Mr. Speaker, I would first like to welcome everyone back. I can sense everyone's excitement. Let us hope that our parliamentary work will be very productive. I hope you had a good summer, Mr. Speaker. You are looking very well indeed.
In speaking to Bill C‑318, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and the Canada Labour Code regarding adoptive and intended parents, which would introduce an attachment benefit, I recognize that this is a sensitive issue.
I would like to start by saying that the Bloc Québécois supports the principle of Bill C‑318. The arrival of a child is a complex and challenging time for the whole family, all the more so when the child is adopted or conceived through surrogacy.
I will talk about that very briefly in my speech while emphasizing the need for attachment. Then I will talk about the need for employment insurance reform and, lastly, I will talk about how the governments of Canada and Quebec need to be on the same page.
First, I would like to remind the House that the bond created with the child is an important part of parenthood. Again, in the case of adoption or the arrival of a child from a surrogate, this process can be a delicate step since the link with the parents is not biological. We know that international adoptions are becoming less frequent and that children adopted by Canadian or Quebec families are often older than in the past, or have special needs. As a result, we can be sympathetic to the desire of these new parents to receive a special benefit to foster attachment.
We also know that the attachment process is complex and time-consuming, particularly for adopted children, and that it is part of an equation that also involves the so-called normal needs of a baby or toddler. That is why it is a good idea to create this new benefit.
The bill also provides for an extension when the child is hospitalized. The extension would be equivalent to the number of weeks the child receives care in a health care facility. We know that hospitalizing a child is an emotionally difficult ordeal. This extension therefore seems necessary, especially if we take into account the emotional factors that are added when adopting or welcoming a child from a surrogate.
We should also bear in mind that this legislation will require royal recommendation. Adding this new benefit to the existing EI program would involve approximately $88 million in spending between 2023 and 2028.
Second, there is also the government's lack of leadership on employment insurance in general. In 2021, the Liberals had campaigned on the promise to modernize employment insurance and had committed to expanding the program to cover self-employed workers and address the gaps highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. There is still nothing in the latest budget, however. The Liberals say they are committed to modernizing the system, but we can see that their communication is lacking; they do not walk the talk.
The only changes announced by this government in the budget are two small reforms. The first is to extend a temporary change to employment insurance introduced in 2018 that increases the number of weeks of coverage available to seasonal workers. The second is to strengthen the prohibitions for misclassification of federally regulated gig workers. That is a far cry from the major structural changes that we, my colleague from Thérèse-de-Blainville in particular, have been seeking for so long.
The Bloc Québécois is calling for greater leadership on this issue. The government must review the current formula, the structure of the program, its eligibility requirements, its funding and its administrative technology.
This bill proposes to amend the Employment Insurance Act to add a new type of special benefit, namely a 15-week attachment benefit for adoptive parents and and parents of children conceived through surrogacy. It also amends the Canada Labour Code to extend parental leave accordingly.
In Canada, the EI program provides 17 weeks of maternity leave for pregnant women, which can begin at any time during the period that starts in the week before the expected date of delivery and ends 17 weeks after the actual date of delivery. The Canadian program also provides parental leave of up to 63 weeks for natural and adoptive parents. Parents who both work for federally regulated employers can share the parental leave, which entitles them to eight additional weeks of leave.
Parents who share parental leave are entitled to 71 weeks of leave. They can take the leave at any time during the 78-week period that starts on the day of the child's birth or on the day the child is entrusted to them. There is no provision in the Code for paid parental leave. Longer parental leave under an employer's policy, a collective agreement or an employment contract may also apply.
Third, let us compare this with what is currently being done in Quebec. In the case of a birth, parental leave can begin the week of the child's birth. It is in addition to the 18-week maternity leave or five-week paternity leave. In the case of an adoption, each adoptive parent is also entitled to 65 weeks of parental leave. The leave may begin no earlier than the week when the child is entrusted to his or her adoptive parents or when the parents leave their work to travel outside Quebec to receive their child. Leave ends a maximum of 78 weeks afterwards. In a same-sex couple, both parents are entitled to parental leave if the child's relationship to his or her mothers or fathers has been established in the birth certificate or adoption judgment. At the parent's request, parental leave is suspended, divided or extended if the parent's or child's health requires it. In other situations, at the parent's request and if the employer agrees to it, leave may be divided into weeks.
Up until December 2020, Quebec's parental insurance plan, the QPIP, did not offer the same benefits to all workers. Adoptive parents had 18 weeks less to spend with their children. It was ultimately at the end of a battle by the Fédération des parents adoptants du Québec, or FPAQ, that the tide turned. Passed on October 27, 2020 and assented to on October 29, Bill 51 gave equitable treatment to adoptive parents as of December 1, 2020 through the creation of reception and support benefits, as well as adoption benefits for the second parent. In total, adoptive parents are entitled to the same durations and income replacement levels as biological parents. For the time being, both the Canadian and Quebec plans do not provide any attachment benefits such as those proposed in this bill.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer has studied the spending that Bill C‑318 would entail. The current proposal is that beneficiaries would receive a benefit equal to 55% of their average weekly insurable earnings for 15 weeks, up to an amount determined using the maximum annual insurable earnings received in the affected year. The maximum weekly benefit for 2023 is $650. For each child, those 15 weeks of benefits could be divided between the two parents. The cost of the program would be approximately $88 million over five years, from 2023 to 2028. However, it is important to keep in mind that the forecasts for the number of adoptions and births of children conceived through surrogacy are not robust and create some uncertainty as to the final real costs of implementing this new benefit.
To conclude, allow me to steer the discussion back to attachment theory, which is generally credited to John Bowlby. Bowlby drew attention to the fact that children turn to adults for protection from the time they are born. Stability, consistency and adequate basic care are key components of attachment theory. Depending on the child's disposition and the adult's approach to meeting the child's needs, the child-adult relationship develops into a mutual partnership.
A comforting, healthy attachment provides children with an important starting point for exploring the world, secure in the knowledge that safety is never far away. Attachment plays a critical role in teaching children to organize their feelings and behaviours, confident that they can rely on the person who cares for and comforts them. Forming attachments is also vital to a child's long-term psychological health. Attachments teach children to trust others, which makes it easier for them to form healthy relationships later in life. Most attachments, however, depend on two basic factors: proximity and time. The long-awaited arrival of a new child is an emotional time for parents, and this new benefit could help them adjust to their new parental role and give it their full attention.
As we know, EI is part of our social safety net. It is a proven fact that the pandemic has exacerbated the current problems with the EI system. We are asking for these changes to be made simply out of compassion and because EI is the tool we gave ourselves. It is our safety net to help people through hard times. We are asking for these specific benefits, but, as I heard a lot over the summer, especially from women's groups, and as we are resuming our work here in the House, I can tell members that a comprehensive reform of the whole EI system is badly needed to help people get through these challenging times.