Banff-Airdrie MP Blake Richards is celebrating a victory for grieving parents and a “significant step forward” on an issue he has been working on bringing to the attention of parliament since 2018.
On the last day of the parliamentary session before the holiday break, Richards said portions of his colleague Calgary-Shepard MP Tom Kmiec’s private member’s bill C-211 – an Act to amend the Canada Labour Code – were included in the Liberal government’s Bill C-3, which was passed by the House of Commons on Dec. 17. Richards has been involved with Kmiec's goals since 2018, and sponsored a parliamentary petition earlier this year that called on the House of Commons to adopt and enact seven recommendations that were made following a study regarding bereavement leave.
According to Richards, the new bill will extend bereavement leave to eight weeks of unpaid leave for parents who have experienced stillbirth, the recent death of a child under the age of 18, or the death of a disabled child in the parents’ care.
“It’s a huge step forward in something I’ve been working on for a long time, so a big win there,” said Richards in an end-of-year interview with Great West Media.
According to Kmiec, the bill is the result of hard work over the last three years, and will support parents in the most tragic of circumstances. In a blog post, Kmiec wrote that he experienced first-hand the devastating blow of the unfair bereavement system under the Canada Labour Code, referencing the passing of his 39-day-old daughter Lucy-Rose in 2018.
Richards said while the recent passing of the bill was a big win, there’s still more to do in the field of bereavement leave.
“Our ultimate goal is to see a specific paid benefit to provide people time after the loss of a child or pregnancy loss,” he said. “We’ll continue to push for that, but this is certainly a huge step forward by giving people leave from work for eight weeks. We’ll continue at it.”
Coming toward the end of the year, Richards said there are reasons to be optimistic about 2022, though he acknowledged 2021 was a “difficult” year for most Canadians, as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to wreak havoc on society.
“I think what we need to learn from 2021 as we move forward is that we have some challenges we’ll need to live with,” he said. “COVID is something that will be with us for some time. We will have to learn to live our lives through it and focus on allowing people to [be] cared for and protected, but also allow them to move forward with their businesses and their jobs.”
The year 2021 saw a snap federal election called in Canada for Sept. 20, with the Liberal Party securing its third consecutive term in power, albeit with its second consecutive minority government.
While he handily won the vote in his riding of Banff-Airdrie for a fifth consecutive time, Richards said he and his Conservative Party colleagues were disappointed to once again be sitting on the opposition side of the House of Commons when parliament reconvened in November.
“We hoped to see a bit of a change in the make-up of parliament and I was hoping to be in the government side, but it’s a minority parliament, which means there is an opportunity to legitimately try and hold the government accountable,” he said. “It takes all opposition parties rolling in the same direction to be able to do that, and that’s been a bit of a challenge, unfortunately.”
Richards said his party’s focus in the coming months will continue to be Canada’s rising cost of living. Inflation is currently at an 18-year high of 4.7 per cent, according to Statistics Canada, while the price of gasoline, groceries, and other consumer goods are increasing or expected to increase next year.
“Inflation is obviously a huge part of the concerns we have around the increased cost of living for Canadians,” Richards said. “But it’s more than just inflation – it’s the affordability of housing, and it’s the economy in general. Those have to be the focus. I think we’ve come through a very difficult period in the last few years, and people just want to have their businesses back to normal and have their work situations be more certain. I think that’s what people need and deserve, so we’ll continue to push on cost-of-living issues, and inflation is certainly a part of that as well.”