Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Social Affairs, Science and Technology

Issue No. 52 - Evidence - December 6, 2018

OTTAWA, Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, to which was referred Bill C-243, An Act respecting the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy, met this day at 10:32 a.m., to study the bill and to give it clause-by-clause consideration.

Senator Chantal Petitclerc (Chair) in the chair.


The Chair: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.

My name is Senator Chantal Petitclerc from Quebec. I am honoured to be chairing this meeting this morning.


Before we give the floor to our witnesses, I want to invite my colleagues to introduce themselves.

Senator Seidman: Judith Seidman from Montreal, Quebec and deputy chair of this committee.

Senator Eaton: Nicky Eaton, Toronto.


Senator Mégie: Marie-Françoise Mégie from Quebec.


Senator Ravalia: Mohamed Ravalia, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Senator Oh: Victor Oh, Ontario.

Senator M. Deacon: Marty Deacon, Ontario.


Senator Forest-Niesing: Good morning and welcome. Josée Forest-Niesing from northern Ontario.

The Chair: Thank you. Today, we will be continuing, and concluding, our consideration of Bill C-243, An Act respecting the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy.


We will begin with our panel. I would like to introduce our witnesses. From Canada’s Building Trades Unions, we have Robert Blakely, Director, Canadian Affairs. From the University of Alberta we have Dr. Nicola Cherry, Professor, Tripartite Chair of Occupational Health, Division of Preventive Medicine. And from Engineers Canada we have Jeanette Southwood, Vice President, Corporate Affairs and Strategic Partnerships.

Welcome to all. We will begin with Dr. Cherry, followed by Mr. Blakely and then Ms. Southwood.

Dr. Cherry, the floor is yours.

Dr. Nicola Cherry, Professor, Tripartite Chair of Occupational Health, Division of Preventive Medicine, University of Alberta: Thank you. I’m actually a physician and an epidemiologist. My research is in the field of occupational health. It covers a wide range of topics, but I’m going to talk today about two periods of research that are particularly relevant to this committee.

The first, if you like, is talking on behalf of Dr. Alison Macdonald who died a few years ago. I worked with her in Montreal at the IRSST, the institute for research and health and safety at work. Together we did a study of 56,000 women who gave birth in 11 hospitals in Montreal from 1982 to 1984. That provided much of the evidence on which the retrait préventif was based. The operation of it was based on a lot of the evidence from that study. As I say, Alison died some years ago, but if there are any questions about that research, I’m happy to answer those.

I went off and did other things for a bit, but came back to this field of work soon after I took up the post in Alberta in 2000. What we’ve been doing there is looking at the employment of trades women, particularly in the welding and electrical trades. It was set up because of concerns about the effects of working as a welder when a woman was pregnant, what was the effect on the child, the fetus, of working as a welder.

We took, as a comparison group, women who were working in the electrical trades and we’ve also — I’m not talking about it today — got a comparable cohort of men working in those two trades so we could look at the effect on their lungs and other aspects. Today I’m just going to be talking about the effect of working during pregnancy.

We recruited 448 female welders from across Canada, 60 per cent in Alberta, but every province and territory cooperated and we were able to recruit 440 women in the electrical trades from every province. Just this year we have completed data collection, and we’ve got information on 1,126 pregnancies in those women, of which 478 were conceived while the woman was working her trade; 223 pregnancies were conceived while women were in welding trades and 255 while women were in electrical trades.

So what did we find? It is very suggestive that women working in the trades are more likely to have a spontaneous abortion, and that’s true for both trades and particularly, in fact, for women in Alberta working in welding, where the type of work they do is rather different than perhaps in Ontario. They’re up in the oil fields, many of them doing physically challenging jobs.

Having said that, we don’t find any evidence that women in these trades have smaller or more premature babies. If they get through the first three months, which is a recurrent theme, the babies they produced seem to be just as healthy as those not working in those trades or who had stopped work.

Probably most relevant to the discussion of this committee is that overall, 80 per cent of women in the trades had stopped working in the trades by 28 weeks. Amongst the welders in physically demanding jobs, we find that they were less likely than other women to be reassigned to non-exposed jobs. So they’re doing a physically very demanding job and there’s no reassignment or very little reassignment partly because of the nature of their job is in an oil field. If you can’t weld, there’s probably not much else you can do.

I have produced a figure, which I’ve given to the committee and people have. I’ve taken 28 weeks as being the key period because after that, they can get maternity leave. Half the welders had stopped working before 28 weeks, so they had stopped working before they were eligible for maternity pay. Fewer of them had stopped work in the electrical trades and even fewer people who weren’t working in the trades. So there is clear evidence that women who are working in heavy trade jobs do not continue, basically can’t continue.

There’s not a lot of evidence about the effects of working late in pregnancy on either the health of the baby or the health of the mother. We don’t find any ill effects on the baby if the woman worked late in pregnancy.

There’s a lot of evidence that women in these very demanding jobs have a lot of health issues during pregnancy, but they recover afterwards. They tend not to be very long-term effects.

In the Montreal study, we found they were more likely to have varicose veins and in the current study to have new onset back pain, but not a wide range of issues in a large number of people.

In summary, taking both studies together, I do believe there is evidence that physically demanding work may result in an increased number of spontaneous abortions, but there’s very sparse evidence for effects in babies or the health of the mother from working beyond, say, 20 weeks.

