March 19, 2017 6:00 pm

Should Canada extend its maternity leave to 18 months?

WATCH: Katherine Keeling, a 36-year-old mother in Toronto, tells us how extending parental leave to 18 months would affect her.

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For Katherine Keeling, mother of three-year-old Bruce, the option of taking an 18-month maternity leave and sharing it with her husband would have made life a lot easier.

It would have given her more time to look for child care and allowed her and her husband to spend more time with their son, she says.

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“When I was three months pregnant, I was already putting my name down on all the day cares in my neighbourhood and just outside my neighbourhood,” the Toronto native said.

“By the time I was almost ready to go back to work, I hadn’t received a call from any of them.”

READ MORE: Child care and parental leave: What could be in the 2017 federal budget

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been toying with the idea of extending parental leave and benefits from the current 12 to 18 months. The Liberals’ proposal would stretch the current overall amount of benefits over a longer period of time, resulting in smaller paycheques for moms and dads taking time off work.

WATCH: Woman advocates for maternity benefits for parents who lose a baby

Although Keeling likes the idea of spending more time with her son, she admits taking 18 months off work would be financially difficult. She took a 10-month maternity leave, and her husband took six weeks. After that time, she said they were forced to go back to work because of money.

”We struggled and we ended up having to pull some money off our line of credit to kind of balance it out,” Keeling said.

READ MORE: Mom’s job cut after maternity leave; what are your rights?

She’s also concerned with the consequence the extended parental leave would have on her job security.

“It’s a myth that you can’t be fired when you’re on maternity leave. I worry that the longer you are away from your work the more enticing that might seem to a company. You are away so much.”

Global News readers sound off

According to a recent report, Canada doesn’t just need to extend parental benefits — the entire system is due for an overhaul.

For one, parental benefits should be taken out of the employment insurance system and be made its own federal program, the Institute for Research on Public Policy study said.

READ MORE: 25 groups issue open letter to Justin Trudeau over extended maternity leave proposal

The current system leaves many new parents not eligible for benefits, including those who work part-time, are self-employed or are freelance workers.

The report sparked a wave of response from Global News readers.

“I would like to see leeway in the required hours for maternity leave if mothers-to-be are in school while pregnant,” Amy said in an email to Global News.

WATCH: Ontario mother urges province to help cover cost of expensive prescription formula for baby

She said it can be a struggle to bank enough work hours while in school — especially if you didn’t exactly plan your pregnancy.

“Trying to hold down school and get 600 hours in a part-time job is tough if you were self-employed or a contractor before and surprised by your pregnancy.”

Another woman said she couldn’t work due to her high-risk pregnancy, leaving her without benefits.

“I have been working since two days after I turned 15 and because I only worked part time while going to full-time school with my first child — I was categorized as high risk so I wasn’t able to work most of my pregnancy — I wasn’t able to qualify for EI,” said Jessie A.

An extended 18-month leave would allow for more bonding with baby, a number of readers said, and result in more fathers taking time off.

WATCH: Katherine Keeling says husband would have benefited from longer parental leave because he could spend more time with son.

Another overwhelming response: Canada’s parental leave benefits do not pay enough.

“Currently mat leave benefits are less than minimum wage,” Shawna wrote. “It’s no wonder it’s hard to make ends meet for some families.”

At the moment, parents living anywhere other than Quebec receive EI payments equivalent to 55 per cent of employment earnings, up to a maximum of $537 per week.

“It is very challenging to live on 55 per cent of your income with increased expenses,” said Stephanie, in an email.

“I would also like to have the ability to work part-time while on parental leave without losing 50 per cent of it.”

Enhanced parental leave should be considered an investment in Canada’s future, readers said.

“We are raising the next generation,” said Melissa J.

“We need the support of our government to raise children with a chance to become productive, caring and adaptive members of society.”

Canada’s fertility rate has been steadily declining over the last several decades, and the country now has more seniors than kids for the first time ever. Immigration keeps Canada’s population growth afloat.

“Strong families save the government money and in a country with such a small population, it would only make sense to support families, not penalize them,” said Global News reader T. Galambos.

With files from Erica Alini, Global News. Some reader email responses have been edited for clarity and/or length.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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