time and again our government has demonstrated its commitment to helping families. However, in this fragile economic time when small businesses are concerned about EI premiums, supporting a bill that would result in increased EI premiums would be fiscally irresponsible.

While I certainly understand the good intentions of the hon. member opposite in proposing this bill and fully share her desire to provide greater support for Canadian families, as we done most recently with Bill C-44, the Helping Families in Need Act, I cannot support this bill at this time because of the huge negative impact increasing premiums would have on small businesses in my riding of Simcoe—Grey.

I encourage all members of the House to join me in voting against this legislation, which will put a huge burden on the backs of small businesses, employers and employees in this country.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, may I ask how much time I have?

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

There is probably enough time for you to have 10 minutes.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Thank you for the clarification, Mr. Speaker.

I am pleased to be speaking today in support of the bill introduced by my colleague from Verchères—Les Patriotes. Bill C-464, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act, which would grant extended parental leave for multiple births or adoptions, is simply a way of levelling the playing field for parents of multiples.

This bill addresses a simple situation. Parents normally receive 35 weeks of parental leave and benefits per child, but that is not the case when parents have two or more children at once. That discrepancy is based solely on the children's date of birth. Birth or adoptive parents of twins or multiples are at a disadvantage.

This bill is designed to help these families by granting them more parental leave and providing adequate financial support. Parents could take as many as 72 weeks of leave for multiple births or adoptions. These 72 weeks could be shared between the two parents, depending on their needs. Obviously, every family's situation is different. We want this to remain flexible. The weeks could also be fully used by one parent.

Currently, neither the Canada Labour Code nor the Employment Insurance Act provides any flexibility for parents who give birth to or adopt multiple children. This is unfair to parents of twins, triplets, quadruplets and so on, and to parents who adopt more than one child at the same time. On the Service Canada website, the section on employment insurance maternity and parental benefits simply states the following:

The number of weeks of EI maternity or parental benefits you are entitled to receive does not change, even if you have a multiple birth...or if you adopt more than one child at the same time.

Having more than one child at a time may seem to be an uncommon occurrence, but it is not at all unusual and is happening more and more frequently. In 1980 in Canada and Quebec, twins occurred once per 54 births. In 2010, twins occurred once per 33 births. The rate has gone up.

Since 1981, the incidence of multiple pregnancy has increased by 50%. Today, 3% of all pregnancies are multiple pregnancies. With twin births alone, 6% of children born today would be affected by this legislation, not to mention pregnancies involving more than two children and adoptions.

This is not a huge number, but it represents many children who will have less access to their parents early in life because they are multiples. We want to give all newborns the same opportunity.

The rate of twins born in Canada has increased dramatically, according to Statistics Canada and Health Canada, and the rate of multiples even more than that. Each day, more than 26 Canadian moms give birth to multiples. This increased number of multiple births can be seen largely in consequence, but not a direct effect, of the trend toward women delaying childbirth. More and more women look to complete an education, establish a career and gain economic stability before starting a family. Studies show that the older a woman is, the greater her chance of conceiving twins or multiples.

That is why it is important to support the bill and acknowledge that the situation of moms is changing and that more multiples will be born. We need to understand that these children and parents need to be treated fairly within our employment insurance system. We should always be thinking about equal treatment when looking at laws in the House.

I want to briefly refer to a book written by an expert on the matter, Gisèle Séguin, who is the mother of twins. For many years, she was very active in the twins parents association in her area.

Her book, Jumeaux: mission possible!, was published by the CHU Sainte-Justine Mother and Child University Hospital Center. According to the author, a multiple pregnancy is automatically a risk pregnancy. I believe my colleague mentioned this. A multiple pregnancy can result in premature birth. The children require more care. Being pregnant with more than one child probably changes people's plans, such as returning to work as quickly as anticipated. In any event, a child who is more at risk requires more care from the parents.

