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Canada Labour Code

Bill to Amend--Second Reading

May 27, 2021

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Resuming debate on Bill C-220. For the balance of her time, Senator Seidman.

Hon. Judith G. Seidman [ + ]

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.

Thank you.

Hon. Paula Simons [ + ]

Honourable senators, I’m honoured to speak today at second reading of Bill C-220, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (bereavement leave).

I would like to begin by thanking Senator Seidman for her speech. I confess that I had been proceeding on the assumption that I would be the sponsor of this bill — a role I had been personally asked to take on some months ago and one I was happy and honoured to assume. However, last night I was surprised to find myself the critic of the bill instead — a role I am still happy to take on, even though it might be a harder task since the bill, frankly, does not provide much opportunity for a tough critique.

Bill C-220 is a simple and straightforward proposition. As Senator Seidman explained, it amends the Canada Labour Code by adding five more days of unpaid bereavement leave for any worker whose employer is federally regulated and hence regulated by our federal labour code. That would encompass roughly 18,500 employers and about 6% of Canada’s workforce including people who work in the air transportation sector such as those who work for airlines and airports; anyone who works for a federally regulated bank; people who work for most Crown corporations such as Canada Post, VIA Rail or the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

It also includes people who work for federally regulated grain elevators, feed and seed mills. It encompasses First Nation band councils, those who work at maritime ports, and people who work in radio and television broadcasting and those employed by railways across provincial or international borders such as CP or CN. It also applies to those who work in telecommunications companies such as telephone, internet and cable companies.

That’s not a complete list, but it gives you some sense of the scope of this legislation.

Currently, employers who are governed by the Canada Labour Code are required to give employees who are mourning the death of an immediate family member five days of bereavement leave. Of that time, three days are paid leave and two are unpaid.

Bill C-220 would give employees in mourning the option of adding another five days of unpaid leave to the total, which would give them the opportunity to take two full weeks off work to cope with the practical and emotional consequences of the death of a close relative. Mostly, as Senator Seidman said, those relatives would be people you would imagine: parents, children, spouses, common-law partners, siblings, grandparents and grandchildren.

However, Bill C-220 would also allow you to take the extra bereavement leave if you had previously been on a formal compassionate care leave to look after someone else close to you who was not technically part of your immediate family. If, for example, you had already received official compassionate leave to care for your favourite aunt or best friend, you would also qualify for bereavement leave.

Workers who were to ask for this new bereavement leave wouldn’t be required to take it all at once continuously; they could break up their leave. For example, a person might take a few days off to deal with the immediate shock of a loss and then take a few days more weeks later perhaps to plan a funeral, move their elderly mom’s furniture out of the assisted living facility or to organize after-school care for a child who has lost a parent.

Until you have lost a family member yourself, you might not realize how much hard work there is to do in the aftermath of a death. You don’t just need time off to mourn; you need time to take care of dozens of bitterly practical matters, whether that’s dealing with the phone company to try to disconnect a dead relative’s phone, dealing with a bank as you try to close accounts or packing a lifetime of mementos and tchotchkes into cardboard boxes.

In our post-COVID future, when travel becomes easier and safer again, such extended or delayed leave could also be helpful for someone who needs to travel across the country or around the world to attend a loved one’s memorial.

As long as the bereaved employee took their 10 days within 6 weeks of their loved one’s death, they would have the flexibility to use the time as their family and cultural circumstances demanded. The leave would be available for all people in an employment relationship with a regulated employer. That includes people who work part-time, on contract or even on a casual basis. If you are unlucky enough to lose two parents in the same calendar year, you would still be accommodated. Bereavement leave could take place any time they suffered the loss of an immediate family member, even if they endured multiple losses in a year.

That, honourable senators, is Bill C-220 in a nutshell. If or, I hope to say, when it receives Royal Assent, it will come into force three months after the date on which it passes into law, to allow employers sufficient time to adjust their workplace policies and to work with unions to modify collective agreements to align with the changes. It is not a complicated piece of legislation. It’s a simple acknowledgement that the death of a loved one is a universal human experience and that most of us humans need a little time as we mourn and as we deal with the paperwork, the planning and the probate.

