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Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was income.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as Liberal MP for Beaches—East York (Ontario)

Lost her last election, in 2011, with 31% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act December 2nd, 2009

Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, women in this country do 80% of the caregiving, and the majority of Canadians doing part-time work are women. The majority of people who are self-employed are men. There are self-employed women, of course, no question, but again there is a disparity in the incomes there.

Therefore, what is very important, if we are looking at this with a gender lens, in order to ensure that women are covered is to lower the threshold, because the 600-hour threshold is too high. None of the part-time workers, most of whom are women, can access the program or get any benefits such as parental leave or sick leave, all of this. They do not get the parental leave and compassionate leave, so they cannot access it.

There are a lot of part-time workers in this country, and more so in this economy. They are paying EI premiums because they are obliged to, but they do not get benefits out of it. They all have children. They all have caregiving for members of the family who are ill, and so on. If we would lower that to 360 hours, as we on this side of the House have been saying for some time, it would include those people and it would certainly make the system much more equitable.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act December 2nd, 2009

Mr. Speaker, actually we did do a great deal. Parental leave is a program that was brought in while we were in power. Compassionate leave is a program that was brought in while we were there.

With respect to the self-employed, that was something that we were actually working on, and then of course we lost the government and another party came in. Of course, we are doing it now, but we started all of this.

The compassionate leave was our work. The extension of parental leave was also our work, and a great many other programs for women. Gender-based analysis was something that we were doing and have been doing for some time, and this is an extension of that. It is fine and it is good, and all I am saying is that we support the bill but we would also like to see covered some of the other things that I mentioned earlier.

Fairness for the Self-Employed Act December 2nd, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to debate Bill C-56, especially since we were able to avoid a strike with CN. I am very proud to have played some role in that and I am glad to see that things were dealt with amicably.

At the outset, the Liberal Party supports the bill.

I want to talk about a number of issues in the bill that I think could be improved and need to be identified. However, I want to start off by talking a bit about who we are talking about in terms of the self-employed. It is a bit of a nebulous picture. A lot of people think of people who may be working out of their house, doing part-time or contract work, et cetera.

I asked the department to do a bit of an analysis for the committee on who these people were, especially when looking at it from the perspective of gender-based analysis for women. According to the figures for 2008, the majority of self-employed workers are male, or approximately 65% of them. Males represent approximately half of the salaried workers in that area.

Self-employed workers tend to be older and about one-third of them are women of childbearing age. This is also an interesting difference between males and females in this area. We know in the part-time worker area, the vast majority are women and a smaller number of them are males. In the self-employed area, it is the other way around.

It is also important to note that 64% of self-employed people are married, but few of them have a spouse with non-wage benefits. That is an interesting thing to look at as well. Again, it is interesting to note that, of the self-employed, women tend to earn less than men do. On average, women earn about $38,000 and men earn about $64,000. There is a big disparity in terms of what they do.

When we look at the kind of work they tend to do, it is interesting because women tend to be involved in self-employed work that has more to do with social and community issues, whereas men tend to do things that have more to do with industry, et cetera. That does not mean to say that women do not do that, but this is a bit of a different breakdown and it may account for some of the difference in income.

Also important to note is that more women than men tend to work out of the house. More men tend to work outside of their homes, which means they have offices and possibly staff and are spending a great deal more time running their self-employment like a small company. Women are probably mixing, looking after their children, caregiving for children or family and working out of their home, thereby earning considerably less.

These are interesting differences to note as we look at this legislation and how it will perform in the long run. It is very important to ensure that it benefits all people who need benefits under this program.

For quite some time now, the National Liberal Women's Caucus has advocated for covering the self-employed in the area of parental leave, compassionate leave, sick leave and so on. For the last three pink books, as we call them, or our policy on action plans for economic security for women, this has been recommended consistently.

In addition, the Standing Committee on the Status of Women has done a study on the self-employed. I will come to that in a moment when I talk about the impact on women and this structure versus any other. I will get to that a bit later. At this point, I want to clarify some other things with respect to the differences between self-employed men and self-employed women.

