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  • Her favourite word is communities.

NDP MP for Churchill—Keewatinook Aski (Manitoba)

Won her last election, in 2015, with 46% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Business of Supply May 30th, 2016

Madam Chair, the answer to that would be only 546,000 Canadians are able to access EI benefits, a figure that is entirely inadequate given that the EI fund belongs workers and those who need it when they fall on hard times. I wonder if the minister believes that less than four in ten unemployed Canadians being able to access EI is an acceptable figure.

Business of Supply May 30th, 2016

Madam Chair, the answer is that almost 1.4 million Canadians are unemployed, and more than 900,000 work involuntarily part-time.

Moving to the issue of employment insurance, could the minister tell us how many Canadians are currently able to access EI benefits?

Business of Supply May 30th, 2016

Madam Chair, we certainly hope so. This is a main priority for the NDP, fighting for the $15 federal minimum wage.

Moving to the issue of unemployment, I would like to ask the minister how many Canadians are unemployed and how many are working in involuntary part-time positions.

Business of Supply May 30th, 2016

Madam Chair, I will begin by focusing a question on the issue of employment.

The minimum wage has become a symbol of the minimum threshold for dignity. The states of New York and California both plan to adopt this minimum wage in the next few years.

In the interest of equity and fairness, will the minister raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour?

Tamil Heritage Month May 20th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in this House in support of the motion. My colleague from Hamilton Mountain also conveyed the support of the NDP on this important motion.

Certainly, as someone who is the daughter of immigrants, I understand well what it means to be both a proud Canadian and to be connected to my heritage and to my community, as one would say, here in Canada. In my case, that is the Greek community, a community to which I am proud to belong.

As I pointed out in the House before, I am also someone who understands how important it is to maintain that connection to our heritage. That is really what today's motion is about, the need to recognize that whether it is for Tamil-Canadians who immigrated to Canada, or their children or their grandchildren who were born and raised in Canada, the recognition that our Parliament would give a time to honour who they are, to honour their language, their culture, is obviously an important message.

Many of us in this House share that same sentiment vis-a-vis other communities as well, and the need to support immigrant communities, linguistic diversity, and cultural programming for ethnic communities or multicultural communities in the country.

While the federal government has played a role on this front, we have seen that in some cases there has been a penchant to go for the symbolic rather than the substantive. The resources have not always been there in terms of making sure that our language schools are supported, that our cultural programming is supported, that festivals are supported that celebrate our multicultural identity. That is something I certainly hope the government will take seriously in terms of its budgetary commitment.

As someone whose first language is neither English nor French, I know how important it is to make sure there is government funding in order for second and third-generation kids, and whoever, to learn their mother tongue. By supporting that kind of work, supporting our diverse communities on that front, we build a stronger sense of what it is to be Canadian.

As I stand here in support of Motion No. 24, I also send a message that it is important that we move from supporting only the symbolic to also recognizing that there is a government role in terms of funding commitments. There is a government role in terms of partnering, including with our provinces, our multicultural organizations, our community centres, in order to make sure we are building the diversity that we are all so very proud of.

As I pointed out, while my heritage may not be Tamil in this case, I certainly recognize the importance of the contributions of the Tamil community, the contributions of immigrant communities to Canada, the contributions of the children and the grandchildren of immigrants to our country, and that we build a stronger Canada when we support diversity, both in the case of Motion No. 24 and legislation of this kind.

It is a real honour to rise in this House and speak to this motion. Certainly I would also add that this allows for more conversations in terms of how we can be supporting communities.

Another area, I should note, that is a very important issue for many immigrant communities, many ethnic communities in Canada, is immigration. Yesterday, in fact, I was in Toronto, and I had the opportunity to visit with a number of young racialized youth, in Scarborough in particular. We had very good conversations about the challenges they face. A number of them were born and raised in Canada to immigrant parents. Some were born overseas and grew up in Canada, and many of them shared their challenges.