Every person, every family, every culture grieves differently. Some people, in truth, hate the idea of taking two weeks off from their regular routine in the wake of a passing. Some might find the idea of throwing themselves back into work and into some semblance of normalcy far more therapeutic than two weeks at home to cry and brood. But, of course, no one would be required or pressured to take the full 10 days of leave. It would simply be an option open to them.

For others, it must be said, two weeks away from work wouldn’t begin to be enough time to process their sorrow and loss. The death of an elderly parent is sad. The loss of a young child; that’s a grief of a very different kind.

This compassionate extension of bereavement leave could be helpful to many of those who feel overwhelmed, not just emotionally, but by the crushing number of stressful tasks they have to complete in the aftermath of a family death.

There is a practical benefit for employers, too. An employee dealing with the strong emotions that often accompany a death or an employee simply distracted by the stress and burden of all the hundreds of responsibilities, large and small, that can come in the wake of a loss, might be a liability on the job. It may actually be easier for supervisors and colleagues and clients if someone coping with profound bereavement isn’t rushed back to work before they are psychologically ready.

In this year of COVID-19, we have all come face to face with our own mortality and the fragility of life itself. Quite a few of us here in this chamber are mourning for friends and family lost during this difficult year. There could be no more apt moment than this to debate Bill C-220 and to make it law.

Bill C-220 is the brainchild, or perhaps I should say the “heart child” of Matt Jeneroux, the MP for the Alberta riding of Edmonton Riverbend. Like me, he lives in Edmonton, amiskwaciy-wâskahikan, in the heart of Treaty 6 territory. The intertwined issues of compassionate care and bereavement leave have long been his preoccupation.

Before entering federal politics, Matt Jeneroux was a Progressive Conservative member of the Alberta legislature in the governments of Alison Redford, Dave Hancock and Jim Prentice. That’s when I first met him, when he was a young MLA and I was a not-quite-so-young journalist writing about Alberta provincial politics.

As a backbench MLA, Matt Jeneroux introduced a private member’s bill entitled Compassionate Care Leave legislation, the first of its kind in the history of Alberta. The legislation provided a leave of absence for an employee while taking care of a terminally ill loved one. The Employment Standards (Compassionate Care Leave) Amendment Act gave Albertans eight weeks of job-protected time off to care for a family member with a serious or fatal condition.

The law amended Alberta’s Employment Standards Act so that people thrust into the role of caregiver could devote their time to the person they loved without fear of losing their job, seniority or pay level. In fact, Alberta became the very last province in Canada to legislate compassionate care leave when the act came into effect in 2014. It was Mr. Jeneroux’s efforts as a backbench MLA that allowed the province to finally catch up with the rest of the country.

When Matt Jeneroux became a member of Parliament, he wanted to address a different gap. He wanted to ensure that someone who had been granted a compassionate care leave to help a loved one dying of a condition, such as cancer or arterial lateral sclerosis, wouldn’t have to rush back to work after a death. To him, it made no sense to give a person time off to perform the difficult, stressful task of caring for a dying family member and then rush that same person right back to their office or job site the moment their vocation as a caregiver had reached its sad conclusion.

The original intent of this bill was simply to extend compassionate care leave to cover off the time after a family death. Hence the bill’s original title, an Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (Compassionate Care Leave). It was a worthy idea, but it made for a somewhat complicated bill because the extended leave had to be related to the length of the original caregiver leave. As well, the original bill would only have helped those who had been designated official caregivers and who were on a formal compassionate leave. It wouldn’t have applied to someone who had been doing a lot of caretaking while also working. It wouldn’t have helped people who had lost a family member to a sudden death: to a heart attack, a car accident, to suicide or COVID-19.

But a quite inspiring thing happened when Bill C-220, a private member’s bill from a Conservative MP, hit the committee stage in the other place. MPs from all parties, including the government, came together to pass amendments and make this a better, more inclusive bill.

Now, Bill C-220 applies to all who mourn someone very close to them, even if that person died suddenly or unexpectedly. Indeed, it may be argued that those who lose a family member without warning may often be the ones in the greatest need of bereavement leave since they’re dealing with the greatest shock and haven’t had any time to prepare themselves.

Even though it was a bill drafted by a member of the official opposition, Bill C-220 earned the support and endorsement of Anthony Housefather, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour, and of the Labour Ministry itself. Working together, MPs from all parties got behind Matt Jeneroux and passed this bill unanimously through the other place.

