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.