Interventions in Board of Internal Economy
 
 
 
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Philippe Dufresne
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Philippe Dufresne
2019-05-30 11:33
Thank you very much, Ms. Bergen and members of the Board of Internal Economy.
We are here at the board's request to talk to you about potential regulations that would enable us to justify the non-attendance of members by reason of maternity or care for a newborn or a newly adopted child.
Under the Parliament of Canada Act, a deduction is made to the members' sessional allowance for days of absence in excess of 21 days if the member is absent for no acceptable reason. The acceptable reasons set out in the act currently are illness, being on official or public business, or absence due to service in the armed forces.
In amendments to the Parliament of Canada Act, a new section 59.1 was added to provide the House with the authority to make regulations for the non-attendance of members by reasons of maternity or care for a newborn or newly adopted child. This provision was preceded by studies from the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, where a recommendation was made to consider the family and parental obligations of members so that they would not be penalized for such reasons.
At the same time, questions were raised about the situation of members with respect to ordinary employees.
We have considered what is being done in other legislative assemblies.
Philippe Dufresne
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Philippe Dufresne
2019-05-30 11:35
The situation of members is different from that of employees, as members hold public office they are always responsible for, even if they have children. What must be determined is whether non-attendance of members in the House to care for their children or by reason of maternity should be treated more seriously than other types of non-attendance covered in the legislation, such as for reasons of illness, public duties or service in the armed forces.
We've looked at other assemblies. Most of the legislative assemblies do not financially penalize members who are absent from the sittings for such reasons. Some will include periods and some will not. Indeed, some assemblies have looked at issues such as proxy voting in some such situations.
We have brought a proposal for the board's consideration that could consider as valid reasons for the absence from the chamber the period before the due date, given that the act talks about maternity for a pregnant member. That could be a period of four weeks or it could be a different period. In terms of care for a newborn child or care for a newly adopted child, consideration could be given to a period of 12 months or another period.
In any case, these would be decisions for the House to make. Options for this board could be to refer the matter to the procedure and House affairs committee or to have agreement that a member would put forward a motion proposing the regulations.
With that, I would open it to questions.
Philippe Dufresne
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Philippe Dufresne
2019-05-30 11:38
Mr. Strahl, if we are talking about the four weeks before the due date, that would be only for the mother. The 12 months after the birth or after the date of adoption could be for any parent.
Philippe Dufresne
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Philippe Dufresne
2019-05-30 11:38
They would not. In terms of employment insurance, the supplementary report that was made in the procedure and House affairs mentioned 55% of income protection for such employees. There are some other employees with different regimes where it's a higher percentage.
Philippe Dufresne
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Philippe Dufresne
2019-05-30 11:41
Assuming that the House were to agree to adopt this regulation, the mechanism would be put in place and it would be recorded to say, “this is the reason for the absence”. In addition to having all of this, like service in the armed forces and public business, those absences would be justified, as it were—
Philippe Dufresne
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Philippe Dufresne
2019-05-30 11:41
We have looked at legislative assemblies in Canada—those of the provinces and territories—as well those in Great Britain and Australia. A number of those assemblies had no deductions. For instance, in Quebec, there are no deductions in terms of income, but there is an issue concerning the ethics code—in other words, members have an obligation to attend the National Assembly. If a member is not at the National Assembly, they must provide a justification. Many assemblies operate like that.
Some assemblies say they want to do it, with the permission of their speaker, or allow it for personal or exceptional situations. We were wondering whether pregnancies were among those situations.
Philippe Dufresne
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Philippe Dufresne
2019-05-30 11:42
Yes. There are examples where there was—
Philippe Dufresne
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Philippe Dufresne
2019-05-30 11:42
It varies. In some cases, it was one year. In other cases, there was a recommendation of four months. Sometimes, there was no deduction.
I would say that there is definitely a general trend where members continue to be paid for the entire year. However, in some cases, certain legislative assemblies may reduce their salary because they are not in attendance. That situation is different for employees who go on parental leave because those employees will be away from their duties. They will often be replaced, which is not the case for members.
Philippe Dufresne
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Philippe Dufresne
2019-05-30 11:43
Our proposal for consideration includes regulations stipulating that non-attendance in the House for those reasons will not count toward deductions from sessional allowance.
Philippe Dufresne
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Philippe Dufresne
2019-05-30 11:44
After the electoral term, there would be no more sitting days in the House.
Philippe Dufresne
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Philippe Dufresne
2019-05-30 11:44
Yes. It would become obsolete or hypothetical.
Philippe Dufresne
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Philippe Dufresne
2019-05-30 11:48
If there were one year of unjustifiable absences in a given year and there had been 21 days in the previous year, the penalty would be about 8% of the member's salary. The member would still have 92% of their salary in that scenario.
Philippe Dufresne
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Philippe Dufresne
2019-05-30 11:59
Currently, there isn't. I want to point out that in the United Kingdom they did adopt a temporary standing order that allowed for proxy voting in situations in which members have parental obligations, which allows them to identify a substitute for the vote. It's a detailed standing order, and they've done that on a temporary basis.
Philippe Dufresne
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Philippe Dufresne
2019-05-30 12:05
The short answer is yes. There's no time limit, and we are talking about valid justifications for absences from the chamber. In presenting this, it's not so much about leave but justification for an absence. There are no time limits provided for the categories of illness, public business and service in the armed forces.
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