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.

Topics

Motions in amendmentCriminal CodeGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

There is no unanimous consent. Therefore, the motion is deemed rejected.

The government House leader is rising on another point of order.

C-14—Notice of time allocation motionCriminal CodeGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I would like to advise that an agreement could not be reached under the provisions of Standing Order 78(1) or 78(2) with respect to the report stage and third reading stage of Bill C-14, an act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other acts (medical assistance in dying).

Therefore, under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of the proceedings at those stages.

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying), as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Report StageCriminal CodeGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Dianne Lynn Watts Conservative South Surrey—White Rock, BC

Madam Speaker, I noted that my colleague spoke many times about palliative care, which I was very encouraged to hear. I know that it was not within the context of the budget, but the Minister of Health made mention of $3.4 million to be implemented into palliative care. I wonder if there is going to be an assessment and a benchmark as to what we have right now and where the gaps are in how we need to fulfill that.

Report StageCriminal CodeGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

John Oliver Liberal Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think it is very important to state again that palliative care is not a substitute in all cases for end-of-life decisions as contemplated by Bill C-14. However, it is important that there is an effective health accord that is negotiated with the provinces and territories by the Minister of Health, which will take some time to ensure that there is consistent and uniform high-quality services available across Canada. I think those are the first initiatives that need to take place. However, monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the palliative care programs can come as we begin to get them in place.

Report StageCriminal CodeGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Stetski NDP Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I, too, really appreciate the depth of the discussion that we have had around Bill C-14.

The recommendations that came from the original interparliamentary committee, I thought, were excellent, and I was very supportive of the potential bill at that point. However, I have some real issues with the way the bill currently sits, and I want to focus on two.

Do advance directives not give people more choice in that they at least have the opportunity to do an advance directive rather than wait until they are no longer in a state where they could make a decision at all? Does it not provide more choice to have advance directives?

Secondly, intolerable pain and suffering was a really important part of the Carter decision, and I think should be an important part of the bill. Again, I know personally that if I had a choice later on in life, if I was struggling with intolerable pain and suffering, I would really like to go with a needle in my hand in the arms of somebody who loves me rather than just put it to chance.

Those two provisions are missing from the bill and I would appreciate the member's perspective on why.

Report StageCriminal CodeGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

John Oliver Liberal Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, in terms of advance directives, it is my understanding that only one other jurisdiction offers advance directives. There is still a lot to understand. There are a lot of nuances, and before they can be built into an act, there needs to be a better understanding of it. Therefore, I support the recommendation as it has come back from the committee, that within 180 days of the bill being put into place, we begin to look again at what additional elements need to be brought to bear, including advance directives.

Report StageCriminal CodeGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Thériault Bloc Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, over 40 years ago, palliative care was identified as the only way for people to die with dignity.

My colleague opposite is assuming that if someone requests assistance in dying during palliative care, it means that palliative care has failed.

Why should comprehensive palliative care that includes assistance in dying from specialized staff be considered a failure when an individual decides he or she is ready to go peacefully? How is that a failure on the part of palliative care?

Report StageCriminal CodeGovernment Orders

May 17th, 2016 / 5:30 p.m.

Liberal

John Oliver Liberal Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I never once suggested that it would be reflective of a failure of the palliative care system. In meeting the needs of Canadians at the end of life, an array of services and professional support are required. Palliative care is part of that, as are the provisions of Bill C-14, in an act of end of life if required.

With respect to natural death and palliative care, people are supported through it. Generally, pain is well managed, and many people opt for natural death, particularly when properly supported with palliative care. However, there will be circumstances where pain cannot be managed or where the loss of autonomy is so dramatic that the palliative care model is insufficient. We need to have the provisions of Bill C-14 available to assist people who wish to end their life as they approach the end of their life.

Report StageCriminal CodeGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to rise to speak at report stage of Bill C-14.

As I stated earlier in this House, it is unfortunate that the Supreme Court of Canada has taken it upon itself to force legislation to be written, which overturns thousands of years of our understanding of the intrinsic value and dignity of every human life.

