Madam Speaker, I am pleased to resume my speech after that fast-paced question period.
As I was saying, we have been trapped in the worst public health crisis of the past century for almost two years now, and our health care system is more vulnerable than ever, so we have to do whatever it takes to protect it. Our health care workers have been holding down the fort throughout this trying time, and we as a society must keep them safe. That is why the Bloc Québécois will support Bill , introduced by the government.
That said, there is a very real potential pitfall that will have to be addressed at some point in the legislative process. The proposed amendments must not violate health care workers' rights to peaceful protest and freedom of expression. These fundamental rights are necessary in a healthy democracy and must not be openly violated. Once again, the public can count on the Bloc Québécois to ask the right questions to help Parliament clarify its intentions and to propose any necessary amendments.
The bill seeks to amend the Canada Labour Code to guarantee that every federally regulated employee gets a minimum of 10 paid sick days a year. As a loyal defender of all workers, the Bloc Québécois agrees with this proposal. No one, but no one, should have to go to work sick because they cannot afford to stay home. No one should be forced to make the impossible choice between taking the time to heal and putting food on the table.
What is more, this pandemic we are going through has shown us another, equally convincing argument. Collectively, we are better off when our infected colleagues do not come in to work. That is how we can stop a virus like COVID‑19 or the flu from spreading and prevent unfortunate outbreaks. It is good for workers, it is good for businesses, it is good for everyone.
However, it is important to be realistic about what this bill the Liberals are introducing can really do to transform the labour market in Quebec and Canada. I will explain by considering the entire labour market.
Federally regulated businesses, such as those in the banking, telecommunications and airline industries, employ only a tiny fraction of the workers in this country, only 6%, to be exact. Of that fraction, we have to subtract all the workers whose employment conditions are governed by collective agreements comparable to or more generous than the one proposed in Bill C‑3. In the end, the bill does not amount to much. It is just another well-crafted PR stunt by this government.
That being said, I personally believe that any improvement in the employment conditions of any workers ultimately represents a win for all workers. That is why the Bloc Québécois will support this bill.
In closing, the Liberals have returned to Parliament more than two months after calling an unnecessary election. After delivering such an uninspiring throne speech, they are now proposing a two-pronged bill that seeks to make minor changes to the Criminal Code and the Canada Labour Code.
The fact that this bill was one of the first ones introduced by this government in the new session eloquently demonstrates that the Liberals are more interested in ticking off election promises than in advancing meaningful legislation, and that they still do not have a clear strategic vision to offer this Parliament, much less a concrete social blueprint for achieving that vision.
In spite of all this, the Bloc Québécois will support Bill C‑3 so that it can move forward, because, as a wise man once said, nobody can be against apple pie.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking my esteemed colleague from Rimouski‑Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques for his speech.
We are here today to talk about Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Canada Labour Code. We are at second reading of this bill, which was introduced by our colleague from St. John's South—Mount Pearl.
Bill C‑3 proposes harsher sentences for people who intimidate health care workers or their patients or who block access to a hospital or clinic in order to impede people from obtaining health services.
The bill also proposes forcing federally regulated employers to grant their employees up to 10 days of sick leave.
Bill C‑3 is good for Quebec, so the Bloc Québécois supports it. The amendments proposed today are in keeping with the legitimate demands of major unions and will greatly benefit employees. As my colleague said, whether it be yesterday, today or tomorrow, the Bloc Québécois has and always will side with workers in Quebec and across Canada.
At the same time, our party has already spoken out many times against the anti-vaccine protests that took place near hospitals and clinics during the election campaign.
The Bloc Québécois is opposed to all forms of intimidation, violence or interference directed at health care workers or anyone seeking care or a vaccine. Bill C‑3 will give police and prosecutors more tools to prosecute offenders who directly or indirectly attack health care workers or patients seeking care.
As it stands, Bill C‑3 contains eight clauses amending two acts, namely the Criminal Code and the Canada Labour Code. One of the clauses would add intimidation of health care workers to the invasion of privacy offences. Another proposes imprisonment for up to 10 years for anyone attempting to impede the delivery of health care by provoking a state of fear in a patient, professional or support person.
One paragraph prohibits intentionally obstructing or interfering with access to a place at which health services are provided, such as a hospital or clinic. That is one of the things we will have to examine in detail, because we do not want to interfere with health care workers' right to protest.
Another clause states that committing an offence to impede a health care worker in the performance of their duties could be considered an aggravating factor. In short, it is a good piece of legislation, but it really makes few substantive changes.
For one thing, the offences that Bill C‑3 would add to the Criminal Code already exist, because it is already a criminal offence to block access to a hospital. It was not a lack of legal authority that was required to enforce this provision of the Criminal Code, but rather a lack of political will.
In short, the amendments proposed by Bill C‑3 provide a few more tools to prosecutors and the police, and that is a very good thing.
Although the Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill C‑3, we have to admit that it is more of a PR stunt, as my colleague mentioned earlier, intended to fulfill the Liberals' election promise, than a truly constructive piece of legislation.
It is also important to note that Quebec acted on this matter some time ago. In September, the National Assembly of Quebec passed a bill providing for very stiff fines for anyone protesting against vaccination within 50 metres of a school or health care site. These fines range from $6,000 for a first offence to $12,000 for subsequent offences.
On a different note, the bill before us would amend the Canada Labour Code to add 10 days of paid sick leave for all workers.
According to Employment and Social Development Canada, the Canada Labour Code covers 955,000 employees working for about 18,000 companies. Of that number, roughly 63% of all federally regulated private sector employees had access to fewer than 10 days of paid sick leave, so this will be highly beneficial.
The Canada Labour Code currently provides for 17 weeks of unpaid sick leave, but only 5 days of paid sick leave. It is worth noting that this provision led to a number of regrettable situations during the pandemic. Many employees kept going to work sick, even with COVID-19, instead of staying home, so that they would not miss out on pay. This decision undoubtedly helped the virus spread, with tragic consequences, as we know. Other people became infected, and some died.
