House of Commons Hansard #93 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was women.


Excise Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-241, under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #130

Excise Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I declare the motion defeated.

The House resumed from October 17 consideration of the motion that Bill C-225, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (injuring or causing the death of a preborn child while committing an offence), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Protection of Pregnant Women and Their Preborn Children Act (Cassie and Molly's Law)Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-225 under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #131

Protection of Pregnant Women and Their Preborn Children Act (Cassie and Molly's Law)Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I declare the motion lost.

The House resumed from October 18 consideration of the motion that Bill C-237, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (gender equity), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-237 under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #132

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I declare the motion lost.

It being 6:55 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from May 17 consideration of the motion that Bill C-243, An Act respecting the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy and amending the Employment Insurance Act (maternity benefits), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


Bryan May Liberal Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-243, an act respecting the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy and amending the Employment Insurance Act. My hon. colleague has done a fine job with this bill, and I want to commend him for that. This is an incredibly important topic. I am glad that he has focused on it, and has given me the opportunity to speak to it.

In particular, I was impressed to learn the story behind this bill. It was inspired by the story of a female welder in his community. He listened to the concerns and personal experiences of his constituent, Melodie, and took action by presenting a solution in the form of a private member's bill. That is how politics should be done. We are elected to this House to represent our constituents and the issues they bring forward, and this bill is a perfect example of that.

The purpose of the bill is to remove barriers to women's full and equal participation in all sectors of the labour force. This is absolutely fundamental to the principle of gender equality. The provisions in this bill would greatly benefit current and future women who work in the skilled trades: construction, engineering, resource extraction, manufacturing, and many other fields.

This is why it should be no surprise that it has been supported by a diverse list of stakeholders from across the country, and I would like to take this opportunity to name a few. They include women's advocacy groups, such as the National Council of Women of Canada, the Canadian Women's Foundation, the Canadian Federation of University Women, the NSERC Chairs for Women in Science and Engineering, the Office to Advance Women Apprentices, Women in Science and Engineering Atlantic, and Women Building Futures.

They all recognize that this bill is a positive change toward achieving gender equality. The Canadian Women's Foundation, for example, said that this bill advances women's equal participation in all sectors of the labour force and helps to ensure that the decision to become a parent does not exacerbate women's economic inequality. This is indeed a positive step to improve gender equality in Canada.

Representatives of the construction, skilled trades, and engineering community have also come out to enthusiastically support this initiative, including the Canadian Construction Association, Canada's Building Trades Unions, Engineers Canada, Women in Work Boots, Engineers without Borders, Canadian Welding Association, National Trade Contractors Coalition, and Canadian Apprenticeship Forum.

Collectively, these groups represent tens of thousands of members from across the country. Their support stands as a true testament to how this bill is resonating with stakeholders. The bill has earned this support because its objectives are very clear. Overall, it seeks to prevent a situation where a woman has to choose between having her dream job and having a family. This is an objective that I and, I am sure, all members of this House can support.

It achieves this important goal in two parts, which together address both an immediate issue and the need for a long-term, comprehensive maternity assistance strategy. The first part proposes a modest change to the Employment Insurance Act that would greatly improve the flexibility of maternity benefits.

In particular, Bill C-243 proposes an amendment to the El Act which would allow women, like Melodie, who work in dangerous jobs, to begin their 15 weeks of El maternity benefits as early as 15 weeks before their due date. This is seven weeks earlier than the current rules permit. The other component of maternity leave, the 35 weeks of parental benefits, is effectively unchanged by this bill. These hours would still be available once the child is born, and are still available to both parents to use as they see fit.

The combined 50 weeks of total benefits does not change in length or cost. Instead, women in dangerous jobs would have the opportunity to use more of their existing hours during their pregnancy rather than after the child is born, if this is something they choose to do.

This measure would not expand the number of maternity weeks or the amount of benefits that one is entitled to. Similarly, it would not reduce the eligibility threshold for receiving benefits.

Getting a slightly earlier start to maternity leave would help women who are currently in the terrible situation of having to choose between working in an environment that might be hazardous, and protecting the health of their unborn child. This is a decision no one should have to make, and I am glad to see a bill that would make EI flexible enough to accommodate these situations.

