House of Commons Hansard #57 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was access.


National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Niki Ashton NDP Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the work he has done on this front. Obviously this is a major issue for many women, and for men, obviously as well, who are very concerned about the situation that many women face in the workplace.

I will be speaking to the bill, but I do want to ask the member if he is aware of the concerns put forward by CUPE Quebec and others as well that have made it clear that the bill does not tackle the same sort of proposed changes that exist in Quebec, particularly the program that is known as Pour une maternité sans danger, and that they are very concerned about the bill. I am wondering if he could speak to that discrepancy.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague is well aware, one of the challenging parts of putting forward a private member's bill is an inability to introduce new spending. I would have loved to shape this bill in such a way as to make it more like the model that exists in Quebec. However, because of that limitation, I was unable to do so.

That is why my bill and the EI part of it are just the first step to this. The second step is the bigger national dialogue about getting together with all stakeholders and having a discussion about this. That is where I am really trying to drive this with the second part of the bill, and that is what the strategy is about.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I too, like my other colleague, would like to commend the member for what has been a very bold initiative. I will leave an open-ended question if there anything further he would like to add to the importance of making changes of this nature that are very progressive in their thinking.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, all I want to add about this is that we have to remember this. Women who are seeking to get into these lines of work in these non-traditional jobs are already going out on a ledge or taking a step forward by trying to get into these professions. They are already facing obstacles by doing that alone. We as a government need to provide an incentive to make that easier for them so they do not have to be discouraged from getting into jobs they would traditionally not be seen to be in.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to say from the outset that we support this private member's bill. We think this bill is important. We certainly would not describe this bill as coming in by the back door. This bill was introduced by a member of Parliament who was duly elected by his constituents. He came in here through the front door. We are pleased to welcome this bill through the front door, even though it is a private member's bill. To us there is no distinction to be made, contrary to what other colleagues may have said in the past. Private members' bills are important, and I like to reiterate that every chance I get.

On those fine words, we are in favour of this bill. I want to acknowledge the very positive way in which it was introduced. We have here a newly elected member of Parliament, much like myself, who took over from his predecessor in Kingston and the Islands and was privy to a situation that a person shared with him in his riding office.

People watching us on television think that parliamentarians argue all day long. That is simply not true. What we do here in the House is just one part of our work as MPs, because we work a lot in our ridings. In fact we spend more than half our time there. When we meet with Canadians, talk to them, and listen to them, we grasp the essence of our work. That is exactly what happened to the member for Kingston and the Islands. He met in his office with a constituent who had a concern, then he presented the concern here in the House by the front door and not the back door, and that is a good thing.

What is the bill about? The bill would let a woman take preventive leave and receive maternity benefits if her job could have a negative impact on her pregnancy. We must understand that this type of situation is becoming increasingly common. When I say that, I am not being negative, but constructive. That is today's reality.

A few decades ago we could not imagine there would be female welders, such as our colleague's constituent, but today we know that there are no gender-specific jobs. Every job is open to everyone. Men and women alike can do any job there is. However, this leads to situations, in welding for example, where workers are exposed to chemicals or have to do physically demanding work where they have to stand up, bend, stoop, and do other things that might have an impact on a pregnancy. We do not need to be doctors to know that. It is obvious that this is a cause for concern. That is why we are in favour of this bill.

It should be noted that this type of approach, preventive withdrawal, has been around in Quebec for years. I know what I am talking about because my riding is in Quebec.

I would like to share our concerns in that regard. We agree with the principle. I cannot emphasize that enough. We are going to vote in favour of the bill. I just want to reassure everyone of that. However, this bill clearly opens a door that could have significant financial implications. Similar legislation in Quebec has had such implications. I tried to determine exactly how much it costs. That is very difficult because it changes a lot over time. In Quebec, we know that 20% of pregnant women take preventive leave. They may include women who work in hair salons with certain chemicals or nurses who come into contact with sick people, obviously, or chemicals or medical products. They may also include teachers who use chalkboards and other products. We need to be aware that this measure could cost a lot of money. We need to be aware of that. We are talking about 20%, which means that one in five pregnant women in Quebec takes this sort of leave.

Recently, we have been talking a lot about Bill C-14, which, as members know, follows on similar legislation in Quebec. I have been reminded of the Quebec model many times in the past few hours.

To get back to the topic at hand, if the government were to model this system after Quebec's and one out of every five women were to take medical leave, that means 75,000 women would have access to this type of leave. We are not opposed to that. We need to be aware of this reality. However, this could end up costing an additional $245 million. We need to be aware of this. We need to take this into consideration. Either we believe in it or we do not. If we do, we need to do what is necessary.

Since this is a private member's bill that came through the front door, we need to recognize that it cannot have any financial implications. However, this bill could ultimately have some financial implications. We need to keep that in mind.

We completely agree with the other part of the bill, which proposes striking a committee and holding consultations with Canadians. Consultations seems to be a popular word these days. Consultations will help us get to the bottom of this issue, assess the situation, take a look at the Quebec experience, identify what works and what does not work, and learn from what is going on in Quebec, so that we can improve the approach.

I would remind members that we completely agree with the principle. We are cautious about the potential financial implications, and we are open to the discussions and conversations that we, as parliamentarians, need to have with all Canadians on this issue.

We believe in families and we believe that the government should assist families. We support that, but it needs to be done in a positive, constructive manner. We fully recognize that these days, there is no longer such a thing as men's work and women's work. All professions are open to everyone. This is what leads to improvements and enhancements to our laws, regulations and approaches regarding the maternity rights of all Canadian women.

Naturally, we want millions of children to be born here in this big, beautiful country.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Niki Ashton NDP Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to rise in the House today to speak to the bill put forward by the member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands.