On the other hand, it is evident from the present study that many women in the trades, particularly welding, leave work before 28 weeks, so before the start of the maternity benefit. I support the intent to consult on the development of a national maternity assistance program, although I would caution that any measures put in place mustn’t lead to any discrimination to women in the trades, which is clearly one interpretation of the sort of work we do.

We’ve collected a great deal of data that may be relevant to your consultations and I’d be most happy to carry out any analyzes you think would help your discussions as things go forward. Thank you.

Robert Blakely, Director, Canadian Affairs, Canada’s Building Trades Unions: Some may wonder why an old, bald white guy from the construction unions is here talking about maternity. This is actually a really big deal for us.

We have 500,000 members across Canada. Presently, 4 per cent of those are females. We intend to double that in the next five years and then double it again. Simply put, the demographics of our population is really simple. Canada has been built for the last 40 years by the baby boom generation. The baby boom generation fooled everybody and they’re actually retiring. We need to replace a quarter of a million skilled people in the next five years. That quarter of a million people means we have to recruit somewhere north of 500,000 people because, like universities and most other post-secondary careers, it takes two to graduate one. We are not going to make it until and unless we get more bright women into our trades.

We have a really vested interest in being here. The work we do is physically demanding. It is not the brute strength and ignorance that once characterized our business. We have machines to do a lot, but we can’t do everything with machines. There are trades in which you are exposed to toxic substances. There are trades in which you are exposed to radio active elements. You are in the open frequently and in the weather. Our jobs are all over this country in every town and village.

The difficulty we have is that every construction job is transitory. If you start the job today, there is going to be a layoff either tomorrow, the next day, next month or next year. There’s going to be a layoff. When you look at the hundred-odd-thousand construction contractors in this country, well over 85 per cent employ fewer than ten people. Where you have fewer than ten people, finding accommodations in the workplace is much more difficult. I think today we have about 3,000 people working at Muskrat Falls. Finding an accommodation for one person out of 3,000, it is dead easy finding a bundle of tasks in a trade that can make a meaningful job. But if we’ve got three people building the garage in your back yard, chances are that to bundle duties to give accommodation is zip, zero, nothing. The response — and I’m not slagging our contractors — of the small contractor who has ten people is if I can’t accommodate you, see you around. That’s the way they can run their business.

We’re pretty concerned about how we manage this. Dr. Cherry’s research confirms what we really understand. Women who become pregnant leave before 28 weeks before maternity kicks in. The current situation allows some flexibility. That’s great, but that is a Band-Aid on a gushing wound. The truth is, if they take their maternity leave early, they’re losing it on the other end. It has implications for breastfeeding, it has implications for familial and social situations. It creates issues for people around whether they can or should stay in their job. We have instances on a regular basis of women toughing it out, of women hiding their pregnancies, of women trying to work when they ought to be off. The research you’re going to commission, the consultations you’re going to do, in our view, are really essential to getting us to the next step.

Women should not be left in the invidious position of saying should I take my maternity leave early because of my employment? We will bundle duties and accommodate people insofar as we can. As the unions, we have 175 training centres across the country. We’ll train people for other aspects of the job, but people are going to need support to do that.

We have unequal coverage in this country presently. In the province of Quebec, you can get coverage under the occupational health and safety law up to 90 per cent of your salary. Under EI you get 55 per cent. Okay, I’m just a simple guy from the prairies, but there’s a pretty big difference there. Unequal coverage is not something we should have.

I understand the jurisdictional difficulties, the section 92(13) difficulties that this is going to pose, but this is something that needs to be wrestled with. There is a Forum of Labour Market Ministers, inappropriately called FLMM, they should get together and straighten this out. We can fix this and your study is really important.

Let me come to a close. The number of women who are going to be involved here is minuscule. We need to find a way to protect them in the economic sense and in the social sense. We want to encourage them. A bright young woman who becomes a journeyman, pressure welder, instrument mechanic or a pipefitter is a worthwhile person in the community and is a person who has the same skills that it takes to get a master’s degree. These are bright people and we ought not to disadvantage them.

From my greedy perspective, I don’t want them to say: I spit on this job, it’s not going to help me, I’m going to go find something else. We want them to stay and we want the sunk cost investment that we as Canadians have invested in those people to be ongoing for a number of years.

We want to look at better health outcomes, we want to look at better social outcomes and a better delivery of programs across the country, and there ought not to be these gaps between EI and the occupational health and safety. EI is one thing, workers’ compensation doesn’t really fit, so that’s another.

We’re a G7 country, we’re one of the leading progressively social countries in the world. We need to find a way to make sure that the bright young women who opt for the trades get a fair shake at their maternity issues.

I probably went over my time. Thank you very much. I’ll just be quiet now.

Jeanette Southwood, Vice President, Corporate Affairs and Strategic Partnerships, Engineers Canada: Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the private member’s bill, Bill C-243, an act respecting the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy.

I am the Vice-president of Corporate Affairs and Strategic Partnerships at Engineers Canada, which represents more than 295,000 engineers across Canada. We are a proud member of the Canadian Coalition of Women in Engineering, Sciences, Trades and Technology, also known as CCWESTT. Our organizations have a long-standing and productive partnership working together to advance women.

It is my great pleasure to be here today to represent CCWESTT and also lend Engineers Canada’s voice to this important issue that impacts the recruitment, retention and professional development of women in engineering.

I would also like to acknowledge that today is December 6, and Engineers Canada remembers the engineering students and others who were victims of gender-based violence at École Polytechnique on this day nearly 30 years ago.

Today I will make three points. One is women in the new innovation agenda; number two is protecting expecting women; and number three is the need for a national strategy.