Easing the rules on when someone can begin their maternity leave is a good start, but it obviously does not remove all of the barriers to women's equal participation in the labour force. That is why I am pleased to see that the bill also calls on the Minister of Employment to consult with Canadians and provincial stakeholders on the prospect of developing a comprehensive national maternity assistance strategy.

The bill lays out some specifics for what these consultations would cover, including an assessment of the demand for such a program, existing programs, potential costs and benefits, and any legal, constitutional, or jurisdictional implications.

If the bill passes second reading, which I hope it does, these are areas that the committee could look into. As chair of the HUMA committee, I would be interested in studying these areas, and hearing from my colleagues on the committee to see if there are other areas that we could add to this list.

The bill purposely leaves the parameters of the study broad. It calls on the government to study the issues of maternity assistance without prescribing what the outcome should be.

In summary, the issue identified by the member is a serious and important one. The idea of a national maternity assistance program deserves to be studied, and that is exactly what the bill calls on the government to do. I agree wholeheartedly with the objectives of both parts one and two, and urge my colleagues to support the bill, so that they may be studied further at committee.

When we think about gender equality in the workplace, we should not limit that decision to politicians, lawyers, and the business world. We need to recognize that many women want to be welders, construction workers, or engineers. Every career option should be open to all Canadians whether they are a woman or a man, and no one should have to choose between having a family and having a job.

Our labour market is changing and we need to take a hard look at our EI system, and see if it is keeping pace in 2016. Frankly, in 2016, it is simply unacceptable that the decision to have a family should be a barrier or financial disincentive to a woman entering her chosen profession. It is shocking and disturbing to think that this decision could lead to financial hardship to the point of losing one's home. Clearly, this happens and, in fact, it did happen in the case that inspired the bill.

In mid-2014, Melodie was working as a welder in Kingston, Ontario, when she became pregnant. She consulted with her medical practitioner, and they agreed it would be unsafe to continue welding during her pregnancy as her work environment would be unsafe for her unborn child.

My colleague has put forward this bill to prevent this from happening to others, and I am proud to strongly support him and Bill C-243, a national maternity assistance program.

I hope all members will think hard about Melodie's compelling story, and how this important bill can improve gender equality throughout Canada and in their communities.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-243, which would provide for the development and implementation of a national maternity assistance program strategy and amend the Employment Insurance Act in order to allow a claimant to begin using her maternity benefits 15 weeks before the week in which her confinement is expected if her employer is unable to reassign her to a job that does not pose a risk to her health or to that of her unborn child.

It is interesting to take a closer look at this private member's bill. Two aspects of the preamble to Bill C-243 really jump out at me.

First, in 2014, women represented 47.3% of the labour force compared to 31% in 1976, which is an increase of over 10%. The most interesting aspect of that increase is that it involves more women participating in skilled and non-traditional occupations previously held by men.

Second, a woman’s pregnancy should not act as a barrier to full participation in the workforce, adversely affect her employment, inflict financial hardship, or compromise the pursuit of her chosen career. I believe that women should be able to choose. Personally, I did not take all the maternity leave I was entitled to. That was my choice, but that is not the issue.

Many factors are at play. First of all, the bill already has some restrictions. I would like to see the 15 weeks become transferable, and not added to the 35 weeks that women are already entitled to after having a baby. As everyone in the House knows, a private member's bill must be cost neutral for taxpayers. If this bill were to result in any additional cost, it would be out of order.

The main thing that would make me support this bill would be for the 15 weeks to be transferable and not added to the 35 weeks already available. Let me explain. If a pregnant woman cannot continue working because of her pregnancy and she decides to take her leave 15 weeks before her due date, I have no problem with that as long as, after the delivery, that same woman does not take more than 20 weeks of maternity leave. That would give her a total of 35 weeks of leave, as is the case under existing legislation. Similarly, I have no problem with a pregnant woman taking 10 weeks before the delivery and 25 weeks after the delivery, or 12 weeks before and 23 weeks after.

In short, I see this as a 35-week period that can be shifted around the due date as long as the total number of benefit weeks does not exceed 35. When these conditions are met, I can give my full support to this bill. It is vital that we protect the health of the biological mother, the pregnant mother, as well as that of the unborn child. There can be different reasons for going on maternity leave early, for example, a job that requires sustained physical effort that can pose a risk to the mother, or the mother's inability to meet the physical demands of the job, which prevents her from functioning normally. These are situations where she should be able to take her maternity leave before the birth. Furthermore, going on leave earlier because her health prevents her from doing various duties allows the employee to return to work before the end of the 35 weeks of maternity leave after the child is born.

