May 27, 2021
Honourable senators, I am honoured to rise today as the sponsor in the Senate of Bill C-220, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code related to bereavement leave.
The bill was introduced in the other place by my colleague, member of Parliament Matt Jeneroux. It builds on work he began in the Alberta legislature and work he is now endeavouring to expand to the national level.
The objective of this bill is very simple: It is to improve support for workers in our country who are faced with the loss of a loved one.
The loss of a loved one, whether such a death occurs suddenly or has been anticipated for some time, can be a terrible shock and a highly emotional experience with many demands of both family and a practical nature.
What this bill aims to do is to increase the amount of bereavement leave an employee is entitled to take in the circumstance of the death of a family member.
Currently, under section 210(1) of the Canada Labour Code, employees are entitled to up to five days of bereavement leave in the event of the death of an immediate family member. The bill before us proposes to do two things.
First, it would expand the period of bereavement leave from 5 working days to 10 days, with 3 days paid — this for all employees who fall under the Canada Labour Code; that is, about 18,000 federally regulated employers and up to 2 million workers who would qualify in Canada. This leave must be taken within six weeks of any funeral, burial or memorial service of the deceased family member.
Second, the bill would also expand entitlement to bereavement leave to any employee who may already be on unpaid compassionate care leave, taking care of a family member who is experiencing a critical illness. Under this bill, those employees would now be entitled to up to 10 days of bereavement leave when the member they were caring for has died.
In addition, it is important to note that within the Canada Labour Code, for the purposes of compassionate care leave, the definition of family member is larger in scope than that of immediate family member. An immediate family member applies to spouses and common-law partners, parents, parents-in-law, grandparents, children, grandchildren, siblings and to relatives residing permanently with the employee.
The definition of family member additionally incorporates aunts and uncles as well as nieces and nephews. It also includes a person whom the employee considers to be like a close relative or who considers the employee to be like a close relative.
Under the code, employees can take unpaid compassionate care leave to look after such family members. When these members die, the new provision in Bill C-220 ensures job-protected bereavement leave to this group of employees.
Bill C-220 has attracted widespread support and all parties in the other place praised its compassionate objectives.
In fact, all parties worked together in committee to improve the bill through amendments which incorporate the provisions we have before us today.
Honourable senators, speaking to this bill at second reading, Mr. Jeneroux told the story of when he was a young man and his grandmother became seriously ill. He wanted to spend time with his grandmother, but was confronted by the reality that, at the time, there was no job protection in such circumstances in Alberta. He was therefore compelled to stay at his job, just like so many other Canadians have been compelled to do in similar circumstances.
I would venture to say that all senators in this chamber have likely faced family illness and the loss of a loved one. We all recognize that some employers will be very giving and compassionate in such circumstances, while others may not be. We know that workers who take care of family members or take time off upon the death of a family member make a major sacrifice when this time is unpaid. What this bill does is to expand their legal protections.
When the bill was reviewed by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the House of Commons, it received widespread support. Mr. Paul Adams, a member of the Canadian Grief Alliance, told the House of Commons Human Resources Committee in February that:
Almost every one of us has suffered grief in our lives: the loss of a mother or father, a spouse or a partner, a child or perhaps a close friend. If we have the time and the space to grieve, and if we are lucky enough to have the support of family and friends, after a time we rejoin the trajectory of our lives, even if the ache of loss never entirely disappears.
What the research tells us is that when grief is complicated, if circumstances prevent us from having the space or the support to grieve, it can transform into depression or anxiety, dependence or addiction, and self‑harm or the thoughts of it. When this happens, it can create burdens in the workplace in terms of productivity and days of work lost. Of course, it imposes a weight of avoidable anguish on the grieving and those close to them.
This bill will create a right for a significantly large number of Canadians to a more generous period to grieve, to collect themselves and to rejoin the world of work.
Other witnesses at committee also pointed to the indirect benefits that unpaid caregiving already provides in Canada.
Ms. Kelly Masotti, Vice-President of Advocacy at the Canadian Cancer Society, noted that the economic value of unpaid caregiving in Canada exceeds $25 billion annually. She said:
. . . By making leave for caregivers more flexible, more Canadians will have access to the time necessary to heal, minimize economic hardships and help take care of some of the most practical business, such as planning a funeral and contacting banks and services providers following a loved one’s death.
Bill C-220 maintained unanimous cross-party support at third reading. Speaking to the bill at third reading, Mr. Daniel Blaikie of the NDP stated that the current pandemic has taught us that it is important for us all to create the space to care for each other. I agree with Mr. Blaikie.
Perhaps the strongest acknowledgement of what has been achieved through cooperation in the other place came from Mr. Anthony Housefather, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour, when he expressed his personal thanks to Mr. Jeneroux by saying that:
. . . he never made this a bill about himself. He never made this a Conservative bill. He made this a Canadian bill.
Indeed, colleagues, it has been heartening to see so many Canadians come together on this bill. While we might find ourselves with different perspectives on many national issues, I believe we should reflect the non-partisan spirit with which this matter was approached in the other place by acting collectively in this chamber to pass Bill C-220.
Honourable colleagues, I urge you to support this simple yet very important piece of legislation— one that will benefit so many Canadian workers and their families.