There is quite a difference in the kind of work they do, the number of hours they spend at work outside of the home and their income levels. Women tend to earn a lower income than men do. It is quite a considerable gap. I think that will have a great deal of impact on how this works.

With regard to the actuarial work that was done on this bill, it is my understanding that the chief actuary really did not do direct work on it, at least that is what I understood when I talked to him. This was the information we received.

Under the bill, participation would not be compulsory. It would be self-selecting or, in other words, entirely voluntary. People could actually opt out after one year if they had not collected any money. They could opt in to stay in, but that would not be mandatory.

The Standing Committee on Status of Women did a study. All the experts who presented at standing committee said that if it were not mandatory, it would not work actuarially, that it would not be self-sustaining or self-sufficient.

We posed those questions at committee. Officials told us that this was doable and workable. However, I do not think the chief actuary was quite so unequivocal on his statements when we spoke.

Since it would be totally voluntary, it is more than likely that people who would use it would be women who were expecting children, or where members of a family were not well and caregiving was needed. They may be more likely to opt in but others may not do so. I asked the actuary if this would not be a problem as there may not be enough people and this would result in the fund not being self-sufficient.

We must keep in mind that the premiums paid by those individuals who opt in will cover only their own premiums and not those of the employer, meaning the employer portion would be covered by the EI fund. When I raised this issue, an official admitted there could be a shortfall as a result of this but it would be monitored. My concern with that is a shortfall would obviously be subsidized by the EI premiums, not by the government's central fund. These premiums would be contributed by working people.

This brings me to another aspect and it is the fact that the majority of people who work part-time are women. A lot of these women pay into EI all the time. They cannot access parental leave benefits and so on, but they have children and they have to work to make a living to keep their home stable, et cetera. They in effect would be subsidizing the self-employed without ever being able to benefit from the fund. That is a bit of a concern.

Teachers who do not work during the summer are not able to accumulate the required 600 hours under the plan. I received a letter from a constituent a couple of days ago indicating that she was unable to access the fund. She asked why this was the case.

The bill is necessary and we will support it. I would like the government to take a look at this area. Our party has taken the stand for quite some time that accessibility to EI needs to be 360 hours. That is where it would become really accessible to all those who really need it, especially when we look at the gender issue. The fund would then become accessible to part-time workers, most of whom are women, and also professionals like teachers and others who would have difficulty otherwise.

Under this structure, the minimum requirement would be earnings of $6,000 in a year. I am not quibbling with that, but as I pointed out earlier, men who are self-employed tend to earn a great deal more than women so they would probably reach the $6,000 within a month or two of work in a year. Meanwhile, women would have to work longer, and that is fine, but some women would be left out.

I asked the department to do a gender-based analysis on this particular bill, as I did with regard to the previous EI bill, the extended weeks of pay legislation. If there were a proper, thorough, gender-based analysis done on the EI system to enable us to see what is truly the impact on women in this country of all demographics and using proper desegregated data that is available from Statistics Canada, that would take us a long way to having legislation that truly reflects the needs and does not leave people out. This is a whole area that is extremely important that we discussed at committee. I have raised this many times before, and I raise it again because it is of great importance to women in this country.

With respect to the actuarial cost and the strength of that, it is important that the government have the chief actuary do a proper actuarial analysis of the bill to see what shortcomings and shortfalls they expect to have. Whatever shortfall there is should probably be funded through the central government, as opposed to the EI fund.

The other part that is very important to note is on the premiums that will be paid by self-employed Canadians. I am not suggesting or impugning any negative or wrongdoing. I think probably it was quite inadvertent, but certainly there is a mistake with the legislation with respect to the premiums that would have to be paid by citizens of Quebec in this area. It looks as though they will end up paying a great deal more.