This improves the employer's profitability and the woman's job performance. What is even more important is that she will be healthy while doing her job and she will be able to do it.

I am repeating myself only because I really want members to understand why I am supporting this bill. In fact, I will only support it if we are going to move the benefit weeks and not add benefit weeks.

First, this will ensure the health of both the mother and child. Second, shifting the benefit weeks improves the productivity of the employee, who can make the most of her capabilities. Third, this optimizes the production and profitability of the various companies. Finally, and probably what is most important, it ensures that the woman is free to make her own decisions based on her own situation and needs during her pregnancy.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.


Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to participate in this debate.

I agree that Bill C-243 is a step in the right direction. However, it has a number of serious flaws.

I like the idea of giving women who work in hazardous work environments more flexibility with regard to their preventive withdrawal and maternity leave. That being said, I think it is short-sighted and inhumane to require women to choose between having a safe pregnancy and taking time to adjust to life with a new baby.

I would like to point out that the Liberals promised to hold public consultations to determine the specific terms and conditions of this new program. Although we appreciate the fact that organizations and stakeholders will be consulted, it would have been better if they had been consulted sooner. The government is asking us to vote on a bill that is not yet complete.

The bill cannot really be finalized until the consultations set out in the preamble of this bill are complete. However, we do not have any information on these consultations or the consultation strategies. What is more, the member for Kingston and the Islands admitted from the outset that the bill we are debating today is not sufficient to meet the objective of establishing a comprehensive program.

I would like to remind the House that the member for Kingston and the Islands' predecessor voted against the NDP bill introduced in the previous Parliament. The bill would have extended Quebec's safe maternity experience program to Quebec women working under federal jurisdiction. As a result, some female workers in risky workplaces in Quebec were unable to benefit from a program whose merits Bill C-243 actually praises. The NDP is asking the government to make the safe maternity experience program available to Quebec women in federally governed workplaces.

I get the sense that the Liberals are sending up a smoke screen on this file and several others. They are not proposing a comprehensive strategy to ensure safe workplaces for pregnant and nursing women.

On the surface, this bill seems like a good thing for expectant mothers, but women are not actually gaining any new benefits. The benefit period will not be any longer. The bill merely lets women decide when to collect their benefits, but even that is not really up to the women themselves; it is up to doctors.

There is one thing that concerns me about this. A pregnant woman who does not get reassigned to more appropriate work will have to sacrifice some time spent with her child. All it takes is complications arising during delivery for the health of the mother and the baby to be at risk. Consider an emergency C-section or an irregular heartbeat. Many complications can arise. If a woman takes her maternity leave 15 weeks before the delivery, she will have only two weeks to rest, recover, spend time with her baby, and enjoy the early stages of family life.

As a young new mother myself, I can assure the House that that is not enough. Bonding with one's newborn is crucial, as all the studies now show. For many women, it can also take several weeks to recover from the delivery. Adjusting to becoming a parent, getting everything you need, these things do not just come to you by snapping your fingers. The more time babies can spend with their mothers and their parents, the better it is for everyone.

The Liberals like to brag about being feminists, but integrating women into the workforce also means adapting high-risk work environments. We are calling on the government to take the necessary steps to get concrete commitments from employers.

Transferring pregnant women becomes even more important considering that they do not receive their full pay when they are on maternity leave. Most of the time, employment insurance parental benefits cover only 55% of the weekly salary. That is just over half. Forcing women to stop working instead of transferring them is condemning them to uncertainty.

It is imperative that we encourage employers to assign pregnant women to tasks that pose no danger to them or their fetus. The health and safety of pregnant and nursing women is a collective responsibility, and business leaders, as well as legislators, have an active role to play in this.

The legislation currently stipulates that “the onus is on the employer to show that a modification of job functions or a reassignment that would avoid the activities or conditions indicated in the medical certificate is not reasonably practicable”.

The expression “not reasonably practicable” is rather nebulous. All the employer has to do is claim that he could not manage to find tasks that did not pose a risk and the pregnant woman will be forced to stop working. She has to choose between a healthy pregnancy and quality time with her newborn. It seems contradictory to me to force women to make such a difficult choice without forcing the employers to make every effort to assign them to other tasks. It is time to stop absolving business leaders of this responsibility.