First is women in the new innovation agenda. In Canada, women remain an important and underutilized workforce. From CCWESTT’s 2012 policy forum report, here are just a few numbers to illustrate this. While women in the entire workforce represent 47.3 per cent, most of the trade jobs held by women are in fields such as hairdresser, retail or hospitality.

In natural sciences and engineering, they only represent 21.9 per cent. However, it’s important to note that in 2012, only 10.5 per cent of practising engineers were women and 9 per cent of female apprenticeship program graduates completed a male-dominated skilled trade.

We know that in 2018 the numbers are still low. For example, we know that in engineering the number of practising female engineers is 13.1 per cent. When we look at the trades, such as welding and transportation, the numbers drop to under 7 per cent and, in construction, to just over 3 per cent.

Overall registration of women in non-traditional apprenticeship programs is a meager 14.2 per cent. Clearly, women are unrepresented and underrepresented in these many fields.

Women, as we all know, can play a critical role in Canada’s innovation and skills plan, but this can’t happen if they are not entirely supported, especially regarding when they are expecting.

As mentioned in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, people and their talents are among the core drivers of sustainable, long-term growth. It is therefore clear that as women represent 50 per cent of the Canadian population, they must be part of this plan. The mining sector alone expects to require over 75,000 new workers by 2021, as stated in Ozkan and Beckton 2012.

But there are many obstacles and maternity and maternal care are among the main factors contributing to women leaving fields such as engineering, sciences, trades and technology, as described in Fouad and Singh 2011.

Our second point is regarding protecting expecting women. Many women who are working and who are expecting are exposed to various stresses due to their work environment and their pregnancy conditions. One of the main challenges that women face is the upcoming financial burdens, especially if they are single expecting mothers or a single-income family as described in Nielson 2017.

When a woman is working in an environment that can be dangerous for her or for the unborn, there is a need for better protection. How will they manage if they can’t continue working and if there is no financial support?

While the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination related to pregnancy, the situation is not simple. As stated in the Pregnancy & Human Rights in the Workplace — Policy and Best Practices report of the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 2011, pregnancy in the workplace is a fundamental human rights issue of equality of opportunity between women and men.

Women should not suffer negative consequences in the workplace simply because they are pregnant. Employers have a legal obligation to accommodate pregnancy-related needs unless the accommodation will cause undue hardship. However, this does not help when the employer cannot accommodate. On one side, the employee has the right to fully contribute in the workforce, but on the other hand, when health and safety is important in these conditions, there is a need to support the expecting woman.

In Canada, under the current laws and regulations and until recently, it was difficult for an expecting woman to stop working under these conditions, except in Quebec, where, as was mentioned previously, the system is different.

The move to allow women to claim EI 12 weeks — according to the 2017 federal budget, or 15 weeks under Bill C-243 — before instead of the 8 weeks will already help a lot for women who are experiencing the stress of pregnancy at work. However, this will not completely solve the challenges of those who may have to deal with dangerous conditions.

Adding some flexibility to take part of their 17 weeks after birth before birth could significantly reduce their financial burden, but this is not the only challenge that needs to be addressed.

There are very good examples that demonstrate the capacity of the industry to support women in the workplace. For example, Rio Tinto Coal Australia supports work-from-home arrangements as part of its flexible working policy.

The Spanish firm Iberdrola, a producer and distributor of electricity, gas, and renewal energies, supports maternity and equal opportunities and offers various options and arrangements that not only help women but also promote them in their jobs and leadership as described in Ozkan and Beckton 2012.

Our final point is the need for a national strategy. This is needed to ensure that Canada is positioned advantageously in a system that is fair for all. There are many more barriers that currently stop women from fully participating in the workforce, especially in the fields of science, engineering, trades and technology. They include the hiring process and workplace respect, as research indicates that harassment and bullying are still rampant, and work-family conflict due to inflexibility of work hours.

In engineering, workplace climate and culture is the main factor for women leaving the workforce, as described in Fouad and Singh 2011. The recent report of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum 2016 also demonstrates the need to change the culture in the workplace due to discrimination. What will be important in a new national strategy is to ensure that low-income earners especially are not unfairly treated.

Madam Chair, thank you very much for allowing Engineers Canada and CCWESTT to present to the committee today on this important issue.

Mr. Blakely: Madam, could I clarify one point?

The Chair: Please.

Mr. Blakely: We said Quebec is the shining example, but it only applies to women in Quebec who are covered by Quebec provincial law. If you are one of the 9 per cent of Canadians who are covered by the Canada Labour Code, you’re a loser on that score.

I know it’s been suggested that a simple amendment to the Canada Labour Code will bring that in line, and it will work in Quebec, but it doesn’t help anybody in any of the other provinces.

The Chair: Thank you. I’m certain you will have time to explore that a little further. We have a lot of senators wanting to ask questions.

Senator Seidman: Thank you all very much for your presentations. I think that you’ve provided us with valuable information, Dr. Cherry, speaking to the scientific evidence, and the other two witnesses speaking to the on-the-ground, real evidence.

Mr. Blakely, you presented it directly head-on that there is an inequality in this country and Quebec is a shining example, except for the federal workers in Quebec, sadly.

This is a private member’s bill that’s in front of us. When the proponent was here, I expressed a certain degree of dismay that all we were doing was setting up a consultation here as opposed to dealing with the issue and we’re going to be three, four or five years down the road before we get to the issue. He reminded me that a private member’s bill can’t incur money costs, so here we are in this strange situation.

