Ottawa extending parental leave by up to 5 weeks, 3 months earlier than planned

The federal families minister announced Wednesday that a new parental leave benefit of up to five additional weeks of time off from work will be available to eligible parents as of March 2019, three months earlier than initially planned.

The measure, first announced in the last federal budget, will provide an additional five weeks of Employment Insurance (EI) parental benefits when parents — including adoptive and same-sex parents — agree to share some of the benefits.

Parents with children born or placed for adoption on or after March 17, 2019 will be eligible for the benefit. Initially, the benefit was to take effect in June.

The Liberal government has touted the benefit as a way to encourage male partners to take some of the allotted leave to more equally share the responsibilities of raising children.

Share the joy

“This new benefit supports a more equal distribution of home and work responsibilities by providing an additional five weeks of EI parental benefits — when both parents share parental leave — this helps parents share more equally both the work and the joy associated with raising children,” Families Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said at a press conference in Toronto Wednesday.

As of now, women make 85 per cent of all parental claims and generally take longer leaves from the workplace, Duclos said.

Duclos said Quebec fathers already have access to a similar program provincially and Ottawa hopes to replicate its success in the rest of Canada.

Statistics Canada reported in 2016 that 80 per cent of new fathers in Quebec claimed or intended to claim parental benefits, in part because there is leave there that is specifically reserved for them, Duclos said.

In the rest of Canada, which does not provide second parent leave, this same figure was only 12 per cent.

Currently, parents can share 35 weeks of paid leave — with division of that time determined by the couple. The new rules would enable families to now take up to 40 weeks of leave from work as long as the second parent claims at least five weeks of that time.

24,000 more

Thus, the additional five weeks is a “use it or lose it” benefit top-up only available when both parents agree to share the parental leave.

By moving the benefit up to March, the government estimates an additional 24,000 parents could benefit from the extended leave.

“They’ll have more time together with their newborns not only to share the responsibility but the joy,” Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef said of the announcement.

“When it comes to gender equality — when more and more parents take this leave norms start to shift, norms start to shift in our workplaces. Employers start to recognize women and men can take this leave, and it will reduce the unconscious​ biases that can sometimes hold women and businesses back.”

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