The Supreme Court has done this, completely rejecting the fact that elected members of this House have rejected initiatives to legalize physician-assisted suicide on at least 15 occasions since 1991. Most recently, a bill to allow physician-assisted suicide was rejected in 2010 by a vote of 59 to 226.

It is not only that nine unelected judges have inserted themselves into a national conversation that should be initiated in this House of Commons, they have even lamented the fact that an extension was sought to give parliamentarians more time to properly study, discuss, and debate this issue of exceptional importance.

In their judgment of January 15, 2016, in granting an extension, the Supreme Court stated, “That the legislative process needs more time is regrettable, but it does not undermine the point that it is the best way to address this issue.”

Really? It is regrettable? It is regrettable to take more time to think soberly through this complex issue, to implement such momentous change, to destroy the very foundations of medicine, to turn upside down the time-honoured belief that it is fundamentally wrong to kill another human being, and all in the name of compassion?

In regard to the impatience on the part of the Supreme Court, Warren Perley wrote, in Beststory:

Common sense dictates that such momentous changes to the law governing assisted suicide should be based on the compass rather than the clock. Until this point, Canadians have never had access to legally assisted suicide. Instead they have relied on doctors and nurses to administer palliative care, which must include adequate pain management and, in rare cases, palliative sedation. Pro-euthanasia advocates argue this is euthanasia, but they are in error.

Changing laws in matters of such substantive and exceptional significance as assisted suicide should be made by the compass. I could not agree more. Unfortunately, we have thrown away our compass. We no longer need a compass. We now just pool our collective ignorance and decide on the basis of popular opinion to sail off in any direction that suits the winds of the day, rudderless.

One of Canada's indigenous leaders, Mr. Francois Paulette, a Dene leader and chair of Yellowknife's Stanton Territorial Health Authority states that indigenous people are bound by spiritual law, not man-made law. He goes on to state, “We don't play God.... God is responsible for bringing us into this world, and taking our life. It is pretty straightforward.”

Whether as a member of the indigenous community or not, for all Canadians, the crux of the issue before us today, and the source of the conflict and confusion, is the fact that the preamble of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms on one hand, and Bill C-14 on the other, are built on two opposite pillars: one made of gold, and the other of styrofoam.

The preamble of the charter starts out “recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”. Yes, there is a compass. Yes, there is a North Star. Even our Canadian charter states that in Canada we do recognize this North Star, the supremacy of God.

Yet if we look at the very first paragraph of Bill C-14, we see a totally opposite starting point. Rather than the “supremacy of God”, we see “autonomy of persons”.

My contention is that these two opposite philosophies cannot coexist at the same time, if we are to continue to have true freedom and trust in our society. We may deny God, and man as his image bearer. We can try to kill both God, and man as man. We may press forward in a suicidal course, but it always ends in pure vanity, for we are surrounded inside and out by the reality of God and his order in every sphere of life.

We all know that there are necessary limits placed on the autonomy of humans. Yet on an issue as monumental as the issue of life and death, we are considering extending autonomy without stopping to think what such autonomy might do to our understanding of the value of human life.

Does this autonomy serve well those among us who, for dozens of reasons, find themselves vulnerable, voiceless, and open to abuse in the most extreme and final way possible, an unwanted hastened death?

The very fact that I can drive from my riding of Kitchener—Conestoga to Ottawa each Sunday evening is because the autonomy of all drivers is limited. Drivers heading to Kitchener occupy the north side of the 401 highway as they travel west, so I am free to travel unimpeded on my easterly journey in the southern lanes.

To allow autonomy in many situations in life is foolhardy, to say the least. Our freedom and trust is enhanced by strict limits on personal autonomy for the greater good of community. We could list many such restrictions on personal autonomy: quarantines for highly infectious diseases, such as ebola; prohibition of using highly toxic chemicals and pesticides on private property; the limitation on raising farm animals in the residential area of a city. In these cases and dozens of others, we recognize that the greater community good supercedes individual autonomy.