This is a bill that is going to set up a consultation process to develop a strategy, and the people involved in the consultation are federal ministers, representatives of the provincial and territorial governments responsible for employment and other relevant stakeholders.

I’d like to ask each of you: in your opinion, whom should these relevant stakeholders include in order to have the kind of representation that we need across the sectors in the science community?

So could I, one after the other, perhaps starting with Dr. Cherry, have some input into who you think these relevant stakeholders might be to participate in the consultation?

In addition, is there a particular issue that we’re not considering that would be important to be part of the consultation?

Dr. Cherry: You’ve caught me unawares. I wasn’t expecting this question.

If I may slightly change the question, one of the issues Quebec had to face as well is the question of whether you are trying to protect harm to the fetus or to the woman and the woman’s family. If you’re trying to protect harm to the fetus, you have to do it when she starts thinking about getting pregnant or in the early days. That is a huge commitment. If you’re thinking about protecting the woman later on, from what I and others have been saying, we’re probably then looking at the second or third trimester to look after the woman.

From the discussions I’ve been following a bit on this, it is mainly the woman’s welfare that this bill is about.

You probably are not looking for health experts; you’re probably looking for economic experts and people with knowledge of the trades. I’m just thinking about the welding, for instance. Dan Tadic from Canadian Welding Association is very interested in this issue and has been very involved with it. From the work I’ve been talking about, he’s the sort of person you would want to include in the consultations.

Senator Seidman: Thank you. Your point was really important around the protection of the baby or the protection of the woman. That’s a point that should be considered in the consultation process.

Mr. Blakely: There are a significant number of interfaces here: health and safety; what does being in the trade mean, whether you’re a welder or a quality control tech carrying the radioactive source to X-ray a weld; training; socio-economic; et cetera. But you’re going to need to have a couple of people who have on-the-ground experience. We can find you more than a couple of female journeymen — because journeyman is a status, not a gender — who have gone through a trade, who have had a couple of kids and who have actually lived the experience. They can perhaps help you get a focus on this.

This impacts these people in every aspect of their life. A young woman who is in her fourth year as a steam fitter, who has to interrupt her training, may not get back on track. We need to find ways to make sure we can keep people on track. I can go on for quite a bit on this, but mercifully I’ll shut up now.

Senator Seidman: I don’t have a lot of time, so I’ll move on.

Mr. Blakely: I’m not trying to use your time.

Senator Seidman: I know, and you’re extremely helpful.

Ms. Southwood, perhaps you have something to add?

Ms. Southwood: I completely agree with Mr. Blakely and Dr. Cherry regarding what they have described. I would suggest that representatives of those groups that are most heavily impacted should definitely be consulted.

In addition to that, organizations that have demonstrated success and good practices in Canada and globally should be consulted. For example, in our testimony, we described Rio Tinto Coal Australia and Iberdrola as examples, but there are many more. We can provide other examples if you like.

Finally, look at the largest employers of those impacted to be able to get the perspectives from across the board — the employees and the employers — and bring those together in the results of the consultation.


Senator Mégie: It is really refreshing to hear from you this morning, all with your converging views. First, I would like to ask Dr. Cherry a question. You said that there was a need to choose between protecting the fetus or the woman. I saw in your study that those women are in a dangerous trade, that they are at risk of having a workplace accident and the smoke from the welding process can certainly be harmful for the fetus. Basically, for female welders, we should protect both the woman and the fetus.

Were the half of the female welders who stopped work earlier eligible for precautionary cessation, or were they in an situation where they just stopped by themselves, even though they knew that they would have financial problems?


Dr. Cherry: I believe your final question was: Is it an issue of finance, or is it an issue of the difficulty of continuing work?


Senator Mégie: Did the female welders who stopped work very early live in a province that has precautionary cessation? Did the other half decide not to stop working because they were not eligible for precautionary cessation?


Dr. Cherry: All the welders in Quebec took advantage of the retrait préventif. So there is a clear distinction between people in Quebec and people from the other provinces in their behaviour once they became pregnant.


Senator Mégie: In the other provinces, did they stop working despite the fact that they were likely to have financial problems?


Dr. Cherry: They stopped, despite the fact there was an aspect of financial hardship to it, yes. They basically couldn’t continue to work.


Senator Mégie: Great, thank you.

Mr. Blakely and Ms. Southwood, do you encounter a lot of obstacles in recruitment? Mr. Blakely, you say that your target is to recruit more women. What are the obstacles you encounter along your way in recruiting women in the various trades, such as engineering and construction?


Mr. Blakely: There are a number of obstacles that are difficult to get over. One is what I would call the perception gap in education. If a bright young woman who is the captain of the debating team, the captain of the volleyball team and who has an honour’s average goes to the guidance counsellor and says, “I’d like to get some pamphlets on being an instrument mechanic, because I think I’d like to work at that,” the shock treatments would begin before her parents are contacted. There is a bias against the trades — at least women in the trades.

That is starting to erode. The current federal government has actually done some outreach on that, and it is paying some dividends.

The other barriers are that the jobs are less predictable, they are transitory and they are in out-of-the-way places. If you are a young woman who is six months pregnant and you’re on top of the clarifier at a pulp and paper plant somewhere in northern Ontario, you’re a long way from a hospital and from a whole bunch of things. You’re a long way from social supports. And you’re going to get laid off sometime in the job anyway.

Those are at least some of the difficulties that we have.

