Interventions in Board of Internal Economy
 
 
 
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View Candice Bergen Profile
CPC (MB)
We are going on to the next item, the regulations respecting the non-attendance of members of Parliament by reasons of maternity or care of a newborn or newly adopted child.
We have some presenters here, and I will give the floor to you, Monsieur Dufresne.
Philippe Dufresne
View Philippe Dufresne Profile
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
View Philippe Dufresne Profile
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.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
Thank you for those comments, Mr. Dufresne.
I think that we are certainly supportive of making the regulations, such that pregnant or new parents are....
Just to be clear, we're talking about mothers here—primarily pregnant women, in this case. We're not talking about parental leave. This is more of a maternity situation, as I understand it. I just want some clarification on that.
Could you address that right off the top? Does this also apply if a father wants to take some time for paternity leave or is this just for mothers?
Philippe Dufresne
View Philippe Dufresne Profile
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.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
Okay. You've done some analysis here. With the employment insurance maternity and parental benefits, there are a maximum number of weeks that an individual is covered. We're looking at 13 months, with what you've put on the table. Unless there's a medical component to someone's maternity leave, I don't believe they would get the same number of weeks.
Did you do that analysis? Can you speak to that?
Philippe Dufresne
View Philippe Dufresne Profile
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.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
Obviously, in this case we're talking about retaining 100% of pay and benefits, which is perhaps different from what our constituents would receive in most jobs.
For one of our constituents who works at a restaurant and pays into EI and goes on maternity and parental, I believe the maximum is 50 weeks, with a two-week.... I just want that knowledge for us. What number of weeks are we proposing here in addition to what someone would get if EI were the only support available to them?
Robyn Daigle
View Robyn Daigle Profile
Robyn Daigle
2019-05-30 11:40
I'll take that question. Thank you.
In terms of EI as the comparator, currently what's available to them through EI would be up to 12 months at 55%, or up to 18 months at 33%. I think one of the nuances we want to make here is that in the cases of EI, those employees are actually leaving the workforce. They're not employed during that period—they have no function—whereas here we're simply talking about reasonable reasons for non-attendance in the sitting. There are still functions that are very much current for the MPs at that time.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
Right.
What is the vision for how this would be recorded? Would it simply be recorded on the attendance form that we currently use, or is that a decision that has to be made? Right now, there's travelling, official business, illness, etc. Will there simply be another box there that will say “pregnancy” or “parental leave”? What's the mechanism for reporting?
Philippe Dufresne
View Philippe Dufresne Profile
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—
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
—captured on that current reporting mechanism.
Okay. Thank you.
View Pablo Rodriguez Profile
Lib. (QC)
I just have two general questions.
You said you have looked at what is being done elsewhere in other parliaments.
Can you tell me which ones? I assume they are mostly parliaments of industrialized countries?
Philippe Dufresne
View Philippe Dufresne Profile
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.
View Pablo Rodriguez Profile
Lib. (QC)
Have you seen any cases where non-attendance is allowed for paternity, for a period of time?
Philippe Dufresne
View Philippe Dufresne Profile
Philippe Dufresne
2019-05-30 11:42
Yes. There are examples where there was—
Philippe Dufresne
View Philippe Dufresne Profile
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.
View Pablo Rodriguez Profile
Lib. (QC)
That could be the case.
I want to bring up a very rare hypothetical case. What would happen if a member became a parent one month before the end of their term?
That individual would not run in the election and would not return afterwards.
Philippe Dufresne
View Philippe Dufresne Profile
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.
View Pablo Rodriguez Profile
Lib. (QC)
Let's say we are talking about four months. That individual becomes a father or a mother one month before the end of the electoral term. They would not return afterwards.
Philippe Dufresne
View Philippe Dufresne Profile
Philippe Dufresne
2019-05-30 11:44
After the electoral term, there would be no more sitting days in the House.
Philippe Dufresne
View Philippe Dufresne Profile
Philippe Dufresne
2019-05-30 11:44
Yes. It would become obsolete or hypothetical.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thanks, Madam Chair.
