Canada Expands Parental Leave Policy, But Critics Say More Changes Needed

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Canada Expands Parental Leave Policy, But Critics Say More Changes Needed

While some new parents celebrate option for more time at home with babies, experts say updated rules won't benefit lower-income parents

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Starting December 3, Canada will allow new parents to spread out their one-year parental leave benefits over 18 months. (Photo: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr/cc)

The Canadian government's expanded parental leave policies—designed to give new parents more flexiblity—go into effect December 3. While supporters say the revised rules are good for parents and the economy, anti-poverty and child care advocates say more changes are needed to benefit lower-income parents.

Under the rule changes, parents of a newborn or newly adopted child who take parental leave on or after December 3 will be able spread out their 12-month benefits over 18 months—meaning they could remain with their child an extra six months and receive up to $326 a week, rather than taking a year off with a weekly benefit that is capped at $543.

Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, who explained the changes at an event on Thursday, said, "Anything that makes it easier for families to balance work and life is good for our economy, is good for our businesses." The government estimates that up to 20,000 families may take advantage of the new option.

However, some say the changes will make the biggest difference for those with high incomes. The government has "budgeted $886 million over the next five years for the new measures, and $204.8 million a year after that," the Huffington Post reports.

Morna Ballantyne, executive director of the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada, told the Toronto Star that the Canadian that the government should have instead invested in expanding daycare offering for children under 18 months, which are often expensive and hard to find.

"It's about one-third of families, who, in the current system say that they have a hard time making ends meet," Jennifer Robson, a Carleton University professor who studies tax policy, poverty in Canada, and public administration, told The National, CBC's nightly news program. However, the question raising concerns is: "Will they actually be able to exerise that choice to spread their benefit out over 18 months?"

The National reports that small business owners have expressed concerns about the costs of training temporary replacement staffers, and finding staff to fill positions for longer amounts of time—and resistance among employers could complicate the implementation of the new option.

Although "the change in rules will automatically give workers in federally regulated workplaces like banks, transport companies, the public service, and telecoms, the option of taking time off," the Star reports that the remaining 92 percent of Canadian workers may have to wait a bit longer, while their employers sort out how to update their existing leave policies and collective agreements.

"None of the parental leave changes will impact residents of Quebec," the Huffington Post notes, "where the province runs its own parental leave program."

The nonprofit Canada Without Poverty said that even with the new rules, "Canada lags badly behind many countries" when it comes to parental leave programs, pointing to a Star editorial that called on Canada to "follow the lead of Quebec and European countries when it comes to enriching parental leave programs."

Detailing three major critiques of the new policies, the Star's editorial board acknowledges:

  • Although parents can now remain with their child an additional six months, because the actual amount of money they receive will not change, "that means most families won't be able to afford it," according to a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives researcher. As the board writes, "It's difficult enough to sustain a household for 12 months under the current rules; doing without a full income for even longer will be a struggle for many."
  • Additionally, "it's still extraordinarily difficult for parents who are working part-time or in other precarious work to access" the government's parental leave benefits because "individuals are required to work 600 insurable hours of work in the 52 weeks preceding their claim."
  • Finally, because the new rules only immediately apply to the eight percent of workers in federally regulated positions, they will have to rely on provinces and businesses to update their practices to match the new policy—and, as the Star notes, a recent "survey found that almost 70 percent of small businesses oppose an 18-month leave option."

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