Plus, we have a culture on the job — when I started as an apprentice, you could tell who the best pipe fitters were: They had a big wad of tobacco under their lip, and they could spit it on a cold day far enough that it would freeze. That doesn’t exist anymore. We are changing how we do things.

But the respect-in-the-workplace stuff that needs to come along isn’t there completely yet. We’re going to get there. I served in the Canadian Forces for a number of years. When we started to integrate a number of the trades in the navy, people threw their hands up and said, “It will never work.” It actually does work. You just have to have some stick-to-it-ness, and you have to have some leadership who will drive the bus. If we do that, we’ll get to where we need to be.

Ms. Southwood: In the research we have seen, as well as in the anecdotal information shared with us over many years and across the country, some of the key factors include gender-based harassment and discrimination, and conscious and unconscious biases, such as stereotypes and bullying.

We belong to a research consortium called Engendering Success in STEM, which includes educational institutions, employers, associations and others from across Canada. They have at this point in their research identified four different stages of a woman’s career, and it starts, as one might guess, even before the woman has a career, from kindergarten to grade 8, high school, post-high school education and training, and early career.

In the K to 8, the key obstacle they’ve identified is the bias against the technical subjects. Mr. Blakely describes them as non-traditional subjects. They include math.

In post-high school education and training and in early career, we have identified, and the research consortium has identified, what is described as a “culture of exclusion.” Workplace culture is a key obstacle. We can again provide you with the references as well as the website for that. That research is ongoing. We’re just in the early stages. It’s a seven-year longitudinal study.

In addition, we’ve identified, regarding obstacles, providing national support for women as a way to overcome those obstacles and as a way to support and combat the discrimination against women by employers.

Senator Ravalia: My questions will focus very much on toxic exposure and the potential long-term sequelae. First, I was curious to know if you have within your trades a counselling program that affords women who may want to fall pregnant and thinking about pregnancy who are in areas of work where there is toxic exposure, the risk of harm to the fetus even prior to the pregnancy beginning.

The second thing I was wondering about other mental health sequelae of adverse effects to these toxic exposures. The loss of a baby, an abortion, we recognize, is an extremely traumatic event for an entire family if it happens as a result of exposure to a toxin. What are the sequelae to that? Are there even longer-term effects in terms of a post-traumatic stress disorder, et cetera? Do your companies, corporations, employers build in a counselling service for women who may be vulnerable in these particular professions where the hazards are so high?

Mr. Blakely: I’ll give you the short answer. The short answer is no, we don’t. The longer answer is there is a number of required measures that employers are supposed to take when they employ someone. If the person’s job is welding, they are supposed to give them an idea of what the hazards in the job are, and sometimes that goes beyond doing the MSD sheet, the material safety data sheet. But if you look to toxic exposure, we have done a poor job of determining what welding fumes actually do to the people who are welding and, more importantly, sometimes the people who are working next to them.

In terms of the mental health outcomes, I would say if you’re looking at plumbing the depths of that, we have done an extremely poor job. Something that falls out of that, like PTSD, we’re so far from doing any of that it embarrasses me.

Senator Ravalia: Is it relevant from your point of view?

Mr. Blakely: Totally.

Senator Ravalia: Do you think this may be one of the reasons that certain gender imbalances arise because of a lack of perception of safety protection for women who may be planning to get pregnant and are working in these fields?

Mr. Blakely: I’m giving you an anecdotal answer. I don’t think a lot of people think about that stuff when they first start into a trade or occupation. It only comes later on. I think it comes right up to your face when it happens to you or it happens to somebody working with you.

Does this need to be part of our change program? Yes, it does.

Senator Ravalia: Dr. Cherry, did you have any comments on that?

Dr. Cherry: A couple. First of all, when we were setting up this study, we did hold focus groups with women welders and they had not thought about the issues of reproduction. As soon as we mentioned, it became a worry, but it was not something that had been addressed in their apprenticeship training.

Toxic exposures are very difficult. There is very little evidence — I’ve looked hard — that toxic exposures cause miscarriages in women. It’s the ergonomic exposures, the heavy lifting rather than the toxic exposures. I think if we were just to say let’s introduce protection for women who are exposed to potential mutagens, for example, you’ll be talking about tiny numbers and you will save very few congenital abnormalities. In the Montreal study, which had 56,000 women — in fact, 100,000 pregnancies — we couldn’t show any major effect of toxic exposures causing congenital anomalies. That isn’t the issue for most women in heavy work. It is the ergonomic, the heavy work they’re required to do early on.

Mr. Blakely: On the issue of toxicity for welding fumes and whatever else, there are few studies that show toxicity in the greater workforce. There are some diseases that some people say, yes, this could be caused by welding fumes, multiple myeloma, for example — lung cancer. But we’re back where we were when people said, “Gee, does asbestos really cause problems?”

Senator Ravalia: In the health field, we talk about radiation technologists, individuals mixing chemotherapy, preparation of toxic solutions.

Dr. Cherry: Those are the two good examples.

The Chair: Did you have something to add?

Ms. Southwood: No. Dr. Cherry and Mr. Blakely covered it well. I have nothing to add.

Senator Oh: My question is, first of all, for Dr. Cherry. Is there any particular reason you picked welding for women to study? Is there a trend of more people getting into this particular profession?

Dr. Cherry: In fact, I was approached about this just in 2002, and I said at that point I will not look at welders. There were not enough women welders. We won’t be able to get a clear answer. We’ll just cause discrimination against women being recruited to welding.

