OTTAWA — The Liberal government says there’s “no consensus or any indication of strong support or disapproval” for its proposal to provide free menstrual products in federally regulated workplaces.
That was the response tabled in the House of Commons Monday to an e-petition, sponsored by Liberal MP Peter Fragiskatos, that asked the federal government to provide menstrual products in washrooms at all federally regulated workplace to “address menstrual equity at the national level.”
“While a slight majority of submissions were supportive of the proposal, more than one third raised concerns around the financial burden of this proposal and how products should be provided,” read the response from Labour Minister Filomena Tassi, signed by her parliamentary secretary Anthony Housefather.
Watch: B.C school board makes pads and tampons free. Story continues below video.
The federal government first floated the idea in May 2019 and sought out feedback about the proposal including what products would best meet requirements and any concerns about costs and implementation.
If approved, the changes would require federal workplaces to add menstrual products to a list of items they’re required to provide in washrooms including toilet paper, soap, warm water, and “a means to dry hands.”
The federal government said 42 submissions were received in response to its notice of intent, including 29 from individuals and 13 from organizations.
“Menstruation is a fact of life yet menstrual products are not treated as a basic necessity in the workplace,” read a release from Employment and Social Development at the time announcing its notice, calling them essential items.
“The cost of these products varies significantly by location in Canada, and the financial burden is borne exclusively by menstruating employees,” it read, adding the costs may be unaffordable for some people and others “may not be prepared for their period resulting in a disruption of their daily lives at work.”
Tassi addressed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as well. Priorities “had to be shuffled,” she said, suggesting the proposal will be “revisited and considered for inclusion in future.”
Physical distancing guidelines to reduce transmission of COVID-19 have also impacted federally regulated workplaces with many employees working from home.
The government is required to respond to petitions that receive more than 500 signatures. For petitions that reach that threshold and beyond, the government has to table an official response within 45 calendar days.
There are more than 1.26 million employees under federal jurisdiction, according to the government. “Approximately 18,500 employers will be impacted as this subject continues to be examined.”
According to the government’s own data, employees who use menstrual products make up approximately 40 per cent of the federal workforce.
It’s a proposal that was one in a spate of related initiatives sparked across the country to provide convenient access to an essential item to those who need it.
A federal tax on menstrual products was scrapped in 2015 after an NDP private member’s bill proposed to end it because it “unfairly penalizes women, transgender and other people with menstrual periods.”
In 2018, the federal NDP passed a resolution at the party’s policy convention to make menstrual products free, emphasizing that a period is normal bodily function.
A ministerial order was issued in British Columbia last year requiring boards of education to provide menstrual products to all students who require them. Similar initiatives have been adopted on a municipal level in Halifax, London, Ont., and Sarnia, Ont.