That said, many employees are covered by collective agreements that already guarantee them sick leave. Bill will obviously not change anything for them. Furthermore, there will be little impact on the lives of Quebec workers, since Quebec currently offers more paid sick leave than anywhere else in Canada.
In addition, it is quite surprising that the bill is trying to accomplish two things at the same time. No matter what the Liberals claim, there is nothing in Bill C‑3 that connects these two aspects of the legislation. They are packaging one uncontroversial topic that most people agree with, sick leave, with a rather complex amendment to the Criminal Code.
I think it is likely that the Liberals and the NDP will want to get this bill passed the easy way, like we did with Bill , which would ban conversion therapy. However, we are talking about an amendment to the Criminal Code, which requires a serious, in-depth study. This bill would have implications for freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. I sincerely believe that we must not cut the parliamentary process short on a topic like this. We are hearing from the other side that they want to fast-track Bill . If someone objects, will they be accused of stonewalling?
Whether the Liberal and NDP members like it or not, the Bloc Québécois will be sure to ask the relevant questions in the House to ensure that the legislators can clarify their intentions as to the amendments to the Criminal Code. We want to make sure that they do not encroach upon health care workers' right to protest.
As usual, we will propose amendments to the bill, as needed, to improve it. The Bloc Québécois is always in favour of new, innovative ideas, and we will continue in that direction.
Despite the fact that this bill smacks of cynicism and will have a relatively minimal impact, it does contain some elements that will benefit Quebec workers, especially health care staff.
With that in mind, of course the Bloc Québécois will support Bill .
Madam Speaker, this is my first speech in this 44th Parliament. As many of my colleagues have done, I want to take a moment to extend my sincere thanks to the people of Rosemont—La Petite‑Patrie for the confidence they have placed in me to represent them in this institution and to be their voice in the House. It truly is an immense honour to do so for a fourth time. I never thought I would last this long in this Parliament, but I will continue to serve with passion, drive and enthusiasm, to represent the progressive values and principles of the people of Rosemont—La Petite‑Patrie.
The House is debating Bill C‑3 today, and I must say that my NDP colleagues and I are extremely pleased to be able to rise in this place and discuss one of the two issues in the bill: the proposal to provide 10 days of paid sick leave for federally regulated workers.
Why are we so happy about this? It is because the NDP has been asking for it for two years, from the start of the pandemic. We are now in the midst of the fourth wave, and it seems like it will never end. There may be a fifth wave, based on what we are seeing in Europe and Africa with the omicron variant.
The NDP has been insisting for at least 18 months that we must give workers 10 days of paid sick leave. In 2020, the leader of the NDP spoke about this 22 times in the House. He asked the Liberals 22 times when this was coming and why they were not taking action, and he reminded them that this change was needed in order to protect people, institutions and our communities. However, the government only kicked the can down the road. It remained evasive, saying that this measure was not needed and that it was doing something else.
Then, in the middle of an election campaign this fall, the Liberals decided that the NDP had had a good idea and that they would act on it. After dragging their feet all through 2020 and 2021, after calling a pointless and costly election, and after waiting two months to recall the House, the Liberals threw together this bill at the last minute and now want to push it through.
The 10 days of sick leave is a protection for workers that the NDP has been calling for for a long time. The Liberals were a bit late to the game, but they finally saw the light, had a road to Damascus moment, had a revelation. This is a good thing and a victory for the NDP, which has been calling for this for months, for nearly two years.
I would still like to take a minute or two to talk about the context of this pandemic. Let us go back to March 2020. I remember that time very clearly. We were hearing about what was happening in Wuhan, China, where it all started. Then, we watched as the virus spread like wildfire around the entire planet.
At one point, the governments decided to shut everything down because things had become too dangerous. People were told not to go to work if they did not have to. They were told not to go out, not to see anyone, and to stay at home because it was too risky. They were told to wear masks and wash their hands. The economy was put on pause, something that has never happened before and I hope will never happen again.
I live near Saint‑Laurent Boulevard in Montreal. I no longer heard any cars going by, but I could hear birds singing, which never happens on that street. That shows how society just shut down all of a sudden and became paralyzed.
Sick people who had a cough or a fever but did not want to miss a day of work had to make an impossible choice if they did not have sick leave. I am referring to people who were allowed to go to work because they had essential jobs in the supply chain, the food sector or health care.
That had a major impact on everyone, on families. It was definitely a collective trauma. I hope we are past it now. I hope that we are heading in the right direction and that, together, we will be able to move on to the next step.
In a crisis, people die. People suffer. Thousands of people died. Tens of thousands of people were infected, and thousands overcame the disease. However, some people will experience serious, long-lasting effects for the rest of their lives. This shows how society was and continues to be shaken to its very foundation.
This crisis was revealing. I want to talk about two different aspects of it.
The first is the fragility of our health care system. We are very proud of our accessible, universal public health care system, but we have noted some major shortcomings. For example, our long-term care homes were not ready. The working conditions of health care workers were sometimes not good enough to convince employees to continue working and to come to work. We saw how ill-prepared and ill-equipped we were.
We did not learn any lessons from the SARS epidemic in 2003. The recommendations made at the time were not implemented. We therefore found ourselves with no vaccines and no gloves, masks or personal protective equipment. We saw how vulnerable that left us. Our health care system was undermined. I hope that we have learned from this pandemic, so that we will be able to deal with the next one. Let us be clear. We are trying to get out of this pandemic as quickly as possible, but in the years to come, there will inevitably be another one. That is why it is so unfortunate that, under successive Liberal and Conservative governments, we lost all our national vaccine production capacity. The NDP has proposed creating a Crown corporation, if necessary. That way, if the private sector is not interested, we will at least have the collective public capacity to produce vaccines to treat people.
Our health care system was fragile. There were problems with working conditions, staffing and preparedness. We have collectively been dropping the ball for years.