To retain limits on personal autonomy in the case of physician-assisted suicide is for the greater good of society. To remove the restriction on personal autonomy could very well lead to the crumbling boundaries that our Liberal colleague, the member for Winnipeg Centre, referenced a few weeks ago in the Chamber when he said, “We are in a sorry state. We have truly entered a new age, one of the throwaway culture where all boundaries are starting to crumble”.

I fear for the kind of Canada I will leave for my children and grandchildren if we rush blindly ahead with an endorsement of physician-assisted suicide. The risk to society is too great. The dangers are far too real.

There is no doubt that in spite of our best efforts to place so-called safeguards to protect the vulnerable among us, there will be situations where innocent Canadians will be killed without their expressed consent. There is no doubt in my mind that in spite of our best efforts to spin the difference between suicide and what we are now calling medical assistance in dying, there would be a correlating increase in suicide rates in Canada.

Aaron Kheriaty, associate professor of psychiatry, and director of the medical ethics program at the University of California at Irvine School of Medicine states:

The debate over doctor-assisted suicide is often framed as a personal issue of autonomy and privacy. Proponents argue that assisted suicide should be legalized because it affects only those individuals who--assuming they are of sound mind--are making a rational and deliberate choice to end their lives. But presenting the issue in this way ignores the wider social consequences.

What if it turns out that individuals who make this choice in fact are influencing the actions of those who follow?

He goes on to report that in states where physician-assisted suicide has been legalized, there has been an increase in suicide of 6.3% overall, but among those over 65, an increase of 14.5%.

He continues:

The results should not surprise anyone familiar with the literature on the social contagion effects of suicidal behavior. You don't discourage suicide by assisting suicide. [...]

Aside from publicized cases, there is evidence that suicidal behavior tends to spread person to person through social networks, up to three “degrees of separation” away. So my decision to take my own life would affect not just my friends' risk of doing the same, but even my friends' friends' friends. No person is an island.

Finally, it is widely acknowledged that the law is a teacher. Laws shape the ethos of a culture by affecting cultural attitudes toward certain behaviors and influencing moral norms. Laws permitting physician-assisted suicide send a message that, under especially difficult circumstances, some lives are not worth living – and that suicide is a reasonable or appropriate way out. This is a message that will be heard not just by those with a terminal illness but also by anyone tempted to think he or she cannot go on any longer.

Debates about physician-assisted suicide raise broad questions about societal attitudes toward suicide. Recent research findings on suicide rates press the question: What sort of society do we want to become? Suicide is already a public health crisis. Do we want to legalize a practice that will worsen this crisis?

I believe that life is always to be chosen over what some would call death with dignity. There is nothing dignified about deciding to end someone's life that is not worth living. If the patient has a need, let us address the need. Our goal should be to eliminate the problem, not the patient.

We need to be doing far more to address the needs of vulnerable Canadians. To that end, I have five proposed changes that need to be included in Bill C-14. Four of these have been accepted as amendments by others in the House.

First, the preamble should contain a statement indicating that suicide prevention is an important public policy goal, recognizing the sanctity of life as a societal principle.

Mr. Speaker, I see that I am out of time, so I will try to get my other points in when responding to questions.

Report StageCriminal CodeGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Beaches—East York.

Report StageCriminal CodeGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to my friend's comments. I understand he disagrees with the Supreme Court. He disagrees with its protection of individual liberty. He disagrees with its protection of security to the person.

If the member disagrees with the Supreme Court's decision, is he calling on this government to exercise the notwithstanding clause?

Report StageCriminal CodeGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, that certainly raises a good possibility. To invoke the notwithstanding clause would in fact give Parliament the kind of time that we need to study this important issue.

The rush with which the government has moved forward on an issue of such intense, immense significance is really inappropriate. We saw in the joint committee a lack of ability to get many witnesses in. We saw the same thing in the justice committee. Today we have seen a number of examples where we wasted hours on quickly moving other bills forward on the agenda when we, as members, were informed that today, beginning at 10 o'clock this morning, we would begin to discuss Bill C-14.

We have not had enough time to discuss this issue and it is of too great a significance for us to allow this to proceed in its current form.

Report StageCriminal CodeGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

Mr. Speaker, I realize that the hon. member did run out of time, but I actually started to take note of some of the changes that he was proposing. He started in the preamble. I would like to ask the hon. member what other changes he is proposing to the legislation.