Moreover, the financial stress makes life difficult for parents. Raising twins costs twice as much as raising one child or two children born at different times. There are twice as many diapers, high chairs, and car seats to buy. Everything needs to be doubled. When children are not the same age, some things can be reused. But with twins, two bicycles or two sets of hockey equipment are needed at the same time. With a multiple birth, the cost of education doubles or triples. We must bear in mind that raising multiples requires more energy and results in greater financial stress.

I think that my colleague has found a good solution to this problem, one that will help us support families with multiples.

I hope that the Conservatives and all members of the House will acknowledge that that this is a question of equal treatment for the children and parents in the case of a multiple birth. I am very pleased that my colleague has introduced this bill.

In closing, I am asking all my colleagues to support this bill.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The time provided for consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

(Bill C-53. On the Order: Government Orders:)

January 31, 2013--Second reading of Bill C-53, An Act to assent to alterations in the law touching the Succession to the Throne--the Minister of Justice.

Succession to the Throne Act, 2013Private Members' Business


York—Simcoe Ontario


Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations among the parties and if you seek it, I believe you shall find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practices of this House, Bill C-53, An Act to assent to alterations in the law touching the Succession to the Throne shall be deemed to have been read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole, deemed considered in Committee of the Whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at the report stage and deemed read a third time and passed.

Succession to the Throne Act, 2013Private Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Does the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?

Succession to the Throne Act, 2013Private Members' Business


Some hon. members


Succession to the Throne Act, 2013Private Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Succession to the Throne Act, 2013Private Members' Business


Some hon. members


Succession to the Throne Act, 2013Private Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time, considered in committee of the whole, reported, concurred in, read the third time and passed)

The House resumed from February 1 consideration of the motion that Bill C-52, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act (administration, air and railway transportation and arbitration), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Fair Rail Freight Service ActGovernment Orders



Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand in the House today to speak to Bill C-52 and to kick off today's debate on an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act.

Here is a word about the rail industry in Canada to set some context for this discussion of Bill C-52. First, rail transport is critical to Canada's economy, and 70% of all surface goods in Canada are shipped by rail.

The rail industry has to work for Canada. Under the current government, our trade deficit is ballooning, reaching nearly $2 billion in November alone. There can be no tolerance, because there is no room in our economy for the kinds of inefficiencies, excess costs and performance woes that characterize our rail system presently.

The problem is that rail freight customers are struggling to get fair and reliable services from the virtual monopoly of CP and CN that control Canada's rail system. Many rail freight customers cannot even get a contract for service from one of these companies. Those who do get them have to contract for unreliable services that are costing the Canadian economy hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

Rotting crops, idled plants and mines, missed connections to other forms of transportation, all of this is hurting Canada's exporters, damaging our global competitiveness and costing us jobs.

These issues affect a broad range of economic activity, from agriculture, forestry, mining and the chemical industry to the automotive industry.

This set of circumstances is not new. It has defined the industry for a number of years, frustrating rail freight customers so that 80% of them are now unhappy with their rail service. They have been demanding change: action from the federal government, legislation that would compel CN and CP to provide service agreements to shippers.

Change has been slow in coming, however. The rail freight service review began in 2008. We had the panel, its report, a mediation exercise, another report and then the promise of legislation from the minister.

However, it seems that it was the private member's bill, Bill C-441, of my colleague, the NDP member for Trinity—Spadina, that pushed the government at last to release the government bill we have before us.

This is a tepid response to a real economic problem. It does not cover existing contracts. It offers only a narrow, costly arbitration process for failed negotiations for new contracts. Freight customers' demands to include penalties in service agreements, performance standards and accessible conflict resolution were ignored.

It is a start, but much more needs to be done and we will support the bill through to committee for amendments to redress the weaknesses and omissions in the bill.

Before it gets to committee, I think it is useful to think through more carefully and thoroughly what opportunities are lost to our economy, to us, with our rail system structured and regulated as it is presently.

The current issues confronting freight customers stem from the fact that the rail industry in this country is a virtual monopoly. It was made that way in 1995 with the sale of Canadian National Railway, along with the tracks, to private interests.