The former chief actuary in fact came to committee to point that out to us. We unfortunately found this out at the end, when we were doing clause-by-clause. So it was not possible to try to amend the bill at committee, but I would encourage the government to amend the bill and fix that problem prior to the bill leaving the House. I would love to see that happen, because I think it is very important that it be done. It would be unfair and it is an error that needs to be fixed, and I would hope that the government would do that.

As I said, I am not suggesting that this was intentional. This was probably an error. It is simply an error that needs to be fixed. I would like to see that happen and I hope the government will do that very quickly.

At this point I just want to go back to the amount of money and the amount of time and the opting in and out. I know that people can opt out of self-employment if they have not used it at the end of the year. I am not sure how much instability this will create and to what extent, and also paperwork. For people who are in or out of the system at different times and then having to wait and maintain all of that, I think that would cause some instability.

I feel that the program would be much more stable and much stronger if it were a mandatory program. We had experts at the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. It was very clear that they felt that the program would not be viable or stable if it were not made a compulsory program, because some people would benefit and others would not.

It is important that the government, once the bill is passed, do a thorough evaluation of the bill, probably within a year or so of the bill being in place, and ensure that the potential weaknesses that it might have are fixed earlier rather than later. I would not want us to find, a year or two or three from now, that we have been carrying a deficit and that it is not a self-sustaining program in terms of finances and in terms of who is benefiting.

As well, it would be interesting to see how it works out with the information that I discussed earlier with respect to self-employed women versus self-employed men, because again, there is a disparity and a difference that needs to be watched very closely to ensure that all self-employed people who obviously need this program benefit. There has been a great deal of interest, a great deal of pressure, and a great deal of debate for some time now.

As I said earlier, the National Liberal Women's Caucus has for some time advocated for this. We are glad to see that in fact it is now before the House.

As I said earlier, we support the bill but there are some areas that I believe need to be looked at and addressed, because without that we do not have a bill that is as good as it can be. I would also like to see the bill be self-financing, self-sustaining, and the only way that can happen is if that kind of analysis is done long before it goes forward.

Just before I finish, I would reiterate that the $6,000 that is the minimum is not an area I am quibbling with; it is not an area that is of concern. That equates to about 600 hours. I am not quite sure how they came to that particular number. At about $10 an hour, 600 hours of work is $6,000. I understand that it would be difficult to be able to monitor hours, to some degree. It would be difficult for someone to be able to ensure that the self-employed are not in any way, shape or form hiding hours or what have you.

The $6,000, in and of itself, is not the only parameter that I would like to see. I would like the government to take a look at the hours of entrance as opposed to just the money, the income. The $6,000 is something that I suppose some self-employed men and women could earn very quickly and the 600 hours could take longer. However, I am focusing on the hours because, for me, it is very important for accessibility. As I said, there are part-time people who are paying EI all the time but cannot access any of the programs that we are now talking about in this House and bringing forth for others.

There are teachers who do not work through the summer but do not build up 600 hours easily and therefore are also not eligible. The case that I received in my office is an adoption case where the parent cannot access benefits for that very reason.

Therefore, I would encourage the government that once this bill is passed, and if they amend it earlier that would be great, to really, truly look at the accessibility of it and look at the 360 hours for accessibility, because that in fact would allow part-time workers, most of whom are women, to access it.

Employment insurance is not a luxury. It is not something that we receive as a top-up on some other income. For most families in this country, it is keeping body and soul together. It is keeping a roof over their heads. It is paying their rent and keeping food on the table for their children. It is very critical that employment insurance not only be a strong system but also that it does not leave people out.

Unfortunately, poverty in our country is still very strong, especially now with the downturn in the economy. While the economy is picking up, the reality is that it is a jobless recovery. Whether we like it or not, no matter which way we look at it, that is the reality. In Toronto, my city, the unemployment rate is the highest I have ever seen. Probably, realistically, it is somewhere around 15%, maybe even a bit more. It is very high.