Report StageCriminal CodeGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for this opportunity.

Second, I believe it is important to ensure that a palliative care consultation must be done to inform patients of the full range of available treatments and support services that are available and actually ensure that they are available.

We also need to insist on a prior review by a judge or a panel to ensure that no coercion exists and that all of the criteria are met.

We need to protect the conscience rights of health care professionals and institutions. I think we heard earlier the fear that if institutions are not protected in terms of their conscience related to this, patients may actually fear going to those institutions.

Finally, if physically able, the patient must self-administer the lethal substance, rather than having a doctor administer that substance.

Report StageCriminal CodeGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Thériault Bloc Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague seems to be mixing things up and is creating confusion in the debate.

I wonder if he could clearly and succinctly tell us the difference between a compassionate crime, assisted suicide, euthanasia, and suicide.

Report StageCriminal CodeGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think I clearly indicated the differences on this in the speech I made at second reading.

Members will know that over the last eight to 10 years, I have devoted a lot of energy to the issue of mental health and suicide prevention.

Here we are talking about so-called compassion, and I do not see anything compassionate about ending someone's life prematurely. The very word “compassion” means to “suffer with”. We cannot suffer with someone whose life we have simply terminated.

Report StageCriminal CodeGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my understanding that this issue has been before the House about 11 times since 1991. I know that my colleague was present for the special joint committee, but they also had an external report and a provincial and territorial report. The special joint committee, in fact, heard from more than 60 witnesses and read more than 100 submissions. Also, my understanding is that even today there was an offer to extend the time for debate, which I believe my colleague and his friends did not approve.

My question for him is, how much more debate, particularly in light of very big similarities between his two speeches, do we really need on this point?

Report StageCriminal CodeGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I simply want to mention again that we lost hours and hours of debate time this morning when we could have been debating this. More important than debate in this House is that we did not take the time, either in the joint committee or in the justice committee, to hear from groups across Canada who wanted to appear before those committees to share their concerns about this proposed law. Had we taken more time to listen to those Canadians, I am sure we would have a different result moving forward.

Report StageCriminal CodeGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we resume debate, I will let the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources know that we only have about a minute and a half to two minutes left in the time remaining.

Resuming debate, the hon. parliamentary secretary.

Report StageCriminal CodeGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Northumberland—Peterborough South Ontario

Liberal

Kim Rudd LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, while my time for debate is short, I look forward to continuing it tomorrow.

As members know, the issue of conscience objection has been a topic of considerable discussion in relation to medical assistance in dying. Fundamentally, this debate highlights the need to achieve an appropriate balance in respecting the rights of physicians, nurse practitioners, and other health care providers to abstain from providing medical assistance in dying while supporting the rights of eligible patients to access such services.

It is evident that governments, national associations, and also members of the public recognize the moral and ethical struggle that health care providers could experience regarding medical assistance in dying. Most provincial medical regulatory bodies have already provided professional guidance around safeguarding the conscience rights of physicians. Provinces, like Alberta and New Brunswick, say that their physicians are under no obligation to participate in assistance in dying. However, they recognize that continuity of care, especially at this most critical time in a person's life, also cannot be neglected. Patients cannot be abandoned.

Report StageCriminal CodeGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Northumberland—Peterborough South will have eight and a half minutes remaining for her remarks when the House next resumes debate on the question.

It being 5:49 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

moved 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.

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-243, an act respecting the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy and amending the Employment Insurance Act. I would also like to thank the 12 hon. members of the House who have supported this legislation by officially seconding Bill C-243.

Finally, I want to thank the people of Kingston and the Islands for placing their confidence in me to be their voice in the House.

In particular, I want to recognize the individual whose story inspired me to pursue this legislation: Melodie Ballard. I am proud and deeply humbled to begin my remarks today by sharing Melodie's compelling story with members.

