Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today and speak to my hon. colleague's motion. I am a little disappointed that I was not able to speak to what I was originally here to speak to, which was the motion regarding gender-based analysis, because I brought the report that our committee had done on it and I was prepared to talk about how the government has not followed up on any of those recommendations, but I will have to let that go, and instead focus on another very important issue.
In my role as chair of the status of women committee, as I sit and listen to the testimony, we are currently studying the economic status of women in Canada. Part of that discussion is as to how we take advantage of the 50% of the workforce that is really underutilized. How do we get more women on boards? How do we get more women into science, technology, my favourite which is engineering, and mathematics? As we look at this issue, we are hearing testimony about things that are barriers for women, things that are contributing to the systemic discrimination that exists against women in industries of all kinds, and things that need to be fixed in order to facilitate women being more free to take advantage of these jobs.
One of the topics we have heard about is maternity leave, and the whole issue of if women are in a situation where they are in an industry where there are hazards or it is the kind of work that would impact them in their pregnancy, that we have the flexibility to address that. Also there should be the ability to allow flexibility in who takes the leave and how long the leave is.
We have heard testimony from other countries where they have done a good job in sensitizing the other parent to take leave with a “use it or lose it” kind of philosophy. We have seen where that has been effective in other countries in increasing the ability of women to have a greater percentage of participation in the workforce. We look at the kinds of bills such as Bill C-243 that are brought forward. This was a great idea. It was really not costing any more. It was just providing that extra flexibility to start the leave earlier, if needed. Certainly we saw it was well received by most people in the House, maybe not by the cabinet, but all those folks who are trying to do the right thing for Canada were right behind the bill.
We think about the barriers that exist for women with respect to maternity leave. I know for myself, I was working as an engineer with global responsibilities when I was having my children. Members can appreciate that I was flying all over the world at all hours of the day and night and being exposed to dengue fever, malaria, and I could go on about the hazards that I endured personally. Then there is trying to actually take time off. What is the company supposed to do with an individual's job? Legally a company has to leave an individual's job or an equivalent there, but as an individual rises to positions on boards and positions that are very responsible, that is a very difficult thing to do logistically. When we think about producing more flexibility in maternity leave, that would give women who are in high-power positions the ability potentially to have their spouses take that leave.
Another thing that is very concerning which we heard in testimony at our committee was regarding who can actually take advantage of maternity leave. If a woman does not qualify for EI in the first place, she may not be able to receive the benefit that she really wants to get. We did hear that a disturbingly high percentage of women who, because of the nature of the precarious work they are in, or because they are not able to get enough hours to have the minimum qualification, face a lot of barriers that have an impact on them.
Then there are the attitudes in the workplace. I remember when I was the engineering manager at Suncor and had quite a large staff, one of the staff announced to all of her fellow engineers that she was planning to have six children. There should not be anything wrong with somebody wanting to have six children, but the attitude that caused over time eventually forced the company to get rid of the woman, because it was known that she would keep taking maternity leave and it would keep being difficult. Those are the kinds of things that can contribute to systemic discrimination against women that we do not want to see at all.
The parental leave provisions that came out in budget 2017 have not really addressed this issue of maternity leave. I think it is worth having the committee look in more detail to see what else can be done, because the parental leave provisions that were put in the budget really stretch out the same amount of money over 18 months, so people would really only get 33% of their salary. No one can realistically afford to live on that. It pretty much takes two parents nowadays to get by.
Certainly, the committee has a job to do in looking into this in depth and hearing from people across Canada talk about what they would like to see in maternity leave, and potentially even consulting with countries that are doing it better than we are.
The government currently consults super broadly when it wants to consult, but the rest of the time it does not. This is an example where it wants to not have this kind of consultation happen. Where was the consultation with credit unions when it introduced all of the latest restrictions there? Where was the consultation with youth when it increased the down payment requirement to 20% to get a first-time mortgage? Where was the consultation with the oil and gas industry when it put its policies in place to basically drive the industry south? The government needs to apply consultation a bit more evenly when it is going to consult, needs to actually consult on everything and then take action on that.
The other thing I want to talk about, which my colleague did not talk about, is that the motion talks about getting permission to travel across Canada. I have a difference of opinion with my colleague when he speaks about going from coast to coast to coast. I always think of things in terms of budget, so I can imagine how much it would cost for the committee to be flying all over the place. I sit on the liaison committee, and I am astounded to see the way the travel budget is administered here in government, as opposed to what happens in private business. The way private businesses develop their travel budget is that either they have a historical perspective of what has been spent or they have plans for the year and know how much travel is estimated to be associated with that. They put together a budget and then stick to the budget.
I was astounded to find out that we put together the initial budget, and I guess the budget had never been fully spent in the last 10 or 12 years of Parliament, but all of a sudden, this year, the first year of government, we ended up overspending the budget immediately. The committee just came and said it wanted a supplement of $800,000 on a $1.2 million budget. It was incredible. It would never happen in private industry. Certainly, we need to consult, but it needs to be balanced and it needs to be planned. Subsequent to that supplement, it came again and asked for another supplement of $650,000. It is not as if the well is just continually there and committees can just keep spending the taxpayers' money without having any need to be held fiscally responsible.
Therefore, when it comes to travel, I would like to see the committee consult, but I would like committee members to focus their efforts on areas where there are programs going on or things happening that are good, and on areas where there is particularly nothing or great difficulty with maternity benefits.
I am not sure where this motion will fit into the priorities of the HUMA committee, because I am also sensitive to the fact that it has a lot of things on its roster. There are things that we have also been talking about in our status of women committee that are important for the economic benefit of women. I would not want to see the focus on shelters or on affordable housing, which also are having an impact, dropped off the committee. Therefore, I appreciate the fact that they have narrowed it down to the five days of the committee. That is appropriate. Hopefully, the committee will give it the priority that is needed.
To summarize my points, when it comes to trying to figure out how to get more women into positions of power in the workforce in science, technology, engineering, and math, we have to figure out how to make our policies more flexible. One of those policies is maternity leave. There have been some interesting ideas. Bill C-243 is one of those great ideas that we should go forward with. However, it is worth looking into what else we could do that would help these women.