I want to underscore the work of Nycole Turmel, a former whip of the NDP, and Christine Moore, the member of Parliament for Abitibi—Témiscamingue. They have really been leaders—I think pioneers—in pushing for an end to what is a pretty strange situation in which members of Parliament are penalized for caring for their children. That is our current policy, and that's what I think we need to keep in perspective. We're currently penalizing parents for doing their work.
It seems to me that this is a very reasonable approach. What it allows parents to do is to take their time with their children, but the reality is—as you've spelled out very well, Ms. Daigle and Mr. Dufresne—that voters in any event are still going to require members of Parliament in their riding. What this does is ensure that there's not a financial penalty on top of that. There are still obligations that come. I have many friends in this Parliament who have gone through being new parents. They still have obligations. They still have to attend to things in the riding—there's no doubt. But what this does is end the penalty that members are currently subjected to when they do that. I think, for those reasons, this is a very responsible and appropriate approach.
View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Holland Profile
2019-05-30 11:46
I do think that the situation that was identified was very unusual, in that the job continues whether or not you're a parent. There's an expectation that you will continue to represent the riding. There are not really a lot of analogous situations where somebody has a child and is on maternity leave, but then is still expected to work. There isn't an apples to apples type of comparison that can be made here.
In a general sense, I think that the comments that we shouldn't have anything that would be seen to be greater than what would be available to our constituents are ones that I'm moved by. I don't know what exactly that number is. I'm open to proposals. I think Madam Chagger perhaps has an idea.
I think that we have to be careful about expectations. You can imagine that a minority government may only sit 18 months, and if you say that somebody has 13 months during which they can be absent from the chamber, that could be quite challenging in establishing an expectation. The numbers as they are, I think, are a little generous. I think we have to come up with something perhaps a little different than what's on the table.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
I don't know if it's in the note here, but if a new parent—a member of Parliament—decided to take the full 12 months and didn't tick any of the boxes, but simply filled out that they weren't here and they weren't pretending to be ill but just looking after their child, what is the financial penalty? It's $120 after a certain number of days away, but say they did not come to Ottawa for that entire 12-month period. Of course, we don't sit every week. What is estimated reduction in pay they would incur as a result of doing that on their own and accurately reporting their attendance?
Philippe Dufresne
View Philippe Dufresne Profile
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.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
That number is exactly what people who work for members of Parliament receive in compensation. My understanding is that if a staff member of a member of Parliament goes on maternity leave, they're topped up above the EI to 92%. Currently, a member who reports accurately receives the exact same benefit as the person who works for them. That's very interesting to me.
I understand what we're trying to do here, but I think we should have those numbers on the table. Even at that, the member is receiving 38% more in benefit than their constituents and exactly the same benefit as their employees, or those people who work for the public service. I throw that out there. It's a very interesting statistic and I think we need to bear in mind what we're proposing here.
We are already thought to be very well-compensated, with very generous benefits, and this is another step in that direction. I think we just have to be careful that we don't do anything that unintentionally puts our members in a bad light. I'll leave it at that.
View Bardish Chagger Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you for the comments and the work you've done in making your proposal.
I do know that in Ontario, the average working person who is paying into EI would receive their EI benefit at 55% or 60%—whatever it is. I know that we've now extended benefits so that the secondary parent, or however you want to refer to them, can also take up to six months.
I do believe that if we want to adhere to the logic—which I think is well received—that members of Parliament not be better off than our constituents, perhaps offering a time that is proportionate to that benefit would be suitable.
I know Minister Gould has written a letter with a recommendation of four months. I'd even be comfortable with five months, or five and a half months, less than six months, just on the point that Mr. Holland has made as well.
I would like to throw some numbers out, because I think it would be important for us to offer a recommendation in response to what PROC has asked for. I think that would allow us to take a step in the right direction. Currently, there are no benefits when it comes to paternity leave, which is not okay if we're really trying to change the dynamics of the House of Commons and so forth.
I really do like Mr. Strahl's idea of having a box added, regardless. I think that if it's additional time, they should be able to say that it's paternity leave. If somebody is needing to take a day off because of a sick child, they should be able to say that, because you're not ill when you're taking care of your children.
It is really important, and we do need to shed some positive light in that world. So, I will throw out a number that's closer to Minister Gould's recommendation. I would be more comfortable with a period of between four and five and half months, but less than six months.
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