I want to begin by saying we appreciate the preamble of the bill, which praises Quebec's Programme Pour une maternité sans danger. We recognize that this program has successfully protected pregnant women in Quebec from workplace-related hazards and has been a step forward toward greater equality in the workplace.

While looking further into the bill it has come to our attention that the predecessor of the member for Kingston and the Islands also had an interest in such a bill. He had petitioned the government in order to raise awareness of the issue and called on the government to accommodate women working in high-risk environments. Perhaps the current member for Kingston and the Islands would be interested to know that his party actually voted against allowing women to benefit from the Programme Pour une maternité sans danger at the national level, given the fact they voted against an NDP bill that proposed creating the exact same Quebec arrangement at the national level.

As of now, there is inequity in Quebec between workers, as the women working in workplaces in the federal jurisdiction may not benefit from the program that exists in Quebec. We are quite troubled by the fact that the Liberals voted against a bill that was put forward by my colleague, the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie at the time in order to create such an important framework at the national level. I hope that this legislation is a first step toward correcting that mistake.

We support the principle of the bill, particularly the commitment to a national dialogue and a national strategy when it comes to ensuring that women can have safe pregnancies, no matter the work they do. However, we will be looking to committee, and we will certainly be working to propose much needed key changes at the committee stage.

As encouraged as we are by the sentiment put forward by our colleague from Kingston and the Islands, we are also worried by several items that are in the legislation. It is our understanding that the member of Parliament views the legislative changes as a first step, and that he understands that more will be required as the government moves forward with the national strategy and consultations. However, these legislative changes unfortunately would not bring any new benefit for the women that would choose to leave the high-risk environment in which they work. The changes to the Employment Insurance Act would allow for some limited flexibility, but they would also force women to choose between eliminating risk in their pregnancy and spending time with their newborn. This is no leap forward for greater equality.

The major issue with the bill is that when it comes to risky work, the onus is put on the employee, in this case the pregnant woman, rather than on the employer. This could have an adverse effect as employers would not have any incentive in finding risk-free tasks for workers who are pregnant. Employers might find it simpler to encourage their workers to go on maternity leave earlier, as they might see it more economically viable than finding new tasks for them. Such a scenario would actually go against the intention of the bill, in our opinion.

In fact, if we look to the program in Quebec, Pour une maternité sans danger, it is actually clear that it is an occupational health and safety measure and not a parental leave one. In Quebec, it is the employer's responsibility to provide a safe work environment for their workers, pregnant women included. The Quebec program does not end up costing women at risk any time in terms of their parental leave and it does not cost them any significant portion of their salary, which is not the case for EI. The program even existed before the parental leave scheme that was implemented in Quebec, and it was always seen as an occupational health and safety measure, funded through workers compensation.

The distinction here is important because there is a difference between being in an at-risk work environment and being on parental leave. This legislation does not seem to make that distinction.

The eligibility threshold to qualify for this measure in the bill is also disconcerting. As we all know, being eligible for EI in certain parts of the country can require a significant amount of time in the job market. This is particularly challenging for many women across Canada. This alone would disqualify many women from taking advantage of this measure.

Another question mark is that while women on parental leave are benefiting from EI, they are also depriving themselves from significant revenue.

We applaud the goals of the member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands with his private member's bill. We recognize that his goal is to enhance the services working women have access to when they are pregnant, and the fact that they deserve to work in a safe environment.

We are eager to bring this discussion to committee, and to improve the bill, with the insight witnesses will bring to the table. However, we would have wanted Quebec women working under federal jurisdiction to have access to the services other workers have.

We also hope that the national strategy will bind the government into enhancing the services women are expected to have when they are pregnant, and that it will help to relieve them of their obligation to work in high-risk environments. We will continue to raise our concerns on this matter.

We will work with those who have already made their concerns known, and we hope they will find an attentive ear on the other side.

I rise today to speak to Bill C-243, which creates a national strategy to help pregnant women who work in high-risk environments. The preamble of the bill applauds the positive impact of Quebec’s safe maternity experience program, which has similar goals, but does not allow Quebec women to take part in it.

The member opposite had good intentions with this bill. Perhaps he will be surprised to learn that his party failed to pass a previous bill on the same issue. The Liberal Party sided with the Conservative Party to vote down a bill that would have allowed Quebec women who work in a high-risk environment under federal jurisdiction to benefit from Quebec's safe maternity experience program.

The Quebec National Assembly unanimously supported the NDP's position. The member recognizes that his bill does not do everything he would like it to do, but it is still being introduced by the same party that said no to the women of Quebec. His bill will create two classes of workers in Quebec, even though, at the end of the day, he is trying to achieve what we had proposed in the previous Parliament.

High barriers to employment insurance eligibility will also affect access to the program envisioned by the member for Kingston and the Islands. Many female Canadian workers are not eligible for employment insurance, so they would not be eligible for this program despite being eligible for the Quebec program.

Another difference between the Quebec program and the member's proposal is the lack of incentives to reassign a pregnant employee. The Quebec program is rooted in workplace health and safety and the premise that the employer is responsible for ensuring a safe work environment for female employees.

If the employer cannot reassign a female worker to a safe job, her income will be topped up by the employer-funded occupational health and safety coverage. Employers are motivated to reassign employees rather than put them on preventive leave because they are the ones who pay for the program. Under the proposal put forward by the member for Kingston and the Islands, workers would bear the burden of funding the program. Female workers in risky workplaces will end up footing the bill for their employers' inability to guarantee them a safe work environment.

