Conservatives announce new employment insurance parental benefits