What was made with the sale was a virtual monopoly of a $10 billion industry that sits at the heart of the Canadian economy. Quoting from a Transport Canada document on rail transport:

Of total Canadian rail transport industry revenues, CN accounts for over 50% and CPR for approximately 35%. Together, CN and CPR represent more than 95% of Canada's annual rail tonne-kilometres, more than 75% of the industry's tracks, and three-quarters of overall tonnage carried by the rail sector.

It is important for both our economy and our environment that our rail system run with full efficiency. The alternative to rail freight is on-road transportation by way of trucks.

According to the latest Environment Canada national inventory report, 1990-2010, most transportation emissions in Canada are related to road transport. Emissions from road transport rose by 37 megatonnes, or 38%, between 1990 and 2010. Of those 37 megatonnes, emissions from heavy duty diesel vehicles or large freight trucks rose by 20 megatonnes. That is a 101% increase.

It is worth noting here that the GHG emission intensity of freight rail improved by 24% between 1990 and 2008. It should also be noted that there remains plenty of room for improving the emission intensity for both freight and passenger rail travel.

We know that not all truck freight is replaceable by rail freight and vice versa, but this is a worrying trend. It is worrying not just from an environmental perspective, but it also speaks to the broader issue of congestion on our roads and the environmental and economic costs of that congestion. Clearly, the more freight we can move by rail, the fewer trucks are unnecessarily using our road network for freight transport.

The same obviously holds true for passenger travel. It is notable that while passenger kilometres—that is, passenger travel by motor vehicle in Canada—have been on a long upward trend, passenger kilometres by train have remained virtually steady since plummeting in 1990. Of course, it was in 1990 that VIA Rail lost over 45% of its ridership in the aftermath of the federal government ordering VIA to abandon certain corridors and branch lines. As a result, passenger travel on VIA fell from its peak of about eight million passengers per year in the 1980s to a ridership that has bounced around the four million mark since.

Efforts to increase rail service for passengers have been stifled by the virtual monopoly of CN and CP. VIA operates its trains on 12,500 kilometres of track, but it owns a mere 2% of that. Eighty-three per cent is owned by CN and CP, with CN owning the majority of that track. The remaining track VIA uses is short line infrastructure, which is owned and maintained to reflect the freight market that these tracks serve. Therefore, with virtually no ownership of track and no priority access to track, VIA Rail must negotiate train service agreements with these major freight carriers in order to provide its passenger service, and it finds itself in the unenviable position of sitting between a virtual monopoly and the succession of Liberal and Conservative governments that failed to recognize the enduring value and incredible economic and environmental potential of rail travel to the country.

This indifference of our government to the economic and environmental potential of rail extends well beyond freight-related issues and intercity passenger travel, right into our cities. This is certainly the case in my city of Toronto. Investment in transit infrastructure, particularly in the form of rail transit, is critical to unleashing the economic potential of Toronto's city region. Infrastructure, and transit infrastructure in particular, is a key component of a competitive business environment.

This is most certainly the view of members of the Toronto Board of Trade. They identified transit infrastructure as their top priority. The Board of Trade's 2011 annual global benchmarking study shows why it requires urgent attention and investment. Toronto finished 19th out of 24 global cities on transportation issues, including last place in commute time and, significantly, 16th for kilometres travelled by rail. There is near consensus that the absence of adequate transit infrastructure in Toronto and the Toronto city region is the biggest impediment to Toronto's global competitiveness. It has been estimated that the annual cost of congestion to Toronto's regional economy is $6 billion. That cost is projected to rise to $15 billion if no significant action is taken.

It is time to take significant action. The cost of the status quo is too great and unnecessary. It is one of the great mysteries of the current government. It continues to contradict its own marketing materials and brochures every day. It is emphatically not a sound economic manager. It stands idly while opportunities for economic growth pass it by.

Bill C-52 is just the latest example of any easy fix but also of a government that responds only when pushed, and only then half-heartedly, to opportunities to improve the economy of the country and the lives of Canadians.