In conclusion, we believe that the member for Kingston and the Islands has identified a problem we need to consider, but his approach to solving that problem is far from ideal. The long-term measures he would like the government to implement depend on the goodwill of the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour. The short-term measures he is proposing contain virtually nothing new for female workers in Canada. We hope that we will be able to do more. We will work with those who have already expressed their opposition, and we are eager to study and, of course, improve this bill in committee.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Cape Breton—Canso Nova Scotia


Rodger Cuzner LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand in the House and make a contribution to the debate on my colleague's private member's bill.

As has been said already in the House, my colleague and new best friend from Louis-Saint-Laurent has indicated that not all private members' bills are created equal or come from the same place. Over the 16 years I have been here, I have had an opportunity to speak to a fairly wide range of private members' bills, some which were somewhat suspect.

In the last Parliament, there was a trend of thought that ran from coast to coast that maybe Bill C-525 and Bill C-377 may have had the PMO fingerprints on it. I can neither confirm nor deny that, but I have heard that before.

I have had an opportunity stand to speak on a number of occasions on private members' bills that have been presented and have been born from that relationship between a member of Parliament and one of the constituents that he or she represents, and that was the genesis of that private member's bill.

It is said that if leaders are to be successful, they have to earn the trust of the people they want to lead. One thing we know is that if we want to earn that respect, people have to understand that we care. People want to know how much we care before they care how much we know.

By taking an issue as important as the one addressed in this private member's bill, and investing the time and energy to develop private member's legislation around it, the member for Kingston and the Islands has to be commended. That happens in the House on occasion, and it is a great thing. All parties have members who have brought forward legislation that has come from the grassroots. On behalf of my colleagues, I want to commend the member for Kingston and the Islands for bringing this forward.

I have watched, with great nervousness and the collective knot we get in our stomach, what is going in Fort McMurray. I spent 10 years in Fort Mac. I worked at the GCOS, the Suncor plant on site for a number of years when I first went out there. Anybody who has ever had the opportunity to work in an industrial shop where welding is going one, where tradespeople are using cutting torches, or gouging torches or even just running a welding bead, has an appreciation for that whole environment.

There absolutely are labour laws around that, and about air quality, but people cannot help but know they are in a place where if they do not take precautions or if a piece of apparatus is not up to snuff, then it becomes a workplace of concern.

I have some comments specifically about the legislation before us today.

The health and safety of pregnant workers is an important issue with the government, and through Canada's employment insurance system, we continue to explore ways to support Canadians, including pregnant workers, when they need it most. Under the current El Act, pregnant women are eligible for a total of 15 weeks of maternity benefits. Maternity benefits are specifically intended to support a woman's income when she is out of the workforce to recover from the physical or emotional effects of pregnancy or childbirth.

Maternity benefits can start as early as 8 weeks before the birth, and must end no later than 17 weeks after the child is born. Depending on what suits the mother's situation, benefits can be spread out before and after the child is born.

Outside of Quebec, which administers its own parental insurance plan, El maternity benefits are a key policy and income support tool for mothers across Canada. In 2014-15, the El program paid over $1 billion in maternity benefits to nearly 170,000 claimants.

I should also point out that in addition to the EI maternity benefits that are available, only the federal jurisdiction and the Province of Quebec specifically offer preventative withdrawal job protection for pregnant and/or nursing women.

Federally regulated employees under the Canada Labour Code may request a reassignment based on medical advice. Once the request is made, the woman can take a leave with pay until the employer either accommodates her request for a reassignment or confirms that it would not be possible to do so. If a reassignment is not possible, the woman may take a leave of absence for the duration of the risk.

The Province of Quebec, as I indicated earlier, offers a similar provision for pregnant or nursing women, providing them the right to request reassignment to other duties, or if that is not possible, to take leave if their working conditions may be physically dangerous to their health or that of their unborn or nursing child.

Other provincial and territorial jurisdictions in Canada have workplace health and safety standards. However, the Canada Labour Code job protection for maternity leave varies across the country. The intent of the bill aligns well with our own intentions to make El more flexible, and consequently more helpful to all workers who face a period of unemployment, for whatever reason.

The bill also brings forward several other issues that remain to be examined, issues such as health and safety and gender equality in the workforce, as well as the notion that a woman's pregnancy could act as a barrier to full participation in the workplace and an impediment to career development.

These are some of the issues we intend to discuss in our upcoming consultations with members of the House, provincial and territorial governments, and other stakeholders, with the primary intention of developing more flexible parental benefits to meet the unique needs of current Canadian families. It is important to note that amending the El Act is a complex endeavour, and we want to ensure that we do it the proper way. Any changes to El 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.

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. For example, we have introduced the new Canada child benefit that will give Canadian families more money to help with the high cost of raising their children. With a maximum benefit of up to $6,400 per child under the age of six and up to $5,400 per child for those aged six through 17, it will be simpler, more generous, and better targeted to those who need the help. The child disability benefit is an additional $2,730.

We have made changes to the El system, going from a two-week waiting period to one week. We have made changes to the working-while-on-claim provisions within the EI system. We have enhanced the work-sharing agreements, doubling them to a maximum of 76 weeks, which most Canadians recognize as being very family friendly.

These are changes that we believe reflect the needs and demands of today's workforce and changes that Canadians have been asking for.

We have removed barriers to full gender equality in the workforce and have made progress in this regard. However, it is well-recognized that we have to do more. As announced yesterday, we will also amend the Canada Labour Code to allow men and women in the workplace to formally request flexible working arrangements.

I know that my time is running out. I would reiterate the fact that I am pleased to stand and speak to the bill today. I want to commend my colleague from Kingston for his work on this piece of legislation. We look forward to debating it further and working as a government to try to enhance the opportunity for all Canadians to play a fuller, richer, and more rewarding role in this country's workforce.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to participate in the debate on Bill C-243.