In Alberta, particularly, there was a great shortage of skilled craftsmen, and many women who were working as waitresses in the oil fields saw what men were getting as welders. They were recruited. At one point, about 10 per cent of welder apprenticeships were women, so we had the numbers so and could answer.

Welding is a good example in that it’s heavy work, physically demanding work. It does indeed have the possibility of exposure to metals. We know welders have high exposure to manganese, for example, which is probably going to have a high chance of affecting babies. It was a good choice. But it’s an example. It’s not the only trade, by any means, in which women are exposed.

Senator Oh: Do you keep any statistics or records on what kind of profession has the highest rate of miscarriage?

Mr. Blakely: No. Sorry to say that, but the answer is no.

Senator Oh: There’s no record or statistic available?

Dr. Cherry: No. It has to be a special study. As I say, the Montreal study of the 100,000 did look to see which professions had the higher rates. Indeed, some of the health professions were included in that and women in electrical and metal trades. Again, that was another reason for our choosing those trades.

Senator Eaton: We all know that the first three months of pregnancy are probably the most vulnerable for women. One would have to do a huge education program to make women in the trades know that it’s there; they want to get pregnant. But say I was a welder, realized I was in my first weeks of pregnancy, went to you, you signed me off for three or four months. Could I then go back and work for two or three more months if I wanted to? Do you think that’s a possibility, and would that be a good way of presenting it?

Mr. Blakely: I think the answer is yes, we could do something like that. The anecdotal evidence is that women who become pregnant in the first trimester don’t tell anybody. They just tough it out. Into the second trimester, they go until they can’t do it anymore. We need to find a way to be able to have them say, “Okay, I’m pregnant.” And depending on the job they’re on, we should be able to find a set of duties, a bundle of tasks out of the trade, to give them a full job until the normal time that people would go off on maternity leave.

Senator Eaton: That comes to my next question. Along with this legislation, shouldn’t you, in the building trades and the engineering profession, do a huge amount of education? First, it would get people more involved with this new program; and second, women might be less ashamed or less worried and would go to you. Even if they didn’t tell their friends, they would go to you or your boss and say, “You know what? I’m a couple of weeks pregnant.”

Mr. Blakely: We get lots of people who come to the union and say, “I don’t want to tell anybody, but I’m pregnant.” We try to work that out. I was hoping one of the outcomes on the education part would come out of the consultations that this committee is going to recommend.

The short answer to all of this is you have to remember that if you looked at construction as one of the examples, with 80 per cent of the employers having less than 10 employees, working for a really small employer, they’re not going to be very sophisticated. But there will be some ways to fix that too, particularly if people are in an apprenticeship, because they’re then probably indentured to the union and we can find a way to combine training and a number of other things.

Senator Eaton: I’m replacing the person if I have to take three months off.

Mr. Blakely: Yes.

Dr. Cherry: We are lucky that we have Quebec to look at. I have the report from 2010. Three quarters of the women in Quebec took their retrait préventif in the first trimester.

Senator Eaton: Did they go back to work?

Dr. Cherry: No. I’m sure they didn’t go back to work, but it was a brilliant idea they could. If they acknowledged they were pregnant early on, with the knowledge they could come back after 12 weeks if they were still pregnant, that would be something this committee could consider. And it would be very different from Quebec.

Senator Eaton: I was in the Arctic recently near Cambridge Bay at a gold mine. And they found with these huge tonne trucks, with the wheels are bigger than I am, the most responsible, careful drivers were women.

Mr. Blakely: In crane operators, welders, big rock truck operators, women pay attention. If they’re told they’re not supposed to boom the boom down past 36 degrees, they won’t. They’re not cowboys like young men who take any chance they want. When it comes to welding, women have fine skills and they pay attention. They’re not like some goofy young guy who is off thinking about the weekend and gets a cut out on the weld. Women are better welders. It’s a fact, at least an anecdotal fact.

Senator Eaton: Mine was anecdotal, too.

The Chair: Ms. Southwood, I think you wanted to add something to that comment.

Ms. Southwood: Senator Eaton, thank you very much for that question. You had also asked about education resources. Back in 2016, Engineering Canada and Geoscientists Canada jointly published a document online — we can share the link after this session — called Managing Transitions: Before, During and After Leave. It is a planning resource guide for employers and employees to better plan for and manage maternity leave right from the beginning to when they return to the workplace. And it is also to highlight the support that could be available to both employees and employers during the transition, before and after.

Senator Omidvar: The Quebec experience is certainly very illustrative, but I’m trying to remember the witness testimony on this matter from a couple of weeks ago. The Quebec experience tells us, if I remember correctly, it’s not just the women who work in the trades who access the Safe Maternity Experience program. In fact, a large number of them are nurses and teachers. I just want to remember that for myself at least.

My question is to you, Mr. Blakely. In your brief, you talk about the International Ironworkers pregnancy, pre-delivery, birth program. Could you perhaps describe that to us?

Mr. Blakely: The ironworkers are one of the very heavy work trades in the construction industry. These are the guys that you see climbing up into the sky on the steel and putting the steel structures up. If you’ve ever seen the picture of the guy sitting on the beam in New York City, those are the ironworkers.

The ironworkers had a member who concealed her pregnancy. The result of concealing the pregnancy was that she had a spontaneous abortion. The union found out about it and said, “Look, are you prepared to talk about this?” The young woman talked about it, and there were a number of people — ironworkers are normally big, mean and strong — who said, “This is a terrible thing.” So they put together a fund. This is in the United States, where maternity leave is thought about like handing in your gun. Once a young woman couldn’t work as a result of a medical condition arising out of pregnancy, they would give her the equivalent of maternity leave and they’ve been doing it now for about two years.