The second aspect is our social safety net. Earlier, I spoke about the holes in the health care system. The holes in our social safety net are more like abysses or craters. We quickly realized that the current EI system was leaving many people with nothing when businesses closed, people were asked to stay home, jobs were lost and things were falling apart.
The EI system already excluded 60% of workers. This means that of all the workers who pay EI premiums, more than half do not have access to benefits when they lose their job. That is unbelievable. It is pretty much the dream of any private insurer that does not want to pay. EI is a public tool that we collectively implemented in order to help people who lose their jobs and fall on hard times. However, it is just not working.
As I explained earlier, it was even worse with the pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis. People who contributed to EI were not able to access it, and on top of that, others who did not contribute, such as contract workers, self-employed workers and freelancers, had nothing. That is why the NDP demanded that the government provide direct assistance to offset the gaps in this deeply flawed program. We demanded that the Liberal government increase the Canada emergency response benefit from $1,000 to $2,000 a month, so that people could safely pay their rent and grocery bills. What the Liberals had originally proposed was not enough. We then wanted to expand the benefit to people who might still have been getting a small contract or a couple of hours of work here and there, so that it would cover freelancers and self-employed workers, who had been excluded from CERB. We made it so that people could work and earn up to $1,000 while receiving CERB. We also took action to help students, who had been completely forgotten.
We saw that our social safety net was not good enough and that many people did not have sick leave. I want to emphasize this, because, in the context of a pandemic, sick days are a solution to a public health problem. Sick leave is a social benefit. It benefits the worker. Workers benefit personally from being able to stay home and rest instead of going to work sick, and it is better that way. Everyone wants that.
If someone unfortunately does not have access to paid sick leave and they cannot afford to take a day or two off work because their budget is too tight and they have bills to pay, they are sometimes faced with an impossible choice. They have to choose between buying groceries and staying home to take care of themselves. If they choose to stay home to rest, they might not be able to pay their rent at the end of the month.
It is not just that person's health at stake, but the health of everyone, because we are in the midst of a pandemic. If that person has symptoms of COVID-19, if they are coughing or have a fever and they go to work anyway, they might spread the virus to the other people in their workplace.
Personal sick leave therefore becomes a tool and a collective method of self-defence. This is a public health issue. Sick leave lets people make rational decisions and protect others, including their family, neighbours, community and co-workers.
While I deplore the fact that the Liberals dragged their feet and took so long to come up with this concrete proposal, I am pleased to see that we can take a leadership role, take a step in the right direction and perhaps encourage some other provinces to adopt similar mechanisms, so that all workers can eventually be protected.
Let us talk about those mechanisms. We see room for improvement. Bill can be improved. I would even say that it must be improved. That is why it is really important that there be a parliamentary committee that studies the bill one day where we will be able to discuss, debate and propose amendments.
In this version of the bill, people have to work one calendar month to be entitled to one sick day. After five months, they will be entitled to five sick days, and so on.
I see two problems with that. The first is the notion of calendar months. For example, someone hired on February 6 would not get their first paid sick day until April. That person will not have worked every day in February, so they have to wait until they have worked the whole month of March to get their first paid sick day, which they can put in their leave bank. That means they would have to wait six or seven weeks to get that first paid sick day. Why not go with a certain number of days worked consecutively, regardless of the hiring date or start date? Why not base it on an actual month and not make people wait six or seven weeks? I think that is the first thing we need to fix.
The second thing that needs fixing is the bank of 10 days of sick leave. It was people in the health care sector who talked to us about it, including representatives I met with this week from an organization called the Decent Work and Health Network. They are concerned that a new employee has to wait until they bank enough days of sick leave before they can stay home sick. It can take a while to accumulate enough days. According to a U.S. study these representatives cited, it takes at least six days of sick leave for the leave to become truly accessible. That is when the person can really take them, or even dares to take them. It was reported that people with at least six days of sick leave banked take sick leave more than people who have banked only a day or two.
We need to explore the possibility of having a minimum number of days available from the start, before the banking process begins to reach 10 days of sick leave. I think that is something the parliamentary committee could do.
We are talking about technicalities, but they can make a big difference in people's lives. When people get sick, one day is rarely enough. The Decent Work and Health Network also talks about a survey that found that the median duration of leave for influenza is four days. If someone has only a day or two of leave banked, it may not be enough.
With regard to the mechanisms, I would also like to talk about how the employer is allowed to ask the employee to provide a medical certificate for a day of paid leave. For just one day of leave, the employer could require the employee to consult a physician in order to obtain a medical certificate justifying the absence. I believe that it is important to show good faith and to trust employees. Allowing this type of mechanism implies a presumption that abuse and fraud will take place. Is a doctor's note needed for just one day of leave, as opposed to four or five?
We need to ask ourselves this question because this mechanism could be a barrier. A person who suffers from gastroenteritis and who cannot go to work for a day could be asked for a medical certificate two weeks later. This complicates things. Not only will they have to take one day of leave, but they will have to make a doctor's appointment two weeks later to ask for a medical certificate.
That will clog up the health care system. The doctor we met with who was part of the group I mentioned told us that he had better things to do than sign papers for someone who took one or two sick days. His job is to treat people who are sick right now, not to prove, after the fact, that someone was previously sick. Furthermore, this group did a survey and found that the requirement to provide a medical certificate for taking a sick day was an impediment for 82% of workers. That is a lot.
This requirement outweighs the benefits of paid sick leave. It may seem silly, but the NDP believes that we cannot ignore that this is an obstacle for 80% of workers. This is something we need to take into account.
I want to move on from talking about the first part of the bill to the second part of Bill C‑3, which would amend the Criminal Code. Under Bill , threatening or intimidating health care workers or impeding them from entering their places of work, such as hospitals and clinics, would become aggravating factors. The bill would allow for harsher punishments to combat these forms of intimidation.