I want to begin by thanking the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands for bringing this important issue to the House of Commons for debate. It is these types of issues, as my colleagues have touched upon, that I think are so important for us to discuss and debate in this House of Commons and work together on a collaborative approach to bills such as this.

My wife, Justine, and I have a young daughter. She is about 22 months old. We are expecting our second child later this month, so we have some experience with the employment insurance program, particularly as it relates to parental and maternity benefits. My wife is a nurse. She did have some challenges with the EI program when she was expecting our first child. The changes proposed in the bill, I think, are certainly welcomed by a number of people in demanding professions and careers.

As members know, the employment insurance program does provide 15 weeks in maternity benefits to qualified people. However, it does not allow this to occur any more than eight weeks prior to the date of confinement, the date of the baby's proposed birth.

For some mothers, there is the opportunity for 15 weeks of sickness benefits. This does help to bridge the gap in certain situations. However, as the member for Kingston and the Islands does correctly point out, pregnancy is not an illness and it should not be considered as an illness.

There is an opportunity here, with this bill, to explore alternative ways to assist expectant mothers, especially those who work in demanding and challenging careers.

I certainly appreciate, also, that the bill would take into account the different working conditions experienced by women, and that it would consider how a woman in these industries may need a degree of flexibility from the programs that government offers.

At the same time, the bill, at least the first part of the bill, would not effectively raise the costs of the employment insurance program. That is something that we on this side of the House can appreciate when we are debating this particular issue.

I think it is clear that many Canadian women have jobs in which their working conditions may have an impact on their own physical well-being or that of their unborn child.

Allowing expectant mothers to enjoy flexibility in the use of their 15 weeks of maternity benefits is an important recognition of the simple fact that not all working conditions are the same.

It further recognizes that the health and safety of expectant mothers and their unborn children is of paramount importance and that it is essential to protect them from harmful conditions caused by physical stress or exposure to harmful materials.

Many organizations have endorsed this bill, including Women Building Futures and the Office to Advance Women Apprentices. These organizations indicated that this bill would provide valuable support for women working in construction and the skilled trades.

Since my election as a member of this House, I have had many conversations with local labour market experts, employers, and skilled tradespeople about the shortage of skilled trades in our community and across the country. In particular, there is a shortage of women in the skilled trades. This shortage begins in high school and continues throughout the workforce.

This bill may not have a major effect on the long-term ability of the industry to attract women to the skilled trades, but it will not hurt. After all, in 2012, women held just 11.8% of construction jobs and only 19% of jobs in forestry, fishing, mining, oil, and gas. Anything we can do to encourage women to participate in “non-traditional” jobs is beneficial.

As it stands now, the employment insurance program effectively makes women working in physically demanding jobs choose between continuing to work under potentially unsafe working conditions, or go without pay for a period of eight weeks or more.

I think all hon. members would agree that this is a choice that no person should be forced to make and it is not fair to expectant mothers.

It is important to recognize that this bill, as written, does not increase the number weeks a woman can take of maternity leave.

It simply provides expectant mothers with the opportunity to choose when to begin their maternity benefits. It is worth noting as well that nothing in this bill prevents women from taking additional weeks of unpaid leave if they so choose.

I understand maternity benefits are an important aspect of supporting working women, but I also must be clear that, like all benefits, they must be affordable and they must be implemented in a sustainable way. That is why I encourage the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to carefully examine this bill during its clause-by-clause examination to ensure that the costs of the EI maternity benefits program are not materially or substantially increased.

Finally, this bill compels the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour to conduct consultations on the development of a national maternity assistance program. The purpose of such a program would be to support women who are unable to work during pregnancy because of their working conditions and because their employer is unable to accommodate them or provide reassignment within the organization.

Again, I would encourage the minister to undertake this review with an understanding of the costs and long-term sustainability of the employment insurance program.

It is incredibly important that this House support all workers and, in this particular case, expectant mothers. It is important that women, especially those in demanding careers and in the skilled trades, have the flexibility to make the employment insurance program work for them.

I will be supporting this bill at second reading. I encourage all members to support it at second reading, so it can go to committee where the members can continue to hear witnesses and explore this important measure.

Again, I want to thank the member for Kingston and the Islands for his hard work on this bill and for bringing it forward to this House. I look forward to supporting it.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Tracey Ramsey NDP Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-243, introduced by the member for Kingston and the Islands.

This bill is an important first step in addressing the needs of pregnant women who work in potentially hazardous environments. By allowing women working in dangerous jobs to begin using their maternity benefits earlier and by implementing a national maternity assistance program strategy, this bill will provide women with greater flexibility in the decision-making, and hopefully lead to implementation of an effective pan-Canadian strategy.

First, I would like to acknowledge the member opposite and his predecessor for listening to and being inspired to introduce this bill by their constituents. I know there will be important amendments made at the committee level, and I look forward to seeing them come to fruition.

Ms. Ballard, a resident of Kingston, Ontario, was forced to stop working early into her pregnancy because, as a welder, her work environment exposed her to potentially dangerous conditions. It is disappointing, but sadly not uncommon, to hear cases of expectant moms who are forced to take leave from their jobs without benefits because their workplaces are unable or unwilling to accommodate them.

Far too often women lose out on salary or benefits as a result of becoming pregnant, even after dedicating much of their time and hard work to their jobs. In most cases, it makes sense for an employer to accommodate a pregnant woman in this situation because doing so would allow her to work longer. An employer who is motivated to make accommodations and work together will likely have a positive impact on an employee's productivity.

Pregnancy is a special time in a woman's life. It is a time for planning, dreaming, and looking to the future, but it can be a time of worry and concern for the future: how to balance paying the bills while being on maternity or parental leave, or how she will take care of herself and her child during the pregnancy. It is no secret that some activities can indeed pose health and safety risks to pregnant women.