Another major problem that this bill fails to address is the fact that not all women get parental leave. To get parental leave one must first be eligible for employment insurance. This excludes a number of workers, including self-employed, seasonal, and part-time workers.

What is more, this bill further highlights the polarization of the labour market: female workers with a permanent job will get parental leave, whereas women working on contract will be excluded. We are creating more uncertainty for working pregnant women.

Generally speaking, women are over-represented in the category of workers with precarious jobs. Two-thirds of part-time jobs are held by women. Furthermore, the vast majority of workers who earn minimum wage are women.

In 2014, only 29% of unemployed women received regular employment insurance benefits, whereas 44.8% of men, almost 45%, qualified for benefits. That means that women with precarious jobs are at an even greater economic disadvantage because of their pregnancy.

Revenue-neutral policies are not a solution. To maintain our social safety net, we must invest in social programs. We must ask the right questions and establish the best priorities. All women should have access to proper maternity benefits. It is a societal choice.

Rather than introduce half measures, it would be worthwhile using the Quebec model for both workplace health and safety and maternity leave.

The government is proposing to address a workplace health and safety issue with a tool that provides parental leave. The NDP is calling on the government to introduce a real national maternity assistance program, rather than hijacking the parental leave system.

I am disappointed by this bill's lack of ambition. The employment insurance system is discriminatory because it does not reflect the realities of all women. They should not have to bear the cost of child bearing alone. Children are our future. In order to ensure that future babies develop properly and are in good health, all women who work in hazardous work environments must be able to avail themselves of preventive withdrawal and have a decent maternity leave. That is why the NDP is calling on the government to adopt a real maternity assistance program for women in high-risk occupations.

The NDP would also like women from Quebec in the federal workplace to have access to the safe maternity experience program.

Quebec's preventive withdrawal program allows women to take leave from work as early as the first weeks of pregnancy, whereas this bill does not allow them to take leave until their 25th week.

However, we know that miscarriages often occur during the first and second trimesters or before the 25th week of pregnancy. This bill therefore does not cover that crucial period for pregnant women.

I hope that many major improvements will be made to the bill so that it really meets the needs of pregnant women working in high-risk occupations.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.


Deb Schulte Liberal King—Vaughan, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Kingston and the Islands for putting forward this very important bill, which I was proud to support and second.

This bill was inspired by Melodie Ballard's story. This is a story of a hard-working lady. Working as a welder, she suffered extreme financial hardship when she had to stop working due to potential health risks to her unborn child. She was unable to be accommodated by her workplace and access that maternity leave. The current EI benefit rules do not allow for her situation, so she was denied employment insurance maternity leave coverage because she did not meet the current eight weeks before the due date limit.

This bill has been brought forward to provide the much needed flexibility that women need when working in hazardous places of employment. For example, some roles in the military, some trades, resource extraction jobs, and even roles that are not normally considered hazardous, such as pilots, flight attendants, and frequent flyers, do pose a risk to pregnant women. This is an issue that is becoming more prevalent as more women are taking on non-traditional roles in the workplace and need a precautionary leave of absence during pregnancy. The bill seeks to raise awareness of the issue and would allow workers to access maternity benefits earlier, up to 15 weeks before delivery, rather than the allowed eight weeks, .

I am proud to support Bill C-243, which takes crucial steps toward advancing gender equality in the workplace of Canadians. Most importantly, Bill C-243 would ensure that pregnancy is not a barrier to a woman's full and equal participation in our Canadian labour force. I believe that no woman should have to choose between the health of her baby and putting food on the table or a roof overhead. The system today leaves women who are advised to stop working due to potential health complications with long periods of no income. We have already heard about the very distressing situation that Melodie faced, which ultimately resulted in her losing her home and creating much personal stress. Our EI system failed Melodie just when she needed it most.

Canadians pay into the employment insurance system to ensure that they can get the help they need when they are temporarily out of work. Women like Melodie need to know the employment insurance system can be there for them when they need it. I believe when the EI system was set up to assist pregnant women in the workforce, it was not foreseen that women would be employed in roles that might put their health or their baby's health at risk during pregnancy. It is about time we took a new look at the needs of our workforce and the EI system and updated it to accommodate the realities of today.