Unfortunately, over the past two years and especially in the past year, some very aggressive people who are against science, public health and vaccines have acted in a disgraceful manner. They intimidated and threatened health professionals who were going to hospitals to take care of our parents, grandparents, children and neighbours. It is mind-boggling. The NDP agrees that we need to implement a measure to address that issue. We said during the election campaign that we needed to take steps to protect health professionals. This is a major problem, and we cannot let people intimidate and threaten the workers who take care of us. That does not make any sense. We need to take steps to protect them, so this change to the Criminal Code is a good thing.
That being said, we must not infringe on these same workers' right to use pressure tactics when they are on strike as part of a collective bargaining process, for example. I think we need to take that into account and be very vigilant. In any case, the NDP will stay vigilant, in order to preserve the right to picket and strike as part of a labour dispute.
The NDP stands up for workers. We want to stand up for them so that they do not have rocks thrown at them by anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists. However, we also want to protect workers' rights so that when they are on strike because of a labour dispute, they can express themselves, demonstrate and make their demands and the reason for the labour dispute known.
That aspect is very important to the NDP. We agree with the principle of the bill, but we must be sure not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We need to ensure that the right to picket and the right to demonstrate are protected in the event of a labour dispute or strike. For the NDP, this will be very important to see.
I thank the members for their attention, and I am ready to take questions.
Madam Speaker, I will just continue with one of the most recent questions, as I thought it was of interest. The member just made reference to five days and 10 days. The idea of paid sick leave for workers is something that is important to all of us, and we recognize that. In fact, the member might make reference to the number of asks by the leader of the New Democrats, but he should remember that in 2019, the government actually instituted the three-day paid sick leave for workers. As it was pointed out, B.C. has seen to bring it up to five days.
One of the things the has consistently talked about over the last number of months, and probably from the beginning, is that we can try to learn things through the pandemic. That is why we are seeing before us the legislation that we have today. I will get into that in more detail shortly.
I wanted to start off by underlining what I think is a very important point. Everyone, whether they are a health care provider or a health care client, should feel safe when going into a health care facility. That is one of the two motivators for all of us to get behind this legislation and pass it through.
I am quite encouraged. To say it up front, in the last few days we have seen a great deal of optimism on the floor of the House of Commons. The other day, we passed the conversion therapy bill unanimously through second reading, committee stage and third reading. That could not have been done without the support of every member inside the House of Commons.
Yesterday, Bill got to the committee stage. Members recognized that it was important, because it continues to provide the supports Canadians need. This includes for small businesses, individuals and the communities we all serve. It was great to see the debate collapse and Bill go through.
This morning we have another wonderful debate taking place. From what I have heard thus far, we have had Conservatives, the Bloc and New Democrats talk positively about the legislation, believing this is the type of legislation that it would appear everyone can get behind. I can appreciate there are members who have some ideas in terms of amendments, and we will wait and see what kinds of amendments surface. I suspect there might even be some amendments today. Members are waiting for the bill to get to committee, where they will propose the amendments.
Having been a parliamentarian for a number of years, I have always thought that one of the best ways to get amendments dealt with is to share them as much in advance as one can, or do that consultation with parties on all sides of the House, making sure the department is aware of it. This is, as are the other two initiatives, a very important piece of legislation.
I reflect on the last election, and having gone through a number of elections as a candidate, I can tell members that it is not that often that we get real anger at the door. On the issue of vaccinations, what surprised me was the degree to which so many people were very upset. We could see the divisions even within a household.
I can recall at least two or three occasions when I was talking to a person at the door and the individual would be getting visibly upset. Someone else from the household would come and ultimately save the day, if I can put it that way, and lower the temperature. We have to try to get a better understanding of why that is taking place.
During the election we really started to see the protests. When I was at the doors, I would often to say to people that, whether it is members of the Green Party, the Liberals, the Conservatives or the New Democrats, we are all saying that people need to get vaccinated. All political parties, with the exception of the People's Party, were encouraging that.
People would ask about their individual freedoms, the Charter of Rights, and so forth. I suspect that, if the federal or provincial governments were denying people those basic human rights, opposition parties of at least one of the two levels would have stood on their feet to say we had gone too far. However, I am not familiar with any political party or individual member of Parliament sitting today who is saying that people should not be getting vaccinated. Yes, there are some concerns that some are not, but at the end of the day, to the best of my knowledge, I like to think that positive message is getting out.
One has to ask why the anger is out there. We need to expand upon that. What brought us to the point we are at today where that aspect of this legislation is necessary?
We can go back to March 2020, when very few people had an in-depth understanding of what the coronavirus was and its long-term impact, let alone its short-term impact. It was not that long ago when we were just told to wash our hands. Health care and science experts, at the beginning, were not saying that we had to wear masks. There was a learning curve, and it was very steep.
As we proceeded through the pandemic, we learned a great deal. Today, as a result, we find that people will continue to wear masks. I envision it will continue even after a year. Someone was saying to me that, if they were to have a cold, they would be inclined to wear a mask, as a consideration. I believe that masks will continue to be worn well into the future for different circumstances. It is not just something that will be gone two years from now.
I believe that people have a far greater understanding of why it is important to wash their hands. The 95% alcohol sanitizers are going to be selling well into the future because people will continue to use them. In the long term, this will actually save health care costs.
I used to be a health care critic in Manitoba, as well as a critic for a number of other portfolios. I would take tours of facilities, and I do not recall seeing people using the type of PPE that we have today. I suspect some of the things we are seeing now will linger into the years ahead, as it should. We have learned many measures through this pandemic.
If we look back to March of 2020, we were trying to get a better sense of the science. Health experts came together to make sure the advice they were giving to Canadians was right on the mark. That is why I consistently told people, virtually from day one, that I am not a health care expert, so the best thing they could do was follow what our health care experts were saying.
What we provided, as a government and as members of the House of Commons, was a first-class, second-to-none website presence through Health Canada, which was constantly being updated to provide the necessary information, so people could have a sense of comfort in knowing that the professionals were out there and there is a science to this. By clicking in, or by phoning their member of Parliament, Canadians could get an understanding of what was taking place and be brought right up to date. Provincial and territorial entities across the country, in all regions, also did likewise.