As outlined by Health Canada, activities that include standing for prolonged periods of time, lifting heavy loads, being exposed to certain chemicals, and being subject to loud noises or vibrations, to name a few, can negatively influence the health of a pregnant women. However, it is important to remember that pregnancy does not make women unsuitable for the types of jobs where they will be exposed to these activities. In fact, the opposite is true.

There is a real shortage of women in many workplaces, especially in STEM careers, science, technology, engineering, and math-related occupations. More work needs to be done to ensure that these workplaces encourage greater gender diversity and equality. As the OECD explains, when women participate in the workforce, individual industries and the economy as a whole benefit. This is why groups such as Canada's Building Trades Unions and the National Council of Women of Canada are supporting this bill.

The bill is also supported by many other groups that recognize that pregnancy should never be a barrier for women in the workplace. In my riding of Essex, as in all ridings, this equality is especially important. The Conference Board of Canada, in its “Winter 2016 Metropolitan Outlook”, highlighted the manufacturing and construction sectors as key sources of growth for the Windsor-Essex region. Manufacturing employment is expected to grow by about 3.1% annually for the next two years. Construction output is also expected to increase by 8.3%, as a result of the planned Gordie Howe international bridge. While there is plenty of new opportunity coming to my region in these two sectors, I hope that both men and women will benefit.

I know well how women feel. As a mother of two boys, now 13 and 15, I worked while pregnant in an auto assembly plant in Windsor, where I worked for 20 years. I remember working while pregnant with my first son, and another woman in the workplace was expecting too. We were working on an assembly line, and finding an accommodation when we needed to rest for a moment after hours of standing or go to the washroom at a moment's notice, not to mention the chemicals that we sometimes had to be around, was not always easy.

We advocated for each other and worked with management to find solutions. After all, we were not going to be pregnant forever. These solutions worked for us all.

It is important to understand that employers have an obligation to accommodate women when they are pregnant in the workplace. Unfortunately, I was not as lucky with my second pregnancy in only needing minimal accommodation. I had a riskier pregnancy that was landing me in the hospital weekly, and I was anxious and uncertain, not only about the health of my baby and myself, but also about my ability to work. I needed time off, and had a hard time finding accommodations that included being able to sit intermittently.

After another difficult hospital stay, I attempted to return to work again, only to find that my previous accommodations were not available to me. I was even more uncertain than ever about what to do. There were many anxious conversations at home and work about my health and ability to work in this environment with chemicals and a physically demanding job. I would go to work every day, uncertain about what job I could do, and would often push myself to try jobs I knew I could not perform, trying to be part of the solution, trying to stay working and balancing my health. It was exhausting and stressful.

Thankfully, my co-workers were kind and understanding, and fortunately I was a member of a union that had negotiated a sick and accident benefit for all of us. My supervisor, union rep, and I met about this issue, and it was offered to me to spend the rest of my pregnancy on this benefit. How lucky I was. I accepted, and remember going home and crying with relief as my husband, young son, and I had the ability to focus on my health and not worry about how we would pay the bills or how I would do my job. For my particular situation, this was a resolution. Employers, however, have a fundamental obligation to provide accommodation that should always be the first remedy.

I spent the remaining months visiting the hospital many times, but ultimately we were very fortunate to welcome our second completely perfect son, Maliq. I began my maternity leave and still had my full year of maternity benefits.

All women should have this provision available to them. I cannot help but think how unfair it is for other working women who struggle, finding themselves in similar situations without the ability to rest and take care of themselves. No family should have to go through that stress let alone when one is expecting.

For women to be encouraged to enter male-dominated jobs, such as STEM jobs, they need to be confident that they will not be left without income in the case their pregnancy is no longer compatible with their work environment or job responsibilities. They need greater flexibility as they make decisions balancing their work and family needs.

Quebec understands this well, as evidenced by its safe maternity experience program, which the NDP wants to see expanded to Quebec women in federally regulated workplaces. My colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie has long been an advocate for this and put forward a private member's bill, which unfortunately was voted down in the previous Parliament.

The safe maternity experience program allows women the ability to request a temporary reassignment should their regular duties become a health risk due to a pregnancy. If reassignment is not possible, the women are able to preventively withdraw from work and receive 90% of the income they would have received. The Quebec program is an exceptional aid for women.

By removing the threat of losing income due to pregnancy, it helps break down barriers that women face when trying to become fully active members of the workforce. This program is more in line with how Canada should be addressing this issue. These maternity supports should be offered throughout workplace health and safety programs, and not through a parental leave program that compensates women through employment insurance benefits.

Bill C-243 would do little to address the gap between Canada's national program and what global leaders like France and Germany are doing. While extending the beginning eligibility date from which women working in a dangerous environment can begin maternity leave, the bill would leave the total amount of maternity leave unchanged. Both the percentage of income received and the total weeks that can be collected would remain the same. This simply changes the choices available to women about when to begin their leave. If a pregnant woman begins her leave early, it means she will have to go back to work early, and that could lead to costs and challenges of finding child care, especially for young infants where space is extremely limited.

In conclusion, I would like to restate my support for Bill C-243 with the amendments that will be welcomed at the committee level.

I encourage my colleagues on all sides of the House to support the immediate development and implementation of a national maternity assistance program that would better support women who are unable to work during their pregnancies.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hour provided for the 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.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

HousingAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.


Sheri Benson NDP Saskatoon West, SK

Mr. Speaker, on March 11, in the wake of a horrifying incident where two homeless people from Saskatchewan were put on a bus to B.C., I asked the government to commit to a national housing strategy that would end homelessness in communities across Canada.

