Canada introduces 18-month parental leave, but what's the catch?
Sonja Puzic, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, March 23, 2017 12:50PM EDT
Canadian moms and dads will soon be able to choose an extended 18-month parental leave thanks to billions of dollars earmarked for child care in the federal budget. But advocates say that not every family stands to benefit from the changes.
The Liberals’ second budget, tabled Wednesday, includes $7 billion over the next 10 years to help Canadians with their child care costs. That includes creating up to 40,000 new subsidized daycare spaces by 2019, and offering parents a choice to extend the usual 12-month parental leave to 18 months.
But the extended parental leave comes with “a couple of catches,” Barbara Byers, the secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress, told CTV News Channel Thursday.
While the federal government had “really good intentions” in offering the extended parental leave, it comes with the same amount of money stretched over a longer period of time, Byers said.
Employment insurance benefits cover 55 per cent of a parent’s salary over 12 months. That same amount will be stretched out over 18 months for those who choose the extended leave.
“So that means that there will be a limited number of families that can actually take advantage of that,” Byers said.
The budget measures will also allow expectant mothers to claim maternity benefits up to 12 weeks before their due date, an increase from eight weeks.
Regardless of whether they would prefer the extended parental leave, many moms-to-be are still not eligible to receive the EI benefits, Byers noted.
To qualify, parents must have accumulated 600 hours of insurable employment in the previous year – a criterion that remains unchanged in the latest budget. Previous research has shown that women who have low-paying jobs, work part-time or freelance often don’t meet that target.
“With employment insurance, the biggest issue is you have to qualify for it first,” Byers said. “And we know that so many women do not qualify for employment insurance and so therefore this isn’t going to be something that’s really accessible for them.”
Byers said the lack of affordable, good quality day care spaces across the country is one of the reasons behind the extended parental leave offer. But $7 billion over a decade “is just not enough” to address the issue, she said.
There are almost a million children in need of child care across Canada, Byers added.
Alvin Tedjo, a father of three young children who sits on the board of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, called the federal budget “a great step” but said it doesn’t include enough money up front to help address families’ immediate child care needs.
For the last several years, Tedjo and his wife have had at least two kids in daycare at any given time, which costs them an average of $30,000 per year out of pocket.
“Part of the problem is finding quality spaces, licensed spaces,” he told CTV News Channel Thursday.
Tedjo said 40,000 extra daycare spaces over the next three years is good, but not enough nation-wide.
“We need more money up front and I think the discussion needs to pivot towards universal child care,” he said. “We’ve been talking about that for a long time and it needs to come back to the forefront again.”
With files from The Canadian Press