The problem was false news and people intentionally spreading misinformation. This is what fed into the whole anti-vax mentality. It somehow gave additional strength to anti-vaxxers. I was concerned when we started seeing rallies with people being bold enough not to wear masks in situations where there was a high concentration of people. People were coming together without masks to say that vaccinations were not the way to go. I would suggest that to think that did not have an impact would be wrong.
That is why each and every one of us has a role to play. The outcome of that misinformation, which provided an empowerment of sorts to those anti-vaxxers, was that it enabled them to espouse garbage, which is the best word that comes to my mind. We started to see protests. Let us imagine, if we can, some of the most vulnerable in society, the sick in a hospital facility, or those wanting to visit them, as there were limitations, and there were people protesting, making it more difficult for them.
Health care workers have really stepped up, working long hours and overtime, some of which was never ever claimed. Many health care workers got into that profession not because of the money, but because they truly care about the health and well-being of people. They want to contribute.
Those health care workers, and I am using that in the broadest terms, as I am talking about the cooks in our hospitals and the workers who kept our hospitals and long-term care facilities open, as well as the registered nurses, doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses aides and lab technicians, saved thousands of lives. All those wonderful people ensured Canada's population was, as much as possible, being provided the services that were absolutely critical to getting through this crisis situation. They prevented thousands more from ever having to go into ICUs. They were there, providing advice so people could ensure they could minimize the chances of people getting the coronavirus in the first place, whether it was testing, bed care in an ICU or the care provided in a long-term care facility. These are the heroes who took us through the pandemic.
I find it appalling that there are some in society who would actually protest people's entry into facilities, and the screaming and the yelling that was taking place. Whether they were protesting health care providers and workers, patients or visitors, they need to really reflect on that behaviour. We have to think about the roles we all play. During the election, there was no hesitation in my mind. When people would bring up the issue, I was right there, recognizing that people should not be protesting in the manner in which they were protesting. It was not right. Canadians recognized that, and this legislation deals with an important election promise.
I see I only have two minutes to go, and I have not even talked about the 10 days' paid leave. I am going to hop right over to that and maybe address more on it during questions and comments.
The federal government, a couple of years back, brought in three days of paid leave. In the last 18 months, the said to Canadians, and to Liberal members in Parliament on so many occasions, that we need to build back better, and this is a good example. Let us take a look at what Bill is doing. This is giving more social benefits to workers in Canada. This is something that is very strong and positive, and all of us should get behind it.
People who are sick should not have to go to work. This extends what we previously did in 2019. It was nice to hear that B.C. is following suit. If Ottawa were to pass this legislation, I do believe it would send the positive message to our provinces and territories that we could have better labour laws. If the provinces and territories get onside and support this type of legislation, then all workers in Canada, not the minority but all workers, would be able to benefit.
Madam Speaker, what a joy it is to be back in the House and be here for the rare occurrence of hearing the member for speak. It happens about as often as a full eclipse of the sun. It is amazing. I am going to tell my grandkids that I was here to hear the member speak. It is actually disappointing that the Liberals have so many new members, yet time and again it is the same chap who stands up, as much as I do understand.
I will be sharing my time today with the member for , who is one of the new members we are allowing to speak.
We are talking about Bill today. I am glad to get a chance to get a word in edgewise, with the member across the way, but also to speak before the Liberals perhaps prorogue Parliament, call another snap election or use any other of their usual ploys to avoid accountability.
Bill is probably a needed bill, but it is an odd bill. Half is related to justice and the other half to the Canada Labour Code. I am not sure why the Liberals have put the two of them together instead of presenting them to the House separately. I hate to think doing it this way is a typical Liberal ploy, or that they are hoping someone will object to part of it, so they can scream and yell and say we are anti-health care workers. I know I am being cynical because there is no way in the world they would ever consider doing that. They would never try to wedge folks.
We have heard repeatedly from the government, and our colleagues from the NDP and the Bloc, about how much this bill is needed. Why now? Why not a year ago? Why not six years ago with the Canada Labour Code? Why have the Liberals waited? They have had the backing and support of all the parties during the COVID crisis to put through almost everything with unanimous consent. Why would they wait so long?
The labour changes the bill mentions easily could have been brought in before. Their delay reminds me of a great Seinfeld episode in which Newman, the postal worker and Seinfeld's nemesis, helps to kidnap Elaine's neighbour's dog and eventually gets caught. When a policeman comes to arrest him, he, à la son of Sam, asks what took him so long. I have to ask the same of the government. If it was such a priority, why would it wait?
We could have had this before the House, debated it and sent it to committee long ago. The election took place on September 21 and we waited two full months to sit in the House again. In the U.K., Boris Johnson was able to re-form the House and get its Parliament back to work in six days. It took the government two months just to get us here.
We could have easily dealt with Bill . In the House today during question period, we heard the Liberals tell the Conservatives to get on side and pass Bill . We heard them say in debate that we should help small businesses and pass Bill . Why did they not convene Parliament to get us back to work immediately so we could pass Bill ? It is the same with Bill .
With respect to Bill on conversion therapy, people thought it was Bill or Bill , because it was brought to the House several times. It was killed when the government prorogued Parliament. It was killed again when it called an early election, which no one really wanted and was not needed, as we ended up the same. If it were that important, why did the Liberals not try to pass the conversion therapy bill earlier? They had six years to bring it in.
One bill I remember they brought through in 2017 as a higher priority than the conversion therapy was Bill . At the time, and I was using another Seinfeld quote, I called it “a bill about nothing”. Basically, the bill changed the bank account the old ministers of state were paid from in the estimates process. I think it also changed the official name on the cheques from Public Works to PSPC.