Melodie is a welder in my community. In 2014, she became pregnant, and like many expecting mothers, she consulted with her medical practitioner to ensure that she was taking all the necessary steps to have a healthy pregnancy. Upon describing the hazardous nature of her work environment, Melodie was told that she could no longer continue welding during her pregnancy as the function of her job would be unsafe and would pose a significant risk to her future child.

She reached out to her employer, which is a well-established and highly reputable shipbuilding firm in Kingston, but unfortunately, it was unable to provide reassignment or modify her duties in a way that would mitigate the risk. Forced to stop working, Melodie applied for and was granted EI sickness benefits.

There are a couple of problems with this, the first being that Melodie was pregnant, not sick. The second problem is that the 15 weeks of benefits ran out long before Melodie was eligible to officially begin her maternity leave. For two and a half months, Melodie waited to receive the maternity benefits she was entitled to. This income gap led to serious financial hardship and ultimately resulted in the loss of her home and significant personal distress.

Frustrated with the shortcomings of the system, Melodie did her own research, expecting to find that some program would be of help to her and any person in her circumstances. She discovered that outside of the province of Quebec, which has a program known as the preventive withdrawal program, there was virtually no form of financial assistance that would compensate in situations such as these.

What frustrates me most about Melodie's story was that she did everything right, but the current system was simply not prepared to handle her situation. She took every reasonable action that one would expect from someone with a legitimate concern for the health of herself and her future child. She consulted with a midwife for medical advice. She reached out to her employer. She spoke with Service Canada on countless occasions. She did her own research, and she wrote to anybody she could think of. Melodie did everything right, but our EI system failed her when she needed it.

When Melodie approached my office in early 2016, we researched the issue and found that the primary source of the problem was a rule under section 22 of the EI Act, which requires that a woman, regardless of her circumstances, must wait until eight weeks before her expected due date before she can start receiving maternity benefits. For women like Melodie who are employed in occupations where it is unsafe to work at early stages of pregnancy, this restriction can lead to long periods with absolutely no income.

Melodie's story is why I am putting forward this legislation today. The core purpose and effect of Bill C-243 is to remove barriers to women's full and equal participation in all sectors of the workforce, including jobs which are potentially hazardous. Bill C-243 would do this in two parts.

In the short term, my bill seeks to improve the flexibility of EI benefits to better reflect the changing labour market of today. In particular, my bill proposes an amendment to the Employment Insurance Act which would allow women like Melodie who work in dangerous jobs to begin their 15 weeks of EI maternity benefits as early as 15 weeks prior to their due dates. This is seven weeks earlier than the current rules permit.

Allowing women to start collecting EI up to seven weeks early would provide more timely financial assistance and greater flexibility to expecting mothers who are unable to work at early stages of pregnancy. This enhanced flexibility would simply mean that women could access the benefits they are entitled to sooner if the nature of their job prevents them from continuing to do their work during their pregnancy.

For many of the women working in skilled trades, construction, and other potential hazardous fields, the option for an earlier start to maternity leave would empower them to choose the maternity leave that would be best for them and their families.

The bill also outlines two basic conditions that must be met in order to be eligible for this exemption. First, the woman must provide a medical certificate attesting that she cannot perform her current duties because it may pose a risk to her health or that of her unborn child. Second, the employer must be unable to provide accommodations or reassignment that would mitigate this risk.

I have heard from many members of the skilled trades and construction community and the consensus is that the government policies and programs ought to keep pace with the changes in the skilled trades community, in particular, the growing interest among women to become part of it.

For example, the organization Women in Work Boots has said that these changes to how women can access leave while pregnant could lead to greater safety and security and a stress-free pregnancy and leave.

The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum has endorsed Bill C-243 because it thinks it reflects Canadian values when it comes to supporting women who wish to make their careers and support their families working in the skilled trades.

The Office to Advance Women Apprentices views this as being another stepping stone for the advancement of women in trades careers.

It is important to note that the scope of Bill C-243 extends beyond skilled trades and construction. I am proud that my bill has also been endorsed by Women in Science and Engineering, the Atlantic region, Mount Saint Vincent University, 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, which stated that Bill C-243 would be invaluable for engineers who were women, for their families and for their employers.