I was encouraged to see that the first Liberal budget has committed some much-needed funds to support the housing needs of first nation communities, victims of domestic violence, and young Canadians, and to create more affordable housing. Unfortunately, after decades of neglect and indifference, Canada's social housing infrastructure is in tatters and is woefully inadequate.

While the new money is certainly welcome and overdue, I think that the government recognizes that much more needs to be done. Housing is one of the most important social determinants of health. Without a secure roof over our heads, it is difficult, if not impossible, to work, study, raise children, or be healthy, and it costs all of us so much more in health care costs, lost potential, and human tragedy.

Too many Canadians are in precarious housing, or have no housing at all. Many more are paying too much for housing. This is a situation that must change.

The Canadian Housing and Renewal Association estimates that roughly 140,000 families are waiting between five and 12 years for subsidized housing in Canada. According to a recent study, 40% of renters spend more than 30% of their household income on the cost of rent and utilities, the level at which many say housing costs become unaffordable. About 20% spend more than half their income, which housing advocates say puts them at high risk of becoming homeless.

My hon. colleague, the member for Hochelaga, has recently completed a report on homelessness in Canada after a three-year tour of more than 30 communities, and she found that the situation is devastating. She said:

Throughout Canada, I met tenants who had to choose between paying rent and buying groceries. In a country as wealthy as ours, this situation is unacceptable.... Housing is a right for all of us and eliminating poverty starts with ensuring that everyone has a roof over their head.

The current housing crisis is not new. It has been getting worse because of government inaction. A former Liberal government brought sweeping reforms to the National Housing Act in 1973, and the minister responsible for housing described adequate, affordable shelter as an “elemental human need”.

How times have changed. The dark decades since have seen the abdication of leadership on the federal level by both the Liberal and Conservative governments, accompanied by diminishing investments and the devolving of responsibility to lower levels of government. We do not even have a minister of housing in the cabinet.

The Liberal government has a chance to turn the crisis around. The funds announced in the budget are a good first step, but there is so much more to do.

The member for Hochelaga's report, “A Roof, A Right”, sets out a sensible approach to correcting the housing deficit in Canada, and I ask the government to act on the recommendations in this report. The member has also introduced two bills aimed at addressing the housing crisis in Canada, one that would include the right to housing in the Canadian Bill of Rights and a second that calls for the implementation of a national strategy for secure, adequate, accessible, and affordable housing.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has also expressed concern about the persistence of a housing crisis in Canada and has called on the government to bring in a national housing strategy that recognizes the right to housing.

Investing in housing is not an expense. It is an investment in individuals, communities, society, and the economy as a whole. Will the government commit to immediately implementing a national housing strategy?

HousingAdjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba


Terry Duguid LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Saskatoon West for once again providing me with the opportunity to speak to the important issue of affordable housing. I also thank her for some of her positive comments on recent investments we have announced in the budget.

As hon. members will know, budget 2016 includes a clear commitment to re-establishing federal leadership in housing and to develop a national housing strategy. This should come as no surprise to her, since the creation of a national housing strategy was a key element of our plan during the last election.

Our government is committed to re-establishing federal leadership in affordable housing, and developing the country's first ever national housing strategy. The leadership that this government has shown in the area of housing does not imply that the federal government has all the answers. In fact, the opposite is true.

Rather than impose a strategy, we will consult widely on how housing outcomes can be improved for all Canadians. Why? Because we recognize that affordable housing is not an issue only for low-income Canadians. It is increasingly a challenge for middle-class households and those striving to join the middle class.

We also know that the best way to identify and implement effective new approaches in housing is by bringing together our key partners, the provinces and territories, as well as first nations, individual Canadians and the full range of housing stakeholders in a national dialogue. A comprehensive consultation plan is currently being developed, and I can assure the House there will be opportunities for Canadians to be heard and that consultations will include discussions on providing greater access to affordable housing for Canadians.

In the meantime, and as the hon. member knows, this government is proceeding with the largest investment in housing of the past 25 years. The budget's housing investments are key components of our planned investments in social infrastructure to help strengthen the middle class, promote inclusive growth and lift more Canadians out of poverty.

Over the next two years, our government will provide $2.3 billion in new funding for affordable housing, a portion of which will be cost-matched by the provinces and territories. Much of this funding will be delivered through the existing agreements with provinces and territories. In fact, this government is already working with its partners to ensure that these funds flow as quickly as possible to communities that need it most.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation will directly deliver a portion of the funding that has been earmarked for federally administered housing, and we will work with first nations and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to deliver new housing investments on reserve.

The goal of these investments is to address urgent needs in the short term, while we take the time needed to develop innovative new approaches over the long term. I am confident that we can count on the support of the member for Saskatoon West as we start implementing the important housing measures from budget 2016, and make our way to the national housing strategy about which I know she feels so deeply.

HousingAdjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.


Sheri Benson NDP Saskatoon West, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have a couple of things I would like to ask my hon. colleague to immediately start. I totally understand that housing is a partnership between the federal and provincial governments, and I welcome the consultations between those two levels.

I want to see the federal government stepping up and saying that housing is a right, providing a framework for those conversations and not just going into them with this wide open agenda.

Many provinces have huge debt and their ability to be a part of a joint framework, a joint funding arrangement may be at risk. Therefore, the federal government needs to step up and say that housing is a right and it needs to address the dire housing needs of thousands of Canadians immediately.

A great first step of part of a national housing strategy is recognizing that every Canadian deserves a home.

HousingAdjournment Proceedings

7 p.m.


Terry Duguid Liberal Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, we look forward to hearing from members of the House and other Canadians on what elements should be included in Canada's new national housing strategy.

The Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and I will announce details of the consultations as soon as they are available. I can assure the member for Saskatoon West that our goal is to consult widely and thoroughly so we can develop the best strategy to support the housing needs of Canadians.