This was a bill we debated in the House and tied up the committee with. Somehow the government decided that was more important than a conversion therapy bill. They had been paid that way since Confederation. The ministers of state were paid out of one small bank account, and the other ministers, technically the government, were paid out of another. We could have continued doing that and brought the conversion therapy bill then.
The reality is this: The government is not serious about how it puts forward its legislation. It delays, obfuscates, throws it out and then demands that opposition parties get on board and hurry up to pass it, when it could have done that a long time ago.
Generally, everyone supports the first part of the bill, on criminalizing threats toward health care workers. We have all seen, during the election, the blocking of ambulances from getting to hospitals and the harassing of health care workers. We have heard the horrible stories from my colleague for , where a small-town doctor, vitally needed, was chased out of his community by these threats. We just heard from him about the single mother who was horrifyingly harassed just for getting a vaccine.
Therefore, perhaps we need this legislation, but I would like to hear more details. Apparently, a lot of this is covered already under provincial or other laws. I would like to see how the bill would strengthen the protection for our doctors and nurses and, as my colleague mentioned, for people who are just going for a vaccine. There are the doctors and nurses we have to protect, but we also have to protect Canadians who are trying to access health care facilities.
During the election, we Conservatives had, as part of our election plan, the critical infrastructure protection act. This would provide additional security from those protesting vital infrastructure, such as our hospitals and our rail and pipelines. We saw what just happened in B.C., with its supply chain devastated because of the cuts to the CN and CP rails. That was obviously an act of nature as opposed to protests, but protests can be just as devastating, and we have seen it be just as devastating to our health care when we do not have consequences. I hope my colleagues in the House will eventually adopt a law that would protect other vital infrastructure besides our hospitals, and also our supply lines.
Unfortunately, from day one, we have had mixed messaging from this government regarding vaccines and the COVID crisis, and it has led to confusion, fear and anger. None of this, nothing this government or anyone else has done, excuses the violence and harassment of our health care workers, doctors and people trying to access health care. However, what the government has done has not helped. When Canadians needed certainty, leadership and consistency, we got false information from the government, like we saw with the being admonished for fake news on Twitter.
It is funny. We heard earlier that my colleague, the member for , when he was out door-knocking, was surprised by the anger from the vax versus the anti-vax people. I felt the same thing. We had people threatening us with a shotgun if we dared come with that. We have all felt it, but he was surprised. I want to read something from the National Post for the member. It said that in January, the had argued against mandatory vaccines as “divisive” in our “community and country”. It said that in March, he mused about the inequality and inequity of vaccine passports. In July, he said there would be no mandatory vaccines. However, two weeks later, apparently led by internal polling that showed he could divide the country for political gain, he announced a mandatory vaccine, cynically just in time.
The article goes on to say that the Prime Minister's “flip flop on vaccine mandates” exemplifies “a governing philosophy based on political calculus”.
This is not governing based on bringing us together, or on trying to get the unvaccinated vaxxed by convincing them of how good vaccines are and how they will lead us out of the troubles we are in. There is nothing about that. It is using it based on polling to create divisiveness in Canada for political gain.
The , when speaking out against protesters, used the term “you people” when describing the protesters. Now, I might perhaps, against some of the people who are blocking hospitals, have used harsher language, but he used the term “you people”. Now, I note for our feminist Prime Minister that the website everydayfeminism.com says “you people” is a racially coded phrase. Again, nothing the Prime Minister has done excuses the protesters and their actions, but nothing the Prime Minister has done has gone to alleviate the divisions in Canada. He has used this to divide the country.
Apparently I am out of time, so I will let it go and perhaps leave it open to questions and comments to address the second part of the bill.
Madam Speaker, I want to make something clear to my colleagues. The reason I decided to change my profession as a frontline health care worker was to come here to Ottawa. I have been married for 31 years to my wife, Deborah, who is a pharmacist. I also have a daughter who is a paramedic, so this bill has really important meaning for me.
I wanted to come here to help create good laws, such as the one around conversion therapy, which we all worked on together. I wanted to help support my constituents to live their version of the Canadian dream, which I have been very fortunate to be able to do. I also want to help return Canada to its rightful place on the world stage, having had the opportunity to serve our great country in the Royal Canadian Air Force for nine years as a flight surgeon. Being here today to speak to a bill to protect health care workers and patients alike, so they can give and receive the care they need and desire, is truly an honour.
This is indeed a terrible situation. It is one I have experienced personally, and it is one I have seen other people experience. The abuse is mainly verbal abuse, threats and sexual harassment. As I mentioned, there are health care heroes. At the beginning of the pandemic, health care heroes were ready to give their lives for the sake of their patients. I think I talked about this in one of my other speeches.
I have often thought about this: Why do some people run into burning buildings and others run away? That is a real characterization of primary care providers and first responders alike.
They provide life-saving procedures and care to many people who perhaps are not ready to receive that type of care and do not know what type of illness they have. My dear colleagues should think of this: When the pandemic began, there was a significant fear that we would get the virus, as frontline health care workers, and perhaps die from it. However, the worse fear was thinking we were going to take it home to our loved ones. I can remember taking three showers a day when I worked on the COVID unit and thinking I would lose layers of skin so that I would not take it home to my family. Also, a lot of us lived separately. Several of my colleagues bought recreational vehicles to live in the driveways of their homes.
I think that COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of health care providers and the care they provide. Our colleague from talked a little about this. Sadly, though, COVID-19 has also contributed to a mental health decline among health professionals. As we know, violence against health care workers is on the rise, and it often begins at the bedside in hospitals. Sadly, it is often gender-based and racially motivated, although certainly not always.
I can give examples of violence I have witnessed from patients who were admitted to the emergency room, and in my own office. Fortunately, in my office it was often characterized by foul language and demands toward my front-office staff. I want to make it clear to people that in no way, shape or form did I find this tolerable, and I made that clear to those folks who wanted to purport that.