I can personally attest to the challenges encountered while applying for EI maternity benefits 20 years ago. I am pleased to see that today's EI benefits are much better than before, with more flexibility not only for mothers, as it was in my day, but fathers too. I believe it is now time to review the EI program again to make sure that it is keeping up with the realities of the workforce today. We need to ensure that our EI policies are not seen as a barrier to a woman's full and equal participation in all sectors of the workforce, including potentially hazardous jobs.

There are those who may be concerned about abuse of the system. However, the bill outlines two basic conditions that must be met in order to be eligible for this exemption: a woman must provide a medical certificate attesting that she cannot perform her usual current duties because it may pose a risk to her health or to that of her unborn child, and the employer must be unable to provide accommodations or reassignment that would mitigate that risk. This bill is not proposing to extend EI benefits but to allow flexibility as to when women can begin receiving benefits if they meet these requirements.

This bill has the support of many organizations, including those beyond the skilled trades and construction. I was pleased to see it being endorsed by several from my profession of engineering: Women in Science and Engineering Atlantic Region, the Canadian Coalition of Women in Engineering, Science, Trades and Technology, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia, Engineers Nova Scotia, and Engineers Canada.

The second part of the bill is addressing the need for a comprehensive strategy to ensure that pregnancy is not a barrier to working women. It requires the Minister of Employment, in collaboration with other federal ministers, representatives of the provincial and territorial governments, and other relevant stakeholders, to conduct consultations on the prospect of developing a national maternity assistance program to support women who are unable to work due to pregnancy.

There are many examples of how this issue has been addressed here in Canada and around the world. Many advanced industrialized countries have recognized the importance of maternal care and have taken action to ensure that women in all professions receive adequate support throughout pregnancy and child care.

Since 1981, the Province of Quebec has offered the option of preventive withdrawal as part of its safe maternity assistance program. Under this program, an employer may opt to eliminate the hazard represented by the employee's work or assign her to other tasks. If neither of these alternatives are doable, the employee is entitled to benefit from a preventive withdrawal and to receive compensation in the amount of 90% of her average pay.

In Finland, for example, there is a class of special maternity benefits that are provided when conditions may cause a particular risk to a woman's pregnancy and the hazard cannot be eliminated by the employer. In Australia, if there is no appropriate safe job available, an employee is entitled to take paid no-safe-job leave for the risk period. There are similar programs that protect expecting mothers in France, Hungary, Denmark, and elsewhere.

Therefore, it is appropriate for Canada to undertake a review and bring forward a policy that is more supportive of pregnant women who are working in environments that may pose a risk to a pregnant woman and/or her unborn child.

While the private and not-for-profit sector is doing incredible work encouraging more women to enter trades, government must do its part to support those who enter the workforce in these traditionally male-dominated occupations. Data shows that while overall labour force participation among women has increased, from 37% in 1976 to 47% in 2014, women remain drastically under-represented within many traditional male occupations. For example, in 2012, women represented only 4% of those working in construction.

If Canada is to thrive in the global market, we will need to improve the representation of women in our workforce. Gender balance and diversity is but one key to making Canada's economy stronger and more competitive. However, we will not be able to achieve this if we do not develop the necessary programs to support this transition.

We have seen an opportunity for improvement. Let all MPs in the House support this step in the right direction for gender equality and ensure that the Melodies in the future have better outcomes for themselves, their families, and our country.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.


Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Madam Speaker, each day seems more like the last. For the past two days, we have been debating private members' bills that directly affect the status of women. I am therefore pleased to once again rise in support of this cause.

At the same time, I feel a little bit resentful because, yesterday, there was an excellent bill on the table that would have quickly implemented essential conditions for ensuring gender equity in the House. However, as we saw from today's vote, a majority of parliamentarians decided that it was not yet time for us to achieve gender equality.

The bill before us today obviously does not deal with gender equality because it talks about pregnancy. However, we need to ensure that pregnant women are treated fairly.

As a Quebec MP, I am doubly proud to speak to this bill because Quebec has long led the way on this issue. I also think that the federal government should follow its lead because I find it unacceptable that women in my province who do similar work are treated so differently depending on whether their jobs are governed by the Quebec Labour Code or the Canada Labour Code.

The member for Kingston and the Islands' bill is a sign of just how long and drawn-out the battle for gender equality in the job market is. That battle has not yet been won, though much ground has been gained over the years.