For people who are struggling to survive, to pay rent and to get their jobs and their training, EI is a huge piece of our safety net. A strong EI gives people a chance to be able to rebuild their lives, which then gives them access to training, and so on.

The other thing, before I finish, that is very important and most people forget is that 80% of caregiving in our country is done by women. This talks about parental leave and compassionate leave, but women do 80% of the compassionate leave and they are subsidizing all the rest of the economy. This is why it is very important to me that the government review that aspect of the bill.

We support this bill, and I would hope that the government, in partnership with us, will actually look at some of those areas that need to be addressed.

Resumption and Continuation of Railway Operations November 30th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is absolutely right. We do need to keep in mind the impact a strike has on the country and on the economy, but we also need to keep in mind the importance of negotiations, of maintaining the right to strike and of maintaining the negotiations that are going on right now.

It is important to keep in mind that Parliament is being asked to act before it even sees a bill. I do not think we can give a definitive answer until we see the bill. It is like putting the cart before the horse, to some degree. I would like to see the bill. However, before I even see the bill, I think there are issues that the government can address and that I would like to see the minister address. That is what I am trying to get at.

It is my understanding, from what has been happening in the last week, that there are some outstanding issues, two major ones, and one is wages. However, the wages can be dealt with more amicably or under arbitration that the other issue of increasing the mileage, which is a much more contentious issue and the big deal breaker.

I do not quite understand why it is not possible to have information on that. I do not have an impact analysis for that and I do not think anyone in the House has one. We are getting two completely different reports from the union and the company as to what that means. Is it the long hours that the union is talking about, which is a huge thing, or is it the short hours?

The minister should be able to give us, through her office, a thorough assessment of what that means, what the impact is and what the reality is of those two negotiations. I look forward to seeing that information because I think that would help.

Resumption and Continuation of Railway Operations November 30th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, what I have said is that we have collective agreements and there is a right to strike, and this is happening with the strike going on right now.

However, the collective agreement process is not entirely over. There were ongoing discussions up until late last night. My understanding is there is still some communication going on today. We are having a discussion here today on a motion, which we probably will continue to discuss in the next day, but also there is a bill coming forward which none of us have seen. I want to see the bill before voting on a motion.

We are talking about debating a motion regarding a bill that we have not seen. How can we be definitive on an answer regarding a motion when we have not seen the bill? It is a bit difficult to do that.

Some things are incumbent upon the government and the minister to do to ensure they parties at the table and to ensure some solution comes forward. However, the minister could help the House and help the two parties if there were a proper, independent assessment on the major points of contention. I do not have that information and neither do any of my colleagues, as far as I know, or a proper analysis and assessment of what that means. I would like to see that.

Resumption and Continuation of Railway Operations November 30th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, it is evident from the member herself. She has said that the legislation is not yet before us, that it is premature, but also more important, there are issues with which we have deal.

What I have said is negotiations are going on and I do not want to derail them by jumping all over the place. It is critical that the two parties, which have talked up until now, continue that conversation and resolve the issue among themselves. I do not really want to see Parliament have to make those decisions.

I do not think Parliament should have to get between this issue and, quite frankly, there is still time. I do not see why we have to rush anything. My understanding is there is still some talking going back and forth and I do not see why that cannot happen. I do not see why the House is going through this process when hopefully by the end of the day, the two parties will have resolved their issues and Parliament does not need to get in the way.

The other issue, which I mentioned earlier, is very important. It is relevant that the minister present to us an assessment of what the major concerns are. I would like to know the impact. What are the facts with respect to the differences they have on the hour and the mileage cap? That is very critical. Regardless of what happens, the House should know what that is. It is important and the disparity is far too wide for us not to know and not to ask what that is. We need an assessment from the experts because we do not have the ability to do that ourselves.

Resumption and Continuation of Railway Operations November 30th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, this motion is the government's signal of its intention to move closure on a bill that is not yet before the House. This is a drastic measure which one would generally like to avoid because this is not the way that one would like to do business.