In my opinion, the reason for this rise in violence is multifactorial. It is related to access to our systems. It is sometimes related to things like dementia or unhappiness with the health care system, which is suffering greatly; to differing opinions on the type of care people should have, or desire to have; to the mental health changes associated with isolation, fear, sadness and irritation; or to following multiple rules and mandates and uncertainty.
I have to be clear that some of these things have been made even worse by my colleagues across the aisle with their mandates and uncertain rules for people, as well as by their lack of clarity. Unfortunately, through social media the good graces that many in my age grew up with are gone. That is not to be disparaging to younger folks. That is unfair, but many of those good graces are gone and that is spilling over into real life. It is not just in the virtual world. That, too, makes me sad.
This is also exacerbated by the 24-hour news cycle and the need to report and dissect stories and positions by pundits, politicians, professors and profilers. Does this matter? I think it does matter, because if we also do not examine the root causes of why these people feel like they are not being heard and need to act in the ways we are seeing, then we are not going to be able to act as a good government, make good policies and give folks better direction.
Why does someone become a health care worker? Why do people work in nursing homes and emergency rooms and provide in-patient care? Why is someone a health care technician, nurse, physician, pharmacist or paramedic? The unifying idea here is that they want to help people. They think it is very important that they see people who are sick and unwell, and they are caring at heart. They want to help people get through those difficult times in their lives, whether through things like bereavement, a surgical illness or mental health illness, they want to be there to help.
I also want to make it clear to my colleagues that unfortunately this type of abuse is not only directed at frontline health care workers. We have also seen it directed toward policy-makers. In my own province of Nova Scotia, we have seen Dr. Robert Strang, our chief medical officer of health, subjected to these types of actions. We have also noted that Dr. Theresa Tam has been subjected to it. We know our own colleague, the shadow minister for natural resources and former shadow minister for health, suffered threats and humiliation.
What is important here is giving good direction and clear advice to Canadians, but also to come at that, as we have often talked about here in the House over the last several days, from a position of caring and concern for our colleagues and for all Canadians, and to give them a voice so that we can hear their issues. It is somewhat counterproductive to alienate millions of unvaccinated Canadians with more and more restrictive mandates. Unfortunately, we do hear from them over and over that they are losing their jobs, they are losing their pensions, they are concerned about losing their house and how they are going to provide for their family. Those are not the types of policies that are going to help us fix this situation.
I watched the news the other day. I did hear one pastor say that unfortunately there are people out there who are going to dig their heels in all the way to their necks. We need to support the right to lawful association and for the right to express alternate opinions. As we will likely see in debates coming up in this House in the future, we know that free speech needs to be defended. In the immortal words of Voltaire, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.” Colleagues, this is not about restricting the right to protest. It is about ensuring the manner in which it is done does not harm another person.
On the second part of this bill and being a rookie politician, I am not sure how well they go together or how much it will add to those folks who already have significant federal benefits. I do get concerned about the trickle-down effects this may have on provincial governments and small businesses. We know that small businesses are essential to our economy moving forward, especially in this time of significant inflation, and that is going to be important as we go forward.
I am not entirely sure what the benefit is of having these two together and what benefit the second part of the bill is going to provide. Certainly, it is a worthwhile bill to present and to send it off to committee for further study.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I would like to acknowledge that I am addressing the House today from the ancestral, traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin nation. It is a unique opportunity to rise in the House today, surrounded by my colleagues who I am really happy to see again, to participate in the second reading debate on Bill .
I will spend the time available to me today to provide some more details about the proposed legislation.
First, it would amend the Canada Labour Code to provide 10 days of paid sick leave per year to workers in the federally regulated private sector. This would affect nearly a million workers in Canada, most of whom work for larger enterprises. However, we also have to take care of the smaller operators and the impact this will have on them. I will have more to say about that in a bit.
Those employed in the federally regulated sector for private enterprise would include interprovincial transportation companies, pipelines, banks, postal services and broadcast outlets, among other things. These are all industries that people count on every day, yet workers in these jobs cannot necessarily count on appropriate support if and when they become ill. If they get sick, they feel the pressure to go to work, because putting food on the table is not a choice. Paying the rent or the mortgage is not a choice.
I know from my past, too many people want to be the hero. They want to go to work and they drag themselves there. As a broadcaster, I remember fighting my way through blizzards and alligators and dungeons and dragons to get to work so I could tell everybody to stay at home. This kind of heroism looks good on the surface, but when it comes to an illness, especially one as critical as COVID-19, it is really not a good attribute to have.
The bill we have before puts people first. As the has said, people have always been at the heart of Canada's labour program.
Let us talk about the Canada Labour Code. It sets out rules that protect worker health and safety. Today's bill would amend part III of the Canada Labour Code, which sets minimum labour standards for the federally regulated private sector, and it is in part III that we will find the provisions dealing with things like standard working hours, leave, holidays, wages and important issues like sexual harassment. However, today's bill has to do with the leave provisions.
Currently part III of the code provides employees in federally regulated industries with a number of leaves related to personal illness or injury. I will mention three of them now.
The first is personal leave, which provides employees with up to five days of leave per year, the first three of which are paid. This would be for things like personal illness or injury or urgent matters concerning themselves or their families.
The second is unpaid medical leave. Workers have up to 17 weeks if they are unable to work due to personal illness or injury or medical appointments during working hours. Employees may also take up to 16 weeks of unpaid leave as a result of quarantine.
The last leave that I will mention today is leave related to COVID-19. In March 2020, the Canada Labour Code was amended to create this new leave provision. Prior to its repeal law November 20, it allowed for employees to take unpaid job-protected leave for up to four weeks if they were unable to work for reasons related to COVID-19. This leave was designed to align with the suite of Canada recovery sickness benefits, and workers have been able to file claims for income support under that law.
On November 24, the government introduced legislation under Bill , the one that we are debating today, that would reinstate the leave, extend its maximum length to six weeks and ensure it would remain available until May 7, 2022.