Despite their skills, their experience, and even their knowledge, many women still work under less favourable conditions and for less pay than men doing the same work. In 2016, that is totally unacceptable. It has been unacceptable for a long time now, but the problem has to be fixed one day.

For example, I toured a community in my riding where women clearly held more jobs than men.

For instance, the Liberal tax reduction program will not help most of these women, because in the community services sector, a salary of $45,000 or more is extremely rare. As a result, women are often penalized on every level.

Bill C-243 raises the issue of women's working conditions and proposes creating a federal strategy to protect the health of pregnant and nursing women who work in high-risk occupations. Under this legislation, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour would be tasked with conducting a series of consultations with her federal colleagues and provincial counterparts to set out the parameters of a new program for women, another consultation from the same government that, two weeks prior to October 2015, told us that it had a plan for just about everything.

I think the time for consultation is over. If consultations had been done before this bill was introduced, we could have benefited from what I call best practices. The Quebec model is an excellent example of this.

Of course we must examine the spirit and the letter of the bill, as we do when studying the text of any collective agreement or law. It is definitely difficult to oppose the spirit of this bill. I often say that it is difficult to be against virtue and apple pie. Most people agree with that. However, this bill has significant flaws, which I hope will be addressed if it is referred to a committee.

In fact, the bill only shifts the maternity leave that a woman can take. The difference is that instead of being able to leave eight weeks before the due date, she can leave 15 weeks before. We are taking the same period of time and allowing women to move it around. Nevertheless, it is a start.

This does not make a big difference, especially if a woman has to leave work early for her own safety or that of her unborn child, because she has exactly the same number of weeks. She would just be cutting short the time she could devote to this new relationship after the child is born.

Everyone knows that. All the analyses, all psychologists agree on how important a mother's presence is in the first weeks, months, and even years of a child's life.

What is worse is that, in order for a pregnant woman to benefit from this measure, she must be eligible for employment insurance, and therein lies the rub.

Who are the people in our society who have the most difficulty getting employment insurance benefits? It is women. Most often who are the ones with precarious jobs? Again, it is women. Who are the ones who get fewer hours of work or split-schedules in a work week? Again, it is women.

With the Conservatives' employment insurance reforms, which have not all been reviewed and corrected by the Liberals, only about 39% of people who contribute to employment insurance are able to get benefits when they need them. Again, I would like to remind members that women find it harder to meet the EI eligibility requirements than men.

Again, our proposal, for which we are still awaiting a response from the Liberals, was on qualifying for employment insurance and was quite simple. I think that instating a universal standard of 360 hours to qualify for employment insurance will help many people, including quite a few women who might, by extension, benefit from the bill we are talking about here today.

I would also like to make the link between the bill that the NDP introduced and the one being introduced by the Liberals. Although this bill gives the impression that the Liberals are trailblazers, we must remember that when they were in the opposition, the Liberals joined forces with the Conservatives to vote against an NDP proposal introduced by my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie that raised the same issues. Our bill sought to allow pregnant and nursing women who work in federally regulated businesses in Quebec to have the same benefits provided under Quebec's safe maternity experience program.

Talk about best practices. The Liberal government would do well to take its cue from the safe maternity experience program. Better still, if the Liberal government were to follow that lead, the member who introduced this private member's bill could convince his own caucus to walk the talk by making it a government bill complete with the necessary funding.

I should note that the main objective of Quebec's program is to keep pregnant and nursing women working safely. There is a big difference. The main objective is not to secure employment insurance benefits or preventive withdrawal. The main objective is to keep women in the workplace but under working conditions that do not pose a risk to their health or that of their unborn child. Quebec's safe maternity experience program is a preventive program for pregnant or nursing workers that is designed to keep women at work safely.

The Speaker is telling me that I have just one minute left, so I will say no more about the Quebec program. Everyone can read up on it because it is an existing program.

As a final point, we in the NDP appreciate the spirit of the bill. However, what ultimately happens with this bill will depend on the consultations conducted by the government. Those consultations have not yet begun, as far as I know.

Even if the government passes this bill, it will be too early to determine whether the final product of this strategy will be worthwhile.

As the member for Trois-Rivières, I urge the government to take the necessary steps to bring the federal legislation in line with Quebec's workplace health and safety legislation, so that women working in Quebec have access to the same rights and protections, regardless of the jurisdiction they fall under.