It is important to note that we have a motion in front of us, but we have not yet seen the bill. The House cannot give a definitive answer to the motion until it has at least seen the bill. We are debating a motion without knowing what the legislation would entail, and that is a major concern. Drastic measures are being taken and therefore it is important that we weigh them very carefully.

There is no doubt that all of us in the House are concerned about the disruption in the economy, the disruption of work, and the impact this will have on clients and all parties, including the locomotive engineers and the company itself. This will also impact on the relationship the company has with its employees and the relationship that the employees have with the company.

If both sides could come to an agreement at the table by themselves, it would augur much better for them to be able to have a relationship that would be much more stable in the future as opposed to some solution being imposed on both sides.

All parties need to keep their responsibilities in mind. The minister must ensure that everything possible is being done to ensure that the negotiations continue to take place between the two parties. In her role as minister, she must ensure that we find a workable solution. We must ensure that we all work together to avoid imposing undue hardship on the economy and on the people of Canada.

This is a particularly difficult time in our economy. There has been a lot of talk about the recovery of our economy. There are a lot of people in this country who are struggling and we do not want to cause them more undue stress.

All parties have an obligation. As I said, the minister has an obligation to ensure that the parties are talking, that there is an open line between them. At this point, it is important for all parties to go back to the table and continue the negotiations.

As I said before, it is important that we continue to keep in mind what the ultimate repercussions could be, but at the same time we must keep in mind the importance of maintaining an amicable relationship between employees and employer.

I understand that there are two broad issues still on the table, but there is a great divide on one of them. One of the issues is the money issue and the other is the hours of work or the mileage cap.

There is a huge divide on the mileage cap issue. My understanding is that the company is saying that it would go from 37 hours to 41 hours, and that is not a big shift. The union is saying that it would go from the current 72 hours, which is a much larger number, to 82 hours. This is a huge divide. This is a much bigger gap in the perception of the two.

We do not have the ability in the House to assess what the situation with the hours means and the impact they will actually have.

From everything I have seen and all of the discussions I have had thus far that the money issue may be easier to resolve, although I am not saying it would be easy or that it is unimportant. Certainly the union has indicated that it is prepared to go to arbitration on that issue. The disparity in the hours of work is a much bigger issue and that seems to be the issue at which we are looking.

Given this reality, the House cannot take one side or another on the specific issues that are at stake. I do not think it should be up to the Parliament of Canada or the members of Parliament in the House to try to weed out what the issues are in that area and the impact they may have. However, the House should have presented to it an assessment of the impact they are going to have with respect to the agreements and the issues we are discussing today.

The minister at least needs to ask the deputy minister to do a thorough assessment on the impact of this. There are two very differing sides. As I said, the disparity is quite huge and I do not think the House is in a position to see that, but it is important for the House to know the impacts, to what extent they are real or not, where the truth is and where the reality lies.

It is important for the minister to look at these two dramatically different views and have her deputy or department do a proper assessment on the impact. That assessment should be reported to the House. In fact, if the minister intends to table a bill, which I understand this motion is about, she should put that information in the bill as well.

Before the House gets into debating the bill and finishing the debate on this motion, it should know what these dramatically different views are and the impact of them. A thorough assessment of them needs to be carried out, especially given the fact that it seems to be one of the major contentious issues in this discussion. I know that discussions continued until late last night. Hopefully, today there are still some discussions going on, although I do not know for sure, but we need to deal with these areas.

We are very concerned that this kind of issue does not take over the situation not only in the country but in the House. As I said, the concern is, yes, the fact that thousands and thousands of people in the country rely on transportation. Railways are the backbone, so to speak. I always call them the spine that connects the country and has connected it for many years. It is very critical and important to our economy and to the customers that use them.

We need to remember and keep in mind that there are collective agreement rights in the country and labour negotiations. Employees have rights as well. It is important that the two parties be allowed the time to negotiate and continue their discussions.

