Newborn daughter's death inspires MP's bill on bereavement leave for parents
Published Friday, June 11, 2021 1:06PM EDT Last Updated Friday, June 11, 2021 3:38PM EDT
OTTAWA -- For Conservative MP Tom Kmiec, his bill to give parents more time off after the death of a child is personal.
Three years ago, Kmiec lost his newborn daughter Lucy-Rose after 39 days, and was flooded with stories of parents who had lost children, including from one of his neighbours in Calgary.
Some had to return to work after only a day or two off, he says, noting that's not enough time for some grieving parents.
Federal labour rules provide five days of job-protected bereavement leave, with three of those days paid, the other two unpaid.
Kmiec wants that expanded to at least eight weeks as part of a bill he recently introduced in the House of Commons, although he says he's open to shaving that in half if it means addressing what he sees as a hole in the social safety net.
The number of people who would be impacted would be small: Statistics Canada data show that in 2019 there were 3,191 stillbirths and 1,634 deaths of children under age one, the latter figure being more than two-and-a-half times the combined number of deaths for children one to 14 years old.
The numbers, he says, don't tell the full story of the impact the additional leave may have.
"It's really the unnatural order of things to lose a child. That's where it really has a big impact on people," Kmiec said in an interview, his children in the background doing virtual schooling.
"Hopefully we'll recognize that a person is more than the amount of labour that they produce in a day, that they're human beings that should be looked after just the same way we look after machines."
The proposed tweak to the Canada Labour Code would only apply to the federally regulated workforce, a body of just under one million that make up about six per cent of the national labour force, working at banks, telecommunication companies, Crown corporations, and airlines, among other firms.
Often, changes to the federal labour code become replicated in provincial labour rules.
Kmiec's bill would provide the extended leave to parents who have experienced a stillbirth, the death of a child under age 18 or the death of a child with disabilities being cared for by parents, which would include adult children with disabilities.
"Anyone who's ever been a parent certainly understands that agony, the grief that someone would go through, and I think they're hard pressed to find anyone who doesn't understand that there probably is some sort of need," said Conservative MP Blake Richards, whose motion three years ago launched a parliamentary study of the issue.
The 2018 committee report recommended the government look at creating up to 104 weeks of job-protected leave, and extend EI benefits for 12 to 15 weeks rather than immediately cutting off parental leave payments after the death of a newborn.
The bill is a long shot to get through the legislative process before the summer recess, and the possibility of an election this fall. If there's an election, Kmiec said he hopes his proposal lands in campaign platforms, be it his own party's or another.
"I don't have a trademark or copyright on these ideas," he said. "Good ideas should be introduced by whatever government of the day it is."
A similar bill to expand bereavement leave without pay under the federal labour code is sitting in the Senate within sight of the legislative finish line after getting cross-party backing in the House of Commons.
That bill from Conservative MP Matt Jeneroux would add five additional days to the labour code's leave for immediate family members that would need to be taken within six weeks of any funeral, burial or memorial service.
His bill would also cover parents, Jeneroux told senators this week, though not cover miscarriages as New Zealand did in March, becoming the first country to do so.
Jeneroux argued not providing extra leave could be even more costly to employers than the nominal costs linked to backfilling the absence.
"If they're not feeling supported by their employer, then (individuals) will leave their employers and that's a much, much larger impact on the employer than if they were to simply allow the initial leave," Jeneroux told a Senate committee scrutinizing his bill.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11, 2021.