There are a number of people who are able to avail themselves of that, and they end up with a better pregnancy and the union ends up with a member who will come back and complete their training or will keep working.

Senator Omidvar: This is the kind of best practice, Ms. Southwood, you were talking about. There are different parts and different sectors who do things differently and out of that, a pattern shall emerge.

Let me ask you another question, Mr. Blakely. You mentioned in your comments that you felt that there would be issues around section 92.13.

Mr. Blakely: It deals with property and civil rights. Property and civil rights in the employment sense means that the labour relations code, the occupational health and safety code, the employment standards code, are creatures of the province. Whatever the federal government does, it does not necessarily impact them, although it may be a signpost on the way forward or a best practice.

Senator Omidvar: Let me explore that a little further. Will this create any issues with provincial jurisdictions?

Mr. Blakely: This is Canada. One of the premier health issues of the last century was asbestos. The federal government has created an asbestos regulation, but that asbestos regulation only applies to the 9 per cent of workplaces that are covered by the Canada Labour Code. Not every province has rushed to get on board. In some, my provincial councils are all lobbying to try to get asbestos out. There are some provinces where they are meeting some success and there are others where they are meeting active resistance. That is the Canadian norm for these sorts of things, I’m sad to say.


Senator Forest-Niesing: I have two questions and one comment. My comment goes to Mr. Blakely.


I want to tell you to what extent I appreciate your testimony and the way in which you have delivered the very important message that you have. We have a tendency, when we’re talking about issues affecting women, to hear mostly from women.

To hear from a gentleman such as yourself, despite your not-so-favourable description of yourself at the onset of your presentation, I want to thank you for being the champion that you are and for understanding — you must have been a woman in another lifetime — for understanding so clearly what issues face and thank you for that.

To Jeanette Southwood, I have a question.


In both your presentation and your answer to a question, you referred to two foreign employers who have enjoyed a certain amount of success in responding to this problem. Could you provide more details about that? What do those initiatives and programs consist of? How have they achieved such success?


Ms. Southwood: Thank you for that question, senator. I can briefly describe what each of those employers have done, and then we can send some additional information regarding that employer and other employers. One of the reasons we highlighted these two employers specifically is that we believe that there are examples, not only inside of Canada but also outside of Canada, which could be drawn upon in terms of the consultation and in terms of the study.

Around Rio Tinto Coal Australia, as we know Rio Tinto has organizations and offices all around the world, they piloted this particular program of work from home as part of its flexible working policy to respond to the challenges that women were facing both before, during and after pregnancy. For more information about that, we will have to circle back to you and we will share that with you.

Similarly, with the Spanish firm Iberdrola, they have incorporated into the work that they do specific policies they believe have made them much more successful in terms of not only their pregnant and returning employees, but in terms of their workplace culture. One of the things we have identified, and the Engendering Success in STEM study has identified, is that while there is the piece around supporting women who are pregnant and going away on maternity leave and coming back from maternity leave, there is a bigger issue around the workplace culture itself. Any of these arrangements or solutions would need to be implemented in terms of a bigger cultural change piece. I hope that helps and we will send some information to the committee on that.

Senator Forest-Niesing: Thank you. I look forward to hearing more.

Dr. Cherry, thank you for the work you’ve done and also for raising the very important issue of ensuring that we are solving the entire problem by focusing as well on the protection of the fetus. I appreciate, as you have quite eloquently indicated to us, that we have to be very mindful about the floodgates that will need to be opened in order to address this much greater, larger issue.

I believe I heard you offer in your presentation that you would be open to providing some additional information. I would love to receive from you or hear from you again with respect to specific measures, additional measures, that you would consider important, given your medical knowledge, that would be essential to consider and include as part of the greater protection of the fetus.

Dr. Cherry: I’m happy to do that, yes.

Senator Forest-Niesing: Thank you.

Senator Munson: Well, all the good questions have been asked. I was listening in my office upstairs, and I have participated in asking questions. Just one question. This committee, in 2007, endorsed a call for a national strategy, as you have here, a national autism strategy. There are always competing interests. This government and the previous government have not implemented one yet, although it’s still a work-in-progress and there have been bits and parts that have happened over the last 10 to 11 years as a result of this committee and its report.

The act is respecting the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy. Time is of the essence. This is a generation of young women who are in the workplace and governments move so slowly. When would you like to see this development? How does this development take place? How long should this development take place? Because you do have the nuts and bolts of what should be done. Would you like to see this done, for example, before the next election? What’s your timetable?

Mr. Blakely: I’d like it to be done now, but I also understand that, here in Canada, good things sometimes are the triumph of incrementalism and every little bit that we get moves us so much further down the road.

I said earlier on, I think this is a really big issue. This is a big deal issue, and if we have to consume the elephant by a series of bites, I’m prepared to do that. I’d be prepared to go for the big bite, but being a realist and an incrementalist by nature, I guess we’re there.

Senator Munson: Thank you for that. I appreciate that.

The Chair: Any other comments on that? Senators, you’ve been very efficient and relevant with your questions and answers, so we do have time for a short second round of questions.


Senator Mégie: My question goes to all our witnesses. We have heard from other witnesses that some amendments to maternity leave were included in the 2016-2017 budget following a wide consultation. Were your organizations consulted about it?


Mr. Blakely: On the flexibility around EI, yes. We were quite happy to support it, but we supported it as a half measure, not as a solution to the problem.