This government recognizes that affordable housing is an issue of national importance. I hear the hon. member's passion. I hear her commitment to this cause, to which we are also committed.

It is a priority for this government. Therefore, we intend to move forward on a timely basis, beginning with the new investments announced in budget 2016.

Canada Border Services AgencyAdjournment Proceedings

May 17th, 2016 / 7 p.m.


Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rose in the House on February 2 to ask the government if it would be reinvesting in the Canada Border Services Agency to make it more efficient. My colleague, the hon. minister, informed me at the time that an action plan would be implemented by the end of the year.

I rise here today because I must confess that I am concerned about the next few months. Between now and the end of the year, potentially illegal goods could leave the country due to a lack of resources. Immediate action is needed.

The Auditor General's February report highlighted some troubling facts. As we know, the Canada Border Services Agency plays an important role in protecting Canada's safety and security by overseeing the movement of people and goods in and out of the country.

The CBSA administers more than 90 acts, regulations and international agreements on behalf of other federal departments and agencies, the provinces and the territories. It is therefore unacceptable for an organization of this magnitude to fail to deliver on its commitments and its mission. The Auditor General's February report showed that the agency does not have close to what it needs to act on its law enforcement priorities because of a lack of information and resources.

As a result, it is possible that goods that do not comply with Canada's export laws may have left the country. One in five high-risk shipments identified by the agency itself was not examined at the port of exit. The agency missed opportunities to prevent non-compliant shipments from leaving the country. Those targeted shipments were not examined because they had already been loaded on ships or had left Canada by the time the information was received. I repeat, the agency failed to inspect about one in five high-risk shipments. Is that not troubling?

We could have prevented more stolen vehicles from being removed from the country and illegal drugs from being exported from Canada. In short, we have some serious concerns about how the agency is being managed.

The inefficiencies are also the result of the agency being understaffed. In his report, the Auditor General pointed out how important it was for the Canada Border Services Agency to hire more staff, to ensure that high-risk shipments leaving the country are properly examined.

The Auditor General stated that staffing levels also explain the fact that some shipments targeted by the agency are not examined. For example, examinations decrease when employees are on vacation or sick leave.

Here is another example of the problems. At one port, no export control examinations were conducted when the assigned border services officer was on vacation. This is hard to believe, but it is the truth. There was no one to conduct inspections at this port because one officer was on vacation. We expect better, and now the agency needs to do better.

With the summer holidays approaching, this must not happen again. The agency needs proper resources so that it can improve its methods and fix its mistakes.

The Canada Border Services Agency is Canada's last line of defence against the export of goods that are in violation of Canada's export laws.

We do not want to become a sieve for illegal goods. I am calling on the government to take meaningful action to ensure that the agency does not violate its international commitments. We have international commitments and we must honour them.

The Conservatives gutted the Canada Border Services Agency, and now we are seeing the consequences of those cuts.

How much will the government invest in the Canada Border Services Agency, and when, to ensure that the agency can fulfill its mandate properly?

Canada Border Services AgencyAdjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

Montarville Québec


Michel Picard LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague raised an important issue arising from the Auditor General's recent report on the Canada Border Services Agency's export control program.

I would like to start by confirming that the government welcomes the Auditor General's report and agrees that the previous government did not provide the Canada Border Services Agency with the necessary tools to properly and effectively prevent the export of goods that contravene Canada's export laws. The audit report did recognize the agency's success in the areas of risk assessment, counter-proliferation, and seizure of property obtained through crime, such as stolen vehicles.

As the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness told the House on February 2, the Canada Border Services Agency accepted all of the Auditor General's recommendations. There is an action plan to implement them, and most of them will be implemented before the end of this year.

The Canada Border Services Agency will focus on implementing a consistent process to record export targets and examination results. It will also implement the necessary measures to fill gaps in front-line operations, and it will institute a standard procedure that will enable officers to identify and examine high-risk non-reported shipments. It will also upgrade the automated export declaration system.

It is the responsibility of the Canada Border Services Agency to facilitate the flow of goods on which our prosperity depends, while safeguarding Canada's security and the security of our trading partners.

As the Auditor General notes in his report, Canada exported $529 billion worth of goods in 2014, a figure that represents 27% of our GDP. In 2014-15, the CBSA had 13,768 full-time equivalents, of which approximately 7,200 are uniformed CBSA officers. I am sure we all acknowledge and appreciate the challenging and indispensable work they do.

Canada Border Services Agency officers cleared approximately 15 million commercial imports and there were 900,000 export declarations in 2014-15.

CBSA personnel assess the risk of export shipments based on export declarations and intelligence. They work closely with their national and international law enforcement partners in order to facilitate the implementation of a safe and secure international trade system for exports.

The CBSA performs vital duties on behalf of all Canadians and for all our clients around the world. The Auditor General's advice was well received by the government, and we will work with the Canada Border Services Agency to ensure that it has all the tools it needs to be a world-class organization that is able to protect Canadians and the countries receiving our exports, while ensuring the free and safe flow of goods, which is vital to an economy like ours.

Canada Border Services AgencyAdjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.


Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to hear that the Auditor General's report was at least well received by the CBSA and the government. I also know that the Canada Border Services Agency is well aware of its mission, which involves risk assessment.

That being said, I just spoke about a lack of resources. I would like some information. What guarantees can we give Canadians that officers who are on vacation or other types of leave will be replaced? Can we reassure Canadians that there will definitely be someone working at every post where the risks posed by shipments are assessed?

The Auditor General mainly criticized the lack of resources at the CBSA. I would like to hear what the government has to say about that.

Canada Border Services AgencyAdjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.


Michel Picard Liberal Montarville, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government is committed to meeting its international obligations to prevent the export of goods that could pose a security threat.

