Madam Speaker, I rise quite sheepishly, having not received the memo on the festive tone of this afternoon's debates, so I will ask members to indulge me. In my community, plain talk is not bad manners, and I have prepared a full speech that does identify some gaps, which I think are germane to the conversation. This is not intended in any way to end off on a bad note or a sour note, but to really contemplate deeply what is at stake here in the House. It keeps me up at night, like many members I am sure, and it wakes me up early in the morning.
While there remains much to be said about the timing and need of the last election called by the Prime Minister, I have to admit the opportunity for me to retreat from this place of privilege and return to the doorsteps of my constituency provided me with an invaluable grounding for what is at stake among these future proceedings of the session. This is a monumental day, and I do not want to take anything away from that. It is a burden that we carry. In fact, we have asked millions of Canadians to carry a very heavy burden in order to make it through this COVID pandemic.
While returning to this topic and supporting Bill C-3, having heard the various interventions pertaining to the same, many members have questioned the relationship between the first two parts of this bill, which would amend the Criminal Code, and the third part, which would be establishing something under the Canada Labour Code.
For those from the public, and who may be tuning in to this debate through livestream, or perhaps reading it in the Hansard, I will provide a summary of Bill C-3. The first two parts would amend the Criminal Code by creating two new offences relating to the protection of health care professionals and patient access to health care. The first offence would apply to any act of intimidation that is intended to cause fear in a patient, health care professional or any person who supports them and prevents them from accessing or providing health care services. The second offence would also cover intentional acts that prevent a person from accessing services provided by a health care professional. Both offences would be punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of up to 10 years and up to two years on a summary conviction.
Part three, which seems to be where perhaps some people have the disconnect between these two, pertains to amending the Canada Labour Code to establish 10 days of paid sick leave. This leave would be available each calendar year to employees in federally regulated private sectors who have been continuously employees for more than one month.
In fairness, perhaps on the surface these two policies under different acts may not appear to be connected. It is in fact my intention today to offer my support for the deep relevance between these two interconnected parts. I would argue that the deep despair and well-documented societal impacts of four consecutive waves of COVID, each with its own circumstances of social isolation and economic hardships, are ultimately due to all levels of government's failure to adequately respond to the scale and the scope of this pandemic.
The utter fear, uncertainty and doubt experienced by segments of our population have made them especially susceptible to this anti-science, anti-government and, by extension, anti-health care movement, from which come many of the targeted and vile attacks we are now legislatively responding to
Since the beginning of the pandemic, health care workers have faced a high risk of infection and violence. In fact, since long before the pandemic health care professionals are four times more likely to experience violence in the workplace than other profession. Unfortunately, many of these acts of violence go unreported. According to the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, in 2019 61% of nurses reported experiencing violence, harassment and assault on the job, and because women make up a significant portion of the health care workforce, they are disproportionately victimized by these acts of violence.
To discourage these acts of violence, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions has recommended amending the Criminal Code, which is what is before us today, so I commend them on their long-standing work. This request was also the subject of a 2019 health committee recommendation. Specifically, the committee recommended amending the Criminal Code to require that it be considered an aggravating factor in sentencing if the victim of assault is a health care worker. This recommendation was based upon the NDP's bill, Bill C-434, introduced by my dear friend and NDP caucus colleague, the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway.
As it pertains to putting the 10-day paid sick leave issue into context, people should never have to choose between their income and their health. Since the beginning of this pandemic, the NDP caucus has been demanding that the Liberals provide workers with 10 days of paid sick leave.
After winning an initial concession on this leave by offering it to people with COVID-19, we succeeded in forcing the Liberals to offer two weeks of federally funded leave through the CRB sickness benefit. The New Democrats not only support 10 paid sick days, we led the calls for it in the House. My hon. colleague for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie fought hard at committee, where he tabled four amendments, two that were unanimously supported and two that were rejected.
I feel it important to note on the record today that the NDP fought for amendments that were accepted unanimously. One is that an employer cannot request a doctor's certificate for less than five consecutive sick days. This is major because stakeholders say that asking for a doctor's certificate is a barrier to its use and people would rather go to work than chase an appointment. Plus we know that it clogs up the health care system when it does not need to.
The second amendment that passed due to the hon. member is after 30 days of employment, the employee gets one day of sick leave. In the original version of the law, it was at the beginning of each month, which would have meant that someone hired on January 1 would have to wait until March 1 for their first accrued day.
Both amendments were intended to make sick days more accessible and the NDP forced the issue to make the program more accessible to workers and more responsive to their needs. This is a victory. The five consecutive days before the employer has the option to request a doctor's certificate will make a significant difference.
We did, however, have two other amendments that failed. The first amendment opposed by the Liberals was that all employees, upon hiring, would have access to four paid sick days. They would accumulate another six, one per month, as proposed in the bill, of up to 10 per year. Having four days right from the start is very important because stakeholders tell us that very rarely do people take a day off work and an illness often requires a few days off.
The minister, in his testimony yesterday morning, said that he was open to such an amendment, speaking of the urgency of the current omicron context. By voting against the amendment, the Liberals have refused to speed up access to paid sick days in the midst of another pandemic winter. Workers will continue to go to work sick since they will not have access to enough days to isolate themselves at home until next November at the earliest. This is irresponsible.
The second amendment that the Liberals opposed was that all employees with two or more years of seniority would get 10 sick days when the law came into effect. This would have provided access to the full strength of the program immediately for the majority of employees under federal jurisdiction. Since this amendment was rejected, all employees will begin accrual as if they were newly hired. I suggest that this is precisely because of these types of gaps in our social safety nets that we ultimately remain in this mess of targeted attacks on our hospitals and health care workers.
Last week, called on the hon. member on the Conservative side to join our calls for more advances and protections. We have the opportunity to take a first step in the right direction in the House today as an informal form of sectoral bargaining for workers. We know this is going to be a vital protection.
This past election allowed me to speak to my constituents on their doorsteps. It is heartbreaking to feel as though people who I know to be rational, family members and classmates who I grew up with, neighbours I have known to be caring and compassionate, have been manipulated by the rhetoric of right-wing populism, grifters and agitators who would seek to turn this profound moment of suffering into some sort of personal sales pitch or nationwide tour targeting our front-line health care workers fighting the onslaught of successive waves of COVID.
For those caught up in this fear and confusion, I offer to endeavour to work harder as a member of Parliament to ensure that their basic needs are met and the most current evidence-based information is communicated without political interference or manipulation.
I call on the members of the House, who have rightly identified the divisions in our country, to recognize its root cause. It is the failure of all levels of government to adequately take care of the basic needs of all people, not just throughout COVID but in the decades preceding it.
I will close with the simple reassertion that these three parts of Bill C-3 are the cause and the effect of the social isolation, political estrangement and economic isolation felt by everyday people and, most unfortunate, targeted at our front-line health care workers. In taking better care of them, we will take better care of each other.