Senator Mégie: Ms. Southwood, were you consulted?


Ms. Southwood: I would have to defer to my colleague Mr. Joey Taylor, and I’m going to turn around to ask if we were consulted.

Joey has said we were consulted and we did give feedback to the government. Thank you.


Senator Mégie: In my opinion, you should be part of the next consultations that this bill provides for. In that way, you would be able to provide information such as you have provided for us today, and to give examples of initiatives that have succeeded elsewhere. I hope that all the appropriate questions will be included, so that enough information comes out of the consultations to create a really useful program. I hope that you will be part of that group. We can make that recommendation. Thank you.


The Chair: I do not see any further questions on the second round, so I will say thank you to our witnesses. You are our last panel on this bill. We proceed in a few minutes with the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill. I want to say that we truly appreciate what you have brought to the study of this bill.

Honourable colleagues, we are ready to proceed with the clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-243, an Act respecting the development of a national maternity strategy.

I do want to mention that if at any time during this process, you have any questions, comments or you need clarification, please do not hesitate to let us know. Let’s proceed.

Shall the title stand postponed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall the preamble stand postponed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall clause 1, which contains the short title, stand postponed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall clause 2 carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall clause 3 carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall clause 4 carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Before we move on to clause 1, which contains the short title, Senator Mégie, do you have something to add? I know that during discussions with some witnesses that we heard, there was some discussion on the title versus the content. I just wanted to give you the last word on that.


Senator Mégie: We have noted everyone’s observation that the title does not exactly reflect the content of the bill and that it should have been changed.

My staff and I looked through Senate Procedure in Practice; it states that major, significant changes to a bill need to be made before a change in the title is warranted.

The title “national maternity assistance program” implies a period that includes the beginnings of the pregnancy, the entire pregnancy, the birth, and nursing. I assume that the entire picture will be examined during the consultations. So the title reflects the objective of the bill well. From that perspective, I think we can leave the title as it is.

The Chair: Is everyone comfortable with that?


Shall clause 1, which contains the short title, carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall the preamble carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall the title carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall the bill carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Does the committee wish to consider observations? I do have one observation, and you have it in your hands. Does anyone else have an observation to add to the bill?

The observation that I want to add, and some witnesses talked about it, is, to keep it simple, is in the preamble of the bill where it mentions quite clearly pregnancy and nursing. Then when you view the clauses of the bill itself, it only mentions pregnancy. It does mention maternity, which would probably include nursing as well but it’s not very clear.

I thought it was relevant to add this observation so that when it comes to the strategy it would be precise, in fact. Do you wish for me to read the observation?

Senator Munson: I think so, for the record.

The Chair: There is a typo in French, there’s a French and an English version, and there’s a typo there. Let me read my proposed observation.


The preamble of Bill C-243 states:

whereas Canada…does not have a long-term comprehensive national strategy to allow pregnant and nursing women to continue working and to financially support them in cases where they are unable to work during their pregnancy,

The committee is therefore suggesting that the consultations to develop a national maternity assistance program not simply be limited to pregnant workers and be expanded to nursing women.


Senator Munson: In English, is that the way you spell “their pregnancy?”

The Chair: It’s a bit of a combination. It’s Franco-English. I think it’s a typo.

Senator Munson: It’s a typo? All right.


The Chair: Do you have any comments on that observation?


Senator Seidman: Thank you for doing this. I think it makes it consistent. If you read the preamble, it’s easy to miss it, but line 26 is very clear where it says, “hazards to her health or unborn or breastfed child.” And again, it says it in line 29: “a national strategy to allow pregnant and nursing women to continue working.”

I think you’re right, indeed, that the bill itself omits that. We should make this observation. The intent is there clearly. It’s inadvertent. I would fully support this observation.

Senator M. Deacon: I was just curious, how long has this measure been under study by this committee ?

The Chair: We have had two meetings apart from this one.

Senator M. Deacon: Okay.

The Chair: And then it was interrupted with the budget bill.

Senator M. Deacon: Right.

The Chair: Yes, we gave it careful study.

Do members of the committee agree with the observation?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: So is it agreed that I report this bill, with observations, to the Senate?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall the bill carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: With the completion of this clause-by-clause consideration, I think this is most likely the final meeting that we will have together this year. I do want to take a few minutes to say thank you to all of you. I think it’s quite amazing when we look at the expertise, competence and, if I may, passion that we have among the members of this committee, it is truly a privilege to be a member so I want to say thank you. I want to wish you the best for the holiday season and the best for 2019.

I also have a list of people that I want to thank, and I believe that you will join me in thanking them. I do want to thank Sonya Norris, analyst from the Library of Parliament; Daniel Charbonneau, our clerk; Ericka Dupont, administrative assistant to the committee, and the staff of each members’ office and the Senate’s parliamentary reporters and interpreters, the room attendants, the pages, the TV crew, the catering staff and the security officers. I think we all know and recognize very well that we could not do our job the way that we do it — and the way that we want to do it — without their help and continuous support. So please join me in saying thank you and happy holidays to all of them.

Senator Omidvar: You noted everyone, but I think we should give thanks to you.


The Chair: Thank you.


Senator Omidvar: You came into this job filling some very big shoes, and I really want to thank you for occupying that chair with such competence and grace.

Senator Ravalia: I’d like to recognize Senator Seidman, as well, for her expertise in her role as the deputy. Thank you. Great leadership.


Senator Mégie: Thank you for all your support on this bill.

(The committee adjourned.)

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