I am sorry I do not have time to say more. I thank my colleagues for their attention.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

7:40 p.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba


Terry Duguid LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-243, an act respecting the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy and amending the Employment Insurance Act (maternity benefits), an initiative of my colleague, the member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands. I would like to applaud and congratulate my colleague for his strong efforts and advocacy in this matter. I commend him for his commitment to his constituents, particularly the individual who inspired this particular bill, and for his leadership in bringing this issue forward.

The health and safety of pregnant and nursing workers is an important issue for this government. In fact, through Canada's employment insurance program, we continue to explore ways to support Canadians, including pregnant workers, when they need it most.

The intent of the bill aligns well with our own intention to improve the EI program and to provide more flexible EI support to families.

In fact, just recently we launched consultations with Canadians to introduce more flexible and inclusive support for parents and family caregivers. This government is seeking views from Canadians on the design of more flexible maternity and parental benefits and leaves and a more inclusive caregiving benefit and leave that would support more Canadians who provide care to a family member.

Bill C-243 would actually bring forward several other issues, such as health and safety, gender equality in the workforce, and the notion that a woman's pregnancy could act as a barrier to full participation in the workplace or as an impediment to career development.

These are some of the very issues we intend to discuss with members of this House, provincial and territorial governments, and other stakeholders with the primary intention of developing more flexible EI parental benefits to meet the unique needs of Canadian families.

At the same time, this is also a government that wants to act as fast as possible to bring real change to Canadians, and a great deal of that work has already begun.

Over the course of the government's mandate, we will continue to make EI better. We will make compassionate care benefits more inclusive and easier to access. The government will also work to remove the barriers to achieving full gender equality in the workforce. We have made progress in this regard, but it is well-recognized that we have to do more.

We will also amend the Canada Labour Code to allow employees in the federally regulated private sector to formally request flexible working arrangements.

However, while the government supports the general direction of the bill, it will not be supporting Bill C-243 in its current form.

I would now like to tell members about those changes that are required in this legislation. I will not go through the whole list, but I will mention the main impediments.

First, the bill lacks a specific coming into force provision to avoid any problematic situations. By coming into force upon royal assent, the bill could present substantive challenges for implementation. For example, the bill must enter into force on a day of the week that aligns with the concept of an EI week. Otherwise, it could result in problems with benefit calculations and payments. This would also allow time to make necessary system changes.

Second, the consultations and reporting provisions are problematic, as the bill would actually create obligations for provinces and territories to report to the federal government on matters related to provincial labour codes. The bill would also create misalignment between the Employment Insurance Act and maternity leave provisions in the employment standards statutes of some provinces and territories.

Third, an incremental expenditure is expected because of the fact that the bill would provide earlier access for maternity benefit claimants who do not make use of the maximum number of maternity and parental benefit weeks available.

It is important to consider changes to EI special benefits in broader terms to avoid unintended consequences with respect to other related benefits.

Our consultations on more flexible parental and more inclusive caregiving benefits were launched on October 6 and are open to all Canadians until November 4. We have started a process that we hope will change the landscape for parents and families.

We believe that every working Canadian deserves our encouragement and our support, particularly in those times when they need it most: when they lose their job, when they are having a baby, when they are welcoming a new child to the family, when they fall sick, or are providing care to a family member.

I commend the work of the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands, for his dedication to his constituents, and his determination to improve the EI program. It is important to note that amending the Employment Insurance Act is a complex endeavour and we want to make sure we do it right. Any changes to EI deserve the benefit of further study and consultations with key partners to ensure that the program better responds to the needs of hard-working Canadian families.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

7:45 p.m.


Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I know I only have four or five minutes for my speech, so I will try to be as fast as I can.

Does this bill represent progress? Yes, it represents a small step forward, but any weeks taken ahead of time will only be taken back afterwards. Thus, anything more you get now, you have to give back later.

We keep hearing about the safe maternity experience program, and we have to ask ourselves whether the measure proposed in this bill compares to that program. It most definitely does not. For instance, when it comes to eligibility, a woman can get a preventive withdrawal any time during the pregnancy with a medical certificate and when the employer cannot find other suitable work. That could happen at five weeks, and about 90% of her salary is covered. Quebec's preventive withdrawal program is therefore far more effective.