Is this a perfect piece of legislation? It is not. And in my sudden and unexpected role of critic, I do have some critiques to offer. Unpaid leave is a start, but some might well advocate for 10 days of paid leave so that people already facing extraordinary stresses would not have to give up some of their income in order to get time off. For some people, giving up a week and a half of salary would be an insurmountable obstacle which would render them unable to take advantage of this new entitlement. As the bill stands now, it might be quite useful to people who have well-paid jobs and savings in the bank, and much less useful to those who are living paycheque to paycheque.

In a perfect world, some would doubtless want to see this kind of bereavement leave extended to all Canadian workers, not just the 6% of those governed by the Canada Labour Code.

On the other hand, there will also be smaller employers, in particular, who may feel that they just can’t manage to give people two weeks off, especially in this COVID era when some employers have been scrambling to fill positions while workers are ill or in quarantine.

Because Bill C-220 began its life as a private member’s bill and not government legislation, there has frankly not been a lot of time for consultation with the various labour unions who represent the eclectic range of workers covered by the Canada Labour Code.

So, no, this bill isn’t perfect, and now that I am the critic, it’s my job to point that out. But it is an important first step and a model of what future policies might look like — an inspiration for lawmakers and contract negotiators across the country.

This bill? It’s a start. And you don’t go anywhere until you start. Because if one thing unites us all, my friends, it is the inevitability of death and the inevitably of mourning. When we love, if we are lucky enough to love, we know that grief could very well be the price that we pay for our love. We know that death eventually parts us all.

And that is why our collective efforts on this bill as a whole Senate are so important. When we grieve, we don’t grieve as members of the ISG or the CSG or the PSG or the CPC. We grieve, not as acronyms or ideologies, but as people, touched and linked by our common humanity and our common mortality, because all of us go into one place. All are of the dust and all turn to dust again. For everything, after all, there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven, a time to be born and a time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to break down and a time to build up.

For so much of this year, Canadians have known a time to weep and a time to mourn. It has been a year of death and loss and sorrow. We have all been bereaved in one way or another. Now, my friends, as we begin, slowly, slowly, to put the horrors of this year behind us, it is time to build together, a time to build the foundations for the future we wish to share, a time when we can come together to give Canadians a time to heal.

That’s why, even though I wasn’t allowed to keep my promise to Matt Jeneroux and serve as sponsor of this bill, I am still deeply honoured to serve as its critic. And I am deeply thankful to Senator Seidman for her commitment to serve as sponsor, also at very short notice.

Working together as a team in a cooperative and nonpartisan way, I hope we can move Bill C-220 through the Senate as quickly as possible and make it a reality for thousands of working Canadians. Thank you. Hiy hiy.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Senator Simons, will you take a question?

Senator Simons [ + ]


Thank you, Senator Seidman and Senator Simons, for such eloquent speeches this evening. It sounds like you’re digging into this and really having a look at what has been done at committee so far in the House, and some of the improvements that you have discussed.

I have worked away at this in a large employer in trying to get that sweet spot between grieving loss and bereavement and how different it is across populations. I continue to look at this from an equity and inclusion perspective.

You talked at the beginning of many examples of who is included, and you gave us an idea of the great width of organizations and companies included. Could you tell me, as you go through this, who you think might feel excluded or might feel the gap of hope in being able to deal with loved ones has widened even further for them, or might have the perception?

Senator Simons [ + ]

The challenge of this bill, of course, is that it only applies to the 6% of Canadians who are governed by the Canada Labour Code because that is what is in our purview as federal politicians to regulate. The hope has to be that if the federal government takes the first step, this will serve as a model for people who are governed under provincial labour regulations.

Yes, it will leave out 94% of Canadians, but as I say, it is a first step. Maybe if other Canadians say, “Hey, how come my friend who works for CHUM gets this leave and I don’t?” “How come people who work for CP get this leave but people who work for Loblaws do not?” It serves as a model. There is only so much a private member’s bill can do, and I think Mr. Jeneroux has taken this bill where it can go.

Excellent. That 6% is important. I was wondering if, at the committee level, they have started some of the provincial TSO conversations. Thank you very much.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

(Motion agreed to and bill read second time.)

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