In 2014-15, the Canada Border Services Agency conducted a review of its export program and worked to tighten controls through a framework that clarifies the program's mandate and places greater emphasis on risk mitigation strategies.

In response to the Auditor General's report, the Canada Border Services Agency came up with an action plan, and most of the recommendations should be implemented by December 2016. Once again, the government welcomes the Auditor General's report, and we agree with his findings and recommendations.

Statistics CanadaAdjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.


Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby South, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the time this evening to expand on my recent question to the government regarding Statistics Canada.

Every month, Statistics Canada keeps track of important issues, including how oil and liquid petroleum products flow back and forth across our country. These data are going to be directly impacted by any decisions we make regarding new pipelines. We have to make sure Statistics Canada has the funding needed to keep proper track of this information, but we should also be thinking about whether or not we are going to build new pipelines.

As members know, I am opposed to Kinder Morgan's plan to build a new export-only bitumen-based crude oil pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby. Texas-based Kinder Morgan wants to build this new pipeline through B.C. to export nearly one million barrels of diluted bitumen per day to China and other countries. If built, Kinder Morgan's project would see one supertanker per day passing through Vancouver harbour and a pipeline as big as the SkyTrain running through densely packed residential neighbourhoods and the traditional territories of dozens of first nations.

The National Energy Board will table the official review of the new pipeline this Friday. The Liberals promised during the election that they would overhaul the NEB review process, but since then it has been nothing but business as usual from the Liberal government. In fact, the NEB is still using the Conservatives' unfair process and their hand-picked appointees to assess this pipeline.

Opposition to Kinder Morgan continues to grow across the province. Tens of thousands of those living in Metro Vancouver do not want to see their harbour turned into one of the world's largest oil exporting ports. With 40,000 barrels already having leaked from the Kinder Morgan pipeline, my constituents in Burnaby South are worried about the risk of another spill.

Premier Christy Clark, opposition leader John Horgan, first nations leaders such as Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson, Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan, labour unions, and environmental organizations have all expressed opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline. They oppose the project because it is a bad deal for B.C., because we face all of the risks but get none of the benefits, and because the pipeline will be built by temporary foreign workers. They oppose it to protect our environment, to protect their neighbourhoods, and to protect the integrity of indigenous lands.

In the end, it will be the cabinet that decides whether or not this new pipeline gets built. This cabinet is the one that will make the final decision on the pipeline.

We should not forget that, way back in January 2014, the Prime Minister said about Kinder Morgan, “I certainly hope that we're going to be able to get that pipeline approved”. Unless we make things uncomfortable for the Prime Minister politically, I am sure he and his cabinet will force this pipeline through our communities against our will and against the public's will.

Therefore, I encourage all listening to this speech to visit to get more information.

Statistics CanadaAdjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

Hull—Aylmer Québec


Greg Fergus LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Innovation

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the comments made earlier by the hon. member for Burnaby South concerning the products eliminated by Statistics Canada between 2006 and 2015.

As we have mentioned before, our government shares the concerns of the hon. member with regard to a robust national statistical agency and has promised to make evidence-based decisions.

With respect to the more than 539 cancelled products that my hon. colleague referred to, it is important to note that this list includes all sorts of products. Some products were cancelled simply as part of the normal process of the statistics system, whereas others were not designed as a permanent part of the statistics system.

In any event, large cuts were made to Statistics Canada's budget between 2006 and 2015, which hurt the national statistical system. We must recognize that Statistics Canada carefully implemented these cuts with a view to minimizing the impact on essential statistics and that it avoided certain program reductions, in part with the additional support provided by other federal departments and organizations.

Statistics Canada has assured us that none of the programs essential to fiscal and monetary policy and none of the data required for the administration of important federal transfer payments were affected by the cuts.

I also want to point out that we share the member's desire to revive our national statistical system, and to do so, we will have to consider the needs of today and tomorrow. We are listening to Canadians, researchers, scientists, and decision-makers to understand and identify their information needs, and we will make sure that we meet those needs.

We want to ensure that they have the data required to make evidence-based decisions, and that this data is open, transparent, timely, and accessible.

We restored the mandatory long form census and we are committed to making Statistics Canada more independent.

Over the course of our term, we intend to breathe new life into Statistics Canada's programs and to restore their relevancy, in a thoughtful and enlightened way.

I hope that we will be able to count on the support of the hon. member and his party as we work on this.

Statistics CanadaAdjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.


Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby South, BC

Mr. Speaker, what I am curious about is what was at the core of my speech, which is whether the Prime Minister and cabinet are going to vote for or against approving the Kinder Morgan pipeline. The Prime Minister has said in the past that he would approve it. Now he has appointed a new panel to oversee this.

I am wondering if the member can answer that question.

Statistics CanadaAdjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.


Greg Fergus Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, in the notice for this late show, the question was about how Statistics Canada can play a role in allowing for the determination of these issues.

To add to the central question that the hon. member for Burnaby South has introduced, I would say that we would want to make sure that whatever decision is made will be made on scientific evidence. That is the reason there was that announcement today. We hope the panel will be able to use new criteria to establish and set forth the data and evidence that would be necessary. Part of that is using the information from Statistics Canada.

Certainly, I am confident of the work done by Statistics Canada. I am confident that in our efforts we will try to ensure that we are able to provide the information to those bodies, such as the new panel for the Kinder Morgan pipeline, and an all-of-government approach in terms of all of the evidence and all of the statistical analysis that we might need to address these questions.

Statistics CanadaAdjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I thank hon. members for putting up with the excess sound that we seem to have in the chamber tonight. I do not know what has caused the volume to almost double from the usual construction noise. Nonetheless, I appreciate their efforts in forging their way through it.

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:20 p.m.)