Under the QPIP, a person is allowed to earn $2,000 during the qualifying period. Of course, if you earn only $2,000, the benefits will not be as high. What is more, the main focus of the safe maternity experience program is to relocate the workers. In fact, the benefits are not as high when the employer manages to relocate the workers. In the case of employment insurance, the employer has no interest in keeping an employee who is unable to perform all her tasks. People are therefore being forced into employment insurance.

The safe maternity experience program does an analysis of each job. A worker with three jobs might have one where she is reassigned, one where she is in preventive withdrawal, and one where she continues to work as though she were not pregnant because there is no impact in this case. In order to receive employment insurance benefits a woman with three or four jobs would have to give them all up, or she would be penalized for working. Also, as I said, one of the big problems has to do with preventive withdrawal. A woman can go on preventive withdrawal as soon as she becomes pregnant. She is covered for her entire pregnancy if the job is too dangerous. Under employment insurance, a woman has to wait until her 25th week of pregnancy. The highest risk for miscarriage occurs precisely in the period during which she has to work if she wants to keep earning an income and survive during this time. There are also problems when it comes to benefits and the lack of coverage.

The Quebec program is much better designed and more advantageous. This bill makes some progress, but it is a far cry from the other program. We should take a look at what Quebec does and ensure that women will not have to choose between continuing to work to survive and to eat, and risking having a miscarriage, and staying at home with all that entails for living conditions.

Sometimes it takes women 10 to 15 years to get pregnant. After 15 years of trying, these women are told they are pregnant and they are not entitled to anything. They have to continue working even though they have waited 15 years to become pregnant, or they can go home and live on no money.

Therefore, the problem has not been solved. We should really introduce a program modelled after the safe maternity experience program for employees under federal jurisdiction. Women would really be the winners.

I am pleased to have been able to use the few remaining minutes in the debate.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

7:50 p.m.


Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank all my colleagues who spoke to my private member's bill, Bill C-243, both today and in the first hour of debate that took place a number of months ago.

I also want to give great thanks to Melody, the welder in my community who inspired the bill and her now 16-month-old son, Ezra. I understand they are sitting in my constituency office in Kingston watching this. I believe it is past Ezra's bedtime right now, but maybe this is a special occasion for him.

I also want to thank the over 20 organizations, both those that specialize in getting women into the workforce and into particular sectors of the workforce, and the much broader group of organizations, such as the Engineers of Canada, and the various other organizations that saw merit in the bill and decided to support it.

There are really two parts to the bill. It was structured in this way because as a private member's bill, certain costs were not allowed to be incurred in the bill. Quite frankly, in this regard, all three of my NDP colleagues who spoke to it raised the issue of the bill not going far enough. I could not agree with them more: it does not go far enough.

However, with the first part of the bill I was able to specifically address a short-term fix to the employment insurance system to create a bridge toward a more fulsome, long-term solution.

Let me be absolutely clear. There will be no additional cost to the EI system from implementing the bill. It would solely move some of the EI funds that a woman would get after giving birth and transfer them to her before she gave birth. That is all it would do. It would not create any new costs.

The other part of the bill that goes beyond that deals with having a strategy, talking about what we are doing in other parts of the country, particularly in Quebec. I appreciate my NDP colleagues bringing that up. In Quebec there is an extremely good maternity assistance program.

I want to look at how we can take that program and make it more holistic, coming from the perspective of a national strategy. That was always the intention with the second part of the bill, to have that discussion so we could go further and make recommendations to the government for realistic long-term changes and long-term solutions for this.

I want to thank my colleagues who have contributed to the debate. I remind people that this is about creating opportunities for women which do not currently exist.

A woman, Melody from my riding, should not have to choose between being a welder and having a family. We live in one of the best countries in the world, if not the best, and I cannot see a reason why we cannot be performing and making sure we have the right tools and policies in place to take proper care of women so that when they choose to get involved in a line of work, they do not have to consider if it will be hazardous to their health if they then choose to become pregnant and have a family.

Again, I thank everyone who took the time to invest some research into the bill to contribute to the debate, and I hope I can ask all members of the House to support the bill when it comes up for a vote next week.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

7:55 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

7:55 p.m.

Some hon. members



National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

7:55 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

7:55 p.m.

Some hon. members


National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

7:55 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

All those opposed will please say nay.