These changes are just a first step and only a partial solution to what I see as a much larger overall problem. Recognizing this, the second part of my bill calls on the Minister of Employment to develop a comprehensive strategy to ensure that pregnancy is not a barrier to a woman's full and equal participation in all aspects of the labour force. This part requires that the minister of employment and social development, 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.

My bill also includes accountability and transparency measures to ensure that the results of the consultation are accessible and presented in a timely manner. I would add that we do not have to look far to get a sense of what a national maternity assistance program might look like. Since 1981, the province of Quebec has offered the option of preventative withdrawal as part of the safe maternity assistance program.

Under this program, the employer may opt to eliminate the hazard represented by an employee's work or assign her to other tasks. If neither of these alternatives are doable, employees are entitled to benefit from the preventative withdrawal and receive a compensation in the amount of 90% of their average pay.

Furthermore, many advanced industrial countries have recognized the importance of maternal care and taken action to ensure that women in all professions receive adequate support throughout pregnancy and child care. 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, employees are entitled to take paid no safe job leave for their risk period. Similar programs that protect expecting mothers exist in France, Hungary, Denmark, and elsewhere. The underlying principle of my bill is that of gender equality, which demands that both women and men have an equal opportunity to participate and become fully integrated into all sectors of the labour force.

I am proud that my bill is supported by several women's advocacy organizations, each of which has done a great deal to advance equality and empower women through progressive public policies. These include the National Council of Women, the Canadian Federation of University Women, and the Canadian Women's Foundation, which called Bill C-243 a positive step to improve gender equality in Canada.

My bill is resonating with stakeholder groups and ordinary Canadians across the country as they recognize that the principle of gender equality must also extend to women entering so-called non-traditional occupations.

Many of the discussions about equality have focused on including more women as doctors, lawyers, business leaders, and politicians. While well-intentioned, I think these conversations often neglect the fact that many women, like Melodie, want to be construction workers, electricians, mechanics, masons, carpenters, machinists, boilermakers, pipe-layers, heavy equipment operators, or even welders.

The data on this is clear that while overall labour 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. While some incredible work is being undertaken by the private and not-for-profit sector to encourage more women to enter the trades, I believe government also must do its part to create a positive environment to encourage more women to enter the workforce in these traditionally male-dominated occupations.

The evidence is clear that improving the representation of women can support an organization's overall competitiveness and ability to thrive in a global market. Gender balance and diversity will make Canada's economy stronger and more competitive, but we have a long way to go before achieving this goal.

To conclude, as previously stated, I believe the current system provides a disincentive for women to enter certain types of work, forcing them to choose between having a family and pursuing their dream job. No woman should have to choose between being a mother and a welder, a mother and a construction worker, a mother and an engineer, or a mother and any profession for that matter.

These are the objects of the bill that I am asking all members of the House to support at second reading. I am asking for their support to make a small but significant change that will improve the flexibility of EI maternity benefits and to call on the minister to show federal leadership by developing a long-term, comprehensive national maternity assistance strategy.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Housefather Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. friend from Kingston for his excellent speech and his inspired bill. I think that all of us on this side are very interested in advancing the cause of women in the workplace, particularly in non-traditional professions.

I know my hon. colleague was a mayor. I was proud when we hired our first woman public works director in my city while I was mayor. I think that is an example that we are getting more and more women in professions that otherwise, when I was born, they would certainly never have considered joining.

Given the examples of all of the countries he cited around the world, does he believe that in Canada we should be joining the rest of the world in terms of allowing women to not have to choose between motherhood and their profession? What does he think about that?

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Absolutely, Mr. Speaker. The problem that we are facing right now is that the current system we have is actually providing a disincentive. Women, who are passionate about being a welder or a plumber or some other form of work but also think that they want to become pregnant and have a family one day, are being forced to choose between either having that family or that profession in many cases, or they run into the situation that Melodie did.

I think that, yes, we are behind the ball on this, so to speak. There are other countries that are leading the way. Even our neighbouring province, Quebec, as we sit here in Ontario, is leading the way on this. There is a lot we can do and I am really hopeful that the entire House will support the bill so that we can start to move in the right direction.