Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-243, as put forward by my colleague from Kingston and the Islands, and to commend him for the work on this legislation and for raising awareness of this extraordinarily important issue about equity and equity for women in the workplace.
It is a sign of the times and the generational change starting to happen in the House as we see men step up in ways that are extraordinarily progressive. They find imaginative ways to address not women's issues, but societal issues that have a gender component to them and the gender analysis that is required to start to create a more equal society and also bring women into places where they perhaps would not have had the opportunity to work as a result of some of the challenges, especially younger women in their child-bearing years.
The bill focuses on the health and safety of pregnant workers in the workplace. In particular, the bill would mandate the Government of Canada to invite provinces and territories and relevant stakeholders to consult on the prospect of a national maternity assistance program.
I have a couple of quick notes in response to the previous speaker.
As the bill moved through the process of introduction, committee, through the budget process, and now onto the floor for third reading, a doctor's note is no longer a mandatory requirement as part of this provision, as the issues that were raised and the concerns that were highlighted have been dealt with through the collaboration of cabinet talking to the private member's bill. The committee heard some excellent evidence to make the bill better as well.
Additionally, some of the flexibility that took away the pressure on the need for royal consent has given the bill more flexibility and, in doing so, has also accommodated the situation where an unexpected pregnancy, which also produces a child more quickly than expected, can now be accommodated in a way that protects the woman's right to ensure income continues to come into the household so the family is sustained and supported properly.
On top of that, we have also taken a number of other steps around EI reform and revision to make EI more flexible but, more important, more easily accessible with respect to the time from application to receiving benefits. This too was an important component that was added to the process as we were seized by this issue, in large part because of the presentation by the member for Kingston and the Islands.
We are looking to support pregnant women in the workplace. We are also ensuring we minimize and deal with the risks to their health and to the health of their unborn children. We are also ensuring that when the employer is unable to accommodate them through reassignment, there are mechanisms in place to support the family, the mother, and the child.
I would like to again state that the government supports Bill C-243, as amended by the standing committee. I will also take a few minutes to talk about some of the other measures contained in budget 2017 that also deal with this issue and work to protect the health and safety of pregnant workers and nursing employees, with which is also an important issue our caucus is seized.
Starting in 2017-18, $886.4 million will be spent over five years, and $204.8 million per year to make employment insurance caregiving, parental, and maternity benefits more flexible to meet all of their diverse needs of families. There is more to this issue than simply the situation facing pregnant workers.
With budget 2017, we are helping working parents face the challenges that come with a growing family and we are offering more flexible arrangements to pregnant workers. We are proposing to make employment insurance parental benefits more flexible.
Budget 2017 introduced choice and flexibility for parents. Parents will be able to choose the option that best suits their needs based on their work, their family situation, and their child care circumstances.
Under the proposed changes, parents will have two options: receiving El parental benefits over a period of up to 12 months at the existing benefit rate of 55% of their average weekly earnings, or over an extended period of up to 18 months at a benefit rate of 33% of their average weekly earnings. In either case, eligible parents will receive roughly the same level of support.
Investing in El parental benefits to make them more flexible is expected to amount to $152 million over five years starting in 2017-18, at the rate of about $27.5 million per year. Parents will continue to be able to share these benefits, and that is an important component as well.
Through budget 2017, we also proposed additional supports for caregivers. We proposed to create a new employment insurance benefit that would last up to 15 weeks. This new benefit will allow Canadians to care for an adult family member who is critically ill or injured, a benefit we pay to people caring for an adult family member who is critically ill but is not at the end of his or her life. This is a first for employment insurance.
Any of us who have dealt with family situations involving complex illnesses know that the severity of those illnesses do not necessarily give one a prescriptive timetable in which to take time away from work. This flexibility and acknowledgement of some of the challenges facing Canadian families is part how we are making EI more accessible, flexible, and fair. This new benefit supplements the existing compassionate care benefit, which continues to provide up to 26 weeks of benefits for those who leave work to care for family members in end-of-life situations.
Parents of critically ill children will continue to have access of up to 35 weeks. They will now be able to share these benefits with more family members as part of the flexibilities. To implement these measures, budget 2017 proposes to amend the Employment Insurance Act.
Additionally, our government is also proposing to amend the Canada Labour Code to ensure that workers in federally regulated sectors have the job protection they need while they are receiving caregiving, parental or maternity benefits. Of particular interest in the present debate is the proposal in budget 2017 that will also allow pregnant women to claim El maternity benefits up to 12 weeks before their due date, up from the current eight weeks, if they so choose. This is how we have worked with the member to ensure his goals are realized. This investment in additional flexibility is expected to be about $43.1 million over five years, starting in 2017-18, and about $9.2 million a year thereafter.
The collaboration between the member for Kingston and the Islands, our government, and members from both sides of the House was valuable to advancing this private member's bill's policy agenda. For those of us who have watched private members' bills move through the House, sometimes with friction, sometimes with quite easy support, the work that the member did on this bill to ensure it not only got represented in the budget when it ran into some difficulties around the financing issue but by also working at committee with his colleagues to ensure he had an impact with his private member's bill, speaks well to not only the focus, but the integrity and the hard work of the member in question, and we thank him. In fact, families across the country owe this member a debt of gratitude.
We are making these changes to the employment insurance system because we care about the well-being of Canadian workers. We made those improvements because Canadians asked us to make these changes.
Last year, the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and the member for Kingston and the Islands launched online consultations with Canadians on employment insurance around maternity, parental, and caregiving benefits. They asked how people felt about the idea of developing more flexible maternity and parental employment insurance benefits. However, we also requested their views on the idea of offering more inclusive benefits and leave provisions under the Canada Labour Code for Canadians caring for family members. This was all part of the process to develop this bill and ensure we got as much input as possible. Consultation does matter. It is not just a buzzword; it actually is something we do to improve legislation with Canadians for Canadians.
When asked about their challenges while being on maternity or parental leave, people mentioned that finances were their main concern, especially those who were in single-income families, and those with twins and multiple births. Difficulties finding suitable and affordable child care and problems qualifying for El benefits, while being self-employed or working on contract, were also brought up. More than half of the participants said that they would prefer taking longer combined maternity and parental leaves for up to 18 months at a lower El benefit if we could make that happen. In terms of caregiving benefits and leave, participants mostly talked about the financial, personal health, and emotional burdens of having to deal with these things without proper government supports.
Our government also hosted a stakeholder round table last November. Participants included representatives from the medical community, health charities, family advocacy groups, unions, and business associations. With respect to maternity benefits and leave, one of the things we heard was that early maternity leave was a health and safety issue and a human right. We also heard from stakeholders that changes to caregiving benefits and leave were needed to make those less restrictive as well.
We made sure to consult on potential changes to employment insurance with our partners, including the public, and numerous stakeholders. The implementation of Bill C-243 will have us engage provinces, territories, and the relevant stakeholders regarding the prospect of a national maternity assistance program.
Canada's employment insurance special benefits can be of support to eligible Canadians through important life events. Each year, these benefits help thousands of eligible Canadians to prepare and care for a new baby. We are happy to help. We are happy to partner with the member to support the bill. We want these benefits to remain appropriate for Canadian workers to help them balance their responsibilities.
Our government is on its way to make a fundamental change to the landscape for working women and men in our country all for the better, and in particular for our country' s children.