I again encourage the minister to bring to the House a thorough assessment of everything I have seen and all of the discussions I have had thus far with the minister and others. This area seems to be dramatically different.

It is important to note that the hours are a result of the increase in mileage. For my colleagues who may not know what that means, it is raising the mileage cap to 4,300 miles per month, which will increase the time away from home and average out to 82 hours per week, according to the union. The company's averaging is different. I think it is at 41. This is really important and it is a huge area that needs to be looked at.

It is important to note that strikes are never the way to go and they are never easy on our economy and on our country, especially in the sectors where a great many people are dependent on the goods and services that are delivered and provided. They are not the best way to go. They create a tremendous amount of negativity and bitterness sometimes and a toxic environment.

The last strike at CN by the conductors lasted about two months. They went back to work when back to work legislation was enacted. In this case I would like to see that not be the case. I would like to see the two parties involved get back to the table to really sort out their differences.

I understand we are debating a motion today, a closure motion, that would essentially put closure on the debate and on the process of the legislation that we anticipate we will see. Not having seen that legislation, I will not make a comment. This is somewhat premature, because we need to see what the legislation says before we can move forward.

I would ask the minister if she would, prior to all of this, ask her officials to do a proper impact assessment on the hours and to explain to the House what the differences are between the information we have received from the two sides and exactly what that means in terms of the impact on the employees and the employer and on the service as a whole. We do not know what this actually means, so it is important we get that information. I would hope to get that soon, because I think it would help us a great deal in our discussion.

I would like to finish by saying a couple of things. First, I would rather not have to take drastic measures such as this one. As I said, we have not yet seen the bill and I do not like this kind of drastic measure. Second, I understand that we all have to take responsibility, the minister as well as the company and the union, to ensure that people and the economy are not unduly affected. We need to ensure this happens and everyone has to take that kind of responsibility.

As I said, it should not be up to the House to make that decision. We should not be trying to figure out what side is where and who is doing what. It is not something on which Parliament should make a decision. It is better that it be decided between the two parties. That creates a much better relationship for the future, a much better environment and better labour relations than would be the case if the House got involved.

Finally, it is important that the minister table, if it is possible, the assessment I referred to earlier. It seems to me that those are the two major issues left on the table, one being wages. However, from what I have seen, the issue of hours and the mileage cap is the more serious issue. I would like to see the minister table that in the House as soon as possible so we can a see what has caused the major concerns in this area.

Resumption and Continuation of Railway Operations November 30th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I know that we are all concerned with respect to the disruption of the economy and the disruption to services with the strike, but I am also cognizant of the fact that we would rather not have the House act as arbiter and get involved in these situations, and for Parliament to make the decisions, but rather that the parties involved be the ones who work this out.

I wonder if the hon. member could tell the House this. I know there has been back and forth for some time and there have been some agreements on some things and not on some others. Could the member inform the House as to why the two parties are actually not continuing to negotiate? My understanding is that one side is not interested in going to arbitration but would like to continue the collective bargaining at the table.

Does the government feel that it is important at this point to bring closure rather than to give them more time to see whether they can come to some agreement at the table between the two of them rather than this venue. Could the hon. member explain that?

Children November 20th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, the minister knows that there is no choice for parents if there are no additional spaces. It is as simple as that.

The economics of it are unquestioned. It is one of the biggest job creators and one of the biggest returns on investment. It is even supported by the Bank of Canada.

We need to invest now to have the smartest, most skilled labour force on the planet but the government cancelled the early learning and child care agreements with the provinces, and the minister knows that. The Conservatives just do not get it. It is also about the early development of a child.

When will the Conservative government invest in children and their future in this country?

Children November 20th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, today is National Child Day, which commemorates both the adoption of the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989.

However, the Conservative government has failed Canada's children. It failed to create any new early learning and child care spaces, eliminated choices for families and failed to provide the best start possible for our children.

Why is the government so against giving our children all the tools we possibly can to give them the best start in life?