One of the challenges that also came up in our discussions was the desire to improve our immigration system whereby families could more easily access family reunification. We know that under previous Liberal and Conservative governments there were significant cuts in the area of family sponsorship and family reunification.

I should note at this juncture that I am very proud of my home province of Manitoba. Thanks to the work of the NDP government, we were able to develop a very robust provincial nominee program that allowed for us to welcome immigrants to our province in a very sincere way. It ensured that people were supported when they came, that families could come together, and that people were able to access language programming and services, as well as job opportunities. This was at a period of time when unfortunately we saw the federal government moving further and further away from family reunification in the context of immigration.

This is a huge issue in many communities across Canada. It is an issue that, sadly, we have yet to see the government act on. While there have been important commitments and certainly important action when it comes to dealing with the refugee crisis and welcoming many Syrian families to Canada, we have also been very outspoken in the NDP that there needs to be that same kind of compassion shown when it comes to our immigration system. We hope the government will take that seriously.

In the spirit of building a more diverse country, let it not just be about the statements of support. Let it be about action, including supporting family reunification in our immigration system when it comes to language training. Also, let it be about offering support, as the federal government used to do in a much bigger way, to communities that want to ensure their languages continue and that their kids and grandkids can still be connected to who they are and their identity. Also, let it be about support for community centres.

I want to acknowledge that there have been instances where the federal government has played a key role, including contributing funds to building the Greek community centre in my province of Winnipeg, which I hold very dear. The federal government stepped up, worked with our provincial government, adding to the many charitable donations made by Greek Canadians in my province, and was able to construct a beautiful community centre of which we are all very proud.

When it comes to cultural communities, that commitment to infrastructure is critical. It is part of how we should see the need to support immigrant communities. I hope, in going forward, we look at the symbolic. However, it is also very important to look at the substantive and where the government and all of us can work with our communities to build a stronger and more diverse country of which we can all be proud.

Temporary Foreign Workers May 20th, 2016

Madam Speaker, this week, we heard more stories of the appalling abuse of temporary foreign workers: people treated like slaves, paid $2 an hour, having their health care taken away, and deported when they are injured on the job.

It is hard to believe that this is Canada in 2016. While the minister has called this exploitation unacceptable, what we have not seen from the government is a commitment to hearing from migrant workers directly and a plan of action to end the abuse.

When will the government and the minister step up and take action to end the exploitation taking place under her watch?

Privilege May 18th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, in my colleague's comments, he referred to what happened here as being unacceptable anywhere. I would ask him to speak to just how unacceptable it was, what took place in the House.

We as parliamentarians are counted on to come forward with policy and legislation when it comes to harassment, bullying, ensuring safe work places, fighting violence against women and fighting sexual violence. What took place here in the House was physical violence. We know, and outside, that people would call what happened here assault.

When we are talking about something as serious as what took place in the House, would anyone in the House, or anyone across the country, find that kind of conduct, not just by a prime minister but of anyone, acceptable?

Privilege May 18th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, I am rising because I was a witness as well to what took place here, something that I do not think any Canadian could imagine would take place in the House of Commons.

I witnessed the Prime Minister walk over and manhandle the whip of the official opposition, and as he was doing so, he actually pushed my colleague, a friend of mine, a young woman who also sits in this House, and pushed her into the desk. In fact, as he was pulling away, pulled her along with him and physically pushed her into this desk.

I am ashamed, as somebody who sits in this House, to have been witness to the person who holds the highest elected position in our country to have done such an act in this House.

We were witnesses in this House. I also want to say that, for all of us who witnessed this, it is deeply traumatic. I am unwilling to make this political, but if we apply a gendered lens, it is very important that we recognize that young women in this place need to feel safe to come here, to work here, to speak here.

Not only was this the furthest thing from a feminist act, in and of itself this act made not only my colleague—and she can certainly speak to her own experiences—but any young woman, any woman, anybody who sits in this House feel unsafe and deeply troubled by the conduct of the Prime Minister of this country.

National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy Act May 17th, 2016

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 Act May 17th, 2016

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.