Ultimately these leave provisions mean that employees cannot take more than three days sick off work that are paid by the employer. It is clear, especially since the onset of the pandemic, that three days are not enough. Even looking at 2019 data, and that is pre-pandemic, Canadian workers took an average of 8.5 days of leave for illness or issues related to a disability.
What would Bill do? With Bill , we are taking action to ensure Canadians in federally regulated industries have access to paid sick days. It would amend the Canada Labour Code to do three things.
First, it would make a change to repeal the personal leave that employees may take for treating their illness or injury. This is to avoid duplicating paid leave provisions relating to illness or injury and to set people up to use the new leave that would be created.
Second, on the new leave, the bill would provide that employees might earn and take up to 10 days of paid medical leave in a calendar year. They might take these sick days in one period or more.
Third, the bill would have some built-in flexibility. It would authorize the Governor in Council to make regulations to modify in certain circumstances the provisions respecting medical leave of absence with pay.
Before I conclude, I would like to pause on what is a bit of a sticking point for some. It is one I referenced earlier, namely that the changes proposed today would have an impact on employers, especially of smaller businesses. The government wants to make sure that employers have some lead-in time to handle these changes. That is why the coming-into-force date would be fixed by order in council. We would also commit to engaging in consultations with federally regulated employers to better understand the impact of these changes on their local realities.
There are a few other mitigating factors. The workers covered by these new amendments mainly work in medium- to large-sized businesses where the financial impacts would be more diffuse. For example, 87% of the workers impacted by this are in firms of 100 employees or more. That leaves 13% in smaller companies who would likely feel the pinch of paid absences more acutely. They can also request a medical note from employees when they use their sick days. Again, this is obviously an opportunity, for smaller employers especially, to make sure that the leave being taken is legitimate.
In addition, if an employee has used up all of the leave in the previous calendar year or is a new employee, the employee would start to accumulate paid sick leave at the rate of one day per month. This reduces the exposure for employers. For employees who do not use 10 days in a year, the proposed legislation allows for a limited carry-over of days. This means that the employee is not starting from scratch in a new year. However, the maximum number of paid sick days for the year remains at 10.
The Government of Canada is working hard to finish the fight against COVID-19. However, as we have heard regarding the other part of the bill, there is resistance to this and there are impediments. There are people who, for variety of reasons, be it fear, ideology or just plain stubbornness, do not necessarily want to contribute to the most fundamental of Canadian values: acting for the common good.
Bill would help both come through. It would make sure that nearly a million more Canadians at least have access to enough paid sick days. This would be more in line with what some of the provinces are doing, such as British Columbia, which allows for five paid sick days and three unpaid sick days. The idea, of course, is that if somebody is sick, they maintain their position in the company, ensuring ongoing employment, especially for employees who are hard to find, talented and technically able. They would be maintained even if they do have to take time off when they are sick.
Bill would make sure a million or more Canadians have access to enough paid sick days. As the Governor General said in the Speech from the Throne on November 23, “As we move forward on the economy of the future, no worker or region will be left behind.” Bill C-3 is intended to do just that, and I believe the debate and comments we hear from all sides of the House seek to enrich, inform and make this legislation better.
Madam Speaker, I am addressing the House from the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people.
I am proud to rise in the House today to support the new Minister of Labour in introducing Bill C‑3, which will better protect Canadian workers and, most importantly, help keep them safe in their workplace.
It is unfortunate that some workers cannot afford to stay home when they are sick. It is a fact, and I have seen it many times right in my riding. Many workers across Canada cannot afford to lose income, not even for a few days. They have to cover the mortgage, pay the rent, pay the power bill, buy groceries and cover all the other costs that come with supporting a family.
Because of that, they risk their health and the possibility of spreading a virus. Forcing workers to face this dilemma is simply unfair. Now is the time to fix that and fill the paid sick leave gap.
The Canada Labour Code currently provides employees in federally regulated industries with three days of paid personal leave that can be used in case of illness or injury. If we look more carefully at the numbers, we see that, in 2019, Canadian workers took an average of 8.5 days of leave for illness and issues related to a disability. It is clear that three days of paid leave is just not enough.
With Bill C‑3, we are taking measures to ensure that Canadians who work in federally regulated industries have access to the paid sick leave they deserve.
Our government has introduced a bill that will amend the Canada Labour Code to provide 10 days of paid sick leave per year to workers in the federally regulated private sector. That will have an enormous impact. There are approximately 18,500 employers in federally regulated industries. That includes federal Crown corporations, as well as certain activities on first nations reserves. Together, they employ 955,000 people, the vast majority of whom work in medium-sized to large firms, that is, companies with 100 employees or more.
The federally regulated sector includes workplaces in a broad range of industries, including interprovincial air, rail, land and marine services, banks and postal services. These are all important industries that people across the country rely on every day.
The bill before us today not only allows workers in these vital industries to stay home to take care of themselves when they are sick, but it also prevents the spread of illnesses in their workplace.
More specifically, Bill C‑3 amends part III of the Canada Labour Code to make two changes. First, an employee would earn one day of paid sick leave per month of continuous employment, up to a maximum of 10 days in a calendar year. The words “treating their illness or injury” will be repealed from the list of reasons for which an employee can take personal leave. This is simply to avoid duplicating paid leave provisions relating to illness or injury under the Canada Labour Code.
These two changes would impact roughly 582,700 employees in the federally regulated private sector who do not currently have access to at least 10 days of paid sick leave.
Increased paid sick leave would support employees by protecting them in three ways. First, paid sick leave would protect workers' income. As I was saying earlier, I have seen workers and employees in my riding who were unable to take sick leave.
Second, it would protect their jobs. Third, it would protect workers' health, which is, of course, the most important thing.
Furthermore, studies have shown that sick leave benefits employers, because it helps prevent turnover, and it also prevents the public health system from getting overwhelmed.
The good news is that this means paid sick leave also protects our economy.
For these reasons, I think it is clear that we must move forward with Bill C‑3. By adding 10 days of paid sick leave to the Canada Labour Code, the government is taking the first step in its plan.