Welcome to the 160th meeting of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. This meeting is being held in public at the moment. The first order of business today is consideration of regulations respecting the non-attendance of members by reason of maternity or care for a newborn or newly adopted child.
We're pleased to be joined by Philippe Dufresne, the House law clerk and parliamentary counsel, and Robyn Daigle, director, members' HR services. Thank you both for being here.
Members will recall that our 48th report recommended that the Parliament of Canada Act be amended to provide members of Parliament with access to some form of pregnancy and parental leave. The legislation was subsequently amended to empower the House of Commons to make regulations. As you're aware, the Board of Internal Economy considered the matter last week and recommended that PROC consider a set of draft regulations that it unanimously endorsed.
I would note for the members that the draft regulations distributed in the morning have some slight differences from what we received from the board last week, and it's my understanding that the law clerk will explain the reasons for the changes.
With that I'll turn it over to you, Mr. Dufresne, for your opening remarks.
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, following last week's letter from the Board of Internal Economy, I am pleased to appear before you today with my colleague Robyn Daigle, director of Members' Human Resources Services, to discuss the potential regulations on non-attendance related to maternity and paternity.
You will likely be familiar with this issue because, as the chair mentioned, it comes from a recommendation the committee itself issued in one of its reports presented to the House earlier in this session.
Under the Parliament of Canada Act, a deduction of $120 is to be made to the sessional allowance of a member for each day the member does not attend a sitting of the House of Commons beyond 21 sitting days per session. Days in which a member is absent by reason of public or official business, illness or service in the armed forces are not computed as days of non-attendance and no deductions are made in such circumstances.
There is, however, no similar exemption if a member does not attend a sitting due to pregnancy or providing care for a newborn or a newly adopted child. Your committee considered this issue earlier in this session. In its 48th report entitled "Support for Members of Parliament with Young Children", this committee, after reviewing the relevant provisions respecting deductions for non-attendance, concluded and recommended as follows:
It is the Committee’s view that a member should not be penalized monetarily for his or her absence from Parliament due to pregnancy and/or parental leave. Therefore, the Committee recommends
That the minister responsible for the Parliament of Canada Act consider introducing legislation to amend section 57(3) of the Parliament of Canada Act to add that pregnancy and parental leave be reckoned as a day of attendance of the member during a parliamentary session for the purposes of tabulating deductions for non-attendance from the sessional allowance of a member.
Following that committee recommendation, Bill was introduced in Parliament and passed. It amended the Parliament of Canada Act to authorize the two Houses of Parliament to make regulations regarding the attendance of their respective members and regarding amounts to be deducted from the sessional allowance for the parliamentarian missing meetings owing to their pregnancy or any parliamentarians missing meetings to take care of their new-born or newly adopted child.
Earlier this year, the Board of Internal Economy asked the House Administration to prepare a bill for its review. While preparing the proposal, the administration took into account the fact that members are not employees. Members hold public office and are not replaced when they are absent as would be, for example, an employee on parental leave. National emergencies or other important matters can always occur and force the member to return to the House or to take care of an issue in their riding.
So the issue before you is not a matter of leave in the strict sense. It is rather about whether absences related to maternity or paternity should be considered as less justified than those related to other motives such as illness, public or official business, or service in the armed forces.
The administration examined the rules in provincial and territorial legislative assemblies in Canada. We have also reviewed Great Britain's practice. That review helped us see that the majority of legislative assemblies allow members to miss sittings, without a financial deduction, by reason of maternity or paternity, over a definite or indefinite period of time.
The members of the Board of Internal Economy unanimously endorsed the following proposal in terms of potential regulation: first, that no deduction be made to the sessional allowance of a pregnant member who does not attend a sitting during the period of four weeks before the due date; second, that there be no deduction to the sessional allowance of a member providing care for his or her newborn child during the period of 12 months from the child's date of birth; and, third, that there be no deduction to the sessional allowance of a member providing care for a newly adopted child during the period of 12 months from the date the child is placed with the member for the purpose of adoption.
This proposal is in line, in my view, with this committee's 48th report, presented in 2017, and with new section 59.1 of the Parliament of Canada Act.
I note that the proposal is not about a period where members will not attend at all to their parliamentary functions, but rather, as mentioned, members of Parliament are not replaced when absent. They are not in the same situation as employees and there will always be issues of either national or local importance that will warrant members and require members to attend either to Parliament or to their constituency. As such, the aim of the proposal is to make sure that no deduction is made to the sessional allowance of a member who misses a sitting of the House because the member is pregnant or providing care for his or her newborn or newly adopted child.
The document entitled “Draft Regulations”, which has been circulated to the members of the committee, contains the legal text that, if adopted by the House, would implement what is proposed. I note that we've made small editorial changes since it was first sent to the members by the board. They do not affect the substance of the proposal. We also removed the coming into force provision, presuming that the committee and the House would want the regulations to come into force immediately upon their adoption, but if the will is otherwise, a different date could be inserted.
I also note that the letter from the Board Of Internal Economy to this committee indicated that the board was also supportive of having no deductions made for the period of four weeks before the due date for a member whose partner is pregnant. In so doing, the board recognized the important role that the non-pregnant partner plays in the weeks leading up to the due date.
That idea is certainly worth exploring. We have analyzed the provisions of the Parliament of Canada act to determine whether, in its current form, the act would make it possible to include those circumstances in the proposed regulations.
Following that analysis, I'm of the opinion that extending the application of the four-week non-deduction period to members whose spouse is pregnant would go beyond the wording of the new section 59.1 of the Parliament of Canada Act, which sets out situations where the House of Commons can make regulations. It states that non-attendance could apply to its members who are unable to attend a sitting of the House by reason of:
(b) caring for a new-born or newly-adopted child ... or for a child placed with the member for the purpose of adoption.
The English version is similarly drafted and does not include the situation of a member whose partner is pregnant, and so I note that under the existing regime a member whose partner is pregnant could still be absent prior to the due date for some or all of the 21 sitting days without any deductions.
Under the circumstances, I am not suggesting that the committee recommend extending the application of the non-deduction period prior to the child's birth to members whose spouse is pregnant. The implementation of that suggestion would require an amendment to section 59.1 of the Parliament of Canada Act.
However, this is an important issue that is worthy of consideration. The committee could decide to explore this issue in the next session to find potential options. Those options could include legislative amendments or data analysis to clarify trends and measure the repercussions of the current rules on pregnant individuals' spouses.
Last, the board raised the issue of vote pairing for members who are absent from the chamber for family reasons. The committee may also wish to consider this as a topic for a subsequent report.
This will conclude my presentation, but we will of course be happy to answer any questions you may have.
I can answer some of Ms. Sahota's questions.
You were wondering under what circumstances we may be talking about public or official business. I could tell you about a fairly plausible case. If a member becomes president of an international parliamentary association—for example, the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association or the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly—we can assume they will often miss sittings because they will have to travel. Having known some presidents of international parliamentary associations, I know that the position leads to many absences. I also know that some members have been approached to seek candidacy with an international association, but they decided not to do it. In any case, if a member holds an internationally recognized position that takes up a lot of their time, that could be one of the plausible reasons for which they will not often be present in Parliament. That is an example of public or official business that would explain why a member is not present.
I can now explain to you how we came to these regulations.
While I was a member, I had three children, so three pregnancies. When I started working on this issue, I knew that, until the Parliament of Canada Act was amended, we could not move on to the next step, that of regulations.
The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs first met on this issue and then produced a report containing that recommendation. The measure was then included in the budget. Once the Budget Implementation Act received royal assent and, consequently, the Parliament of Canada Act was amended, I provided draft regulations to the NDP House leader, who was then Ms. Brosseau. She was in charge of getting the regulations adopted. In fact, it was up to House leaders Ms. Bergen, Ms. Chagger and Ms. Brosseau to begin the discussion on the regulations.
Once I returned after giving birth, I came back to the issue to figure out why the regulations had not yet been adopted. I also tried to get this file on the agenda. So I know that other discussions were held among the House leaders of various parties to put it back on the agenda before the parliamentary session ends, so that a new Parliament would not have to finish the work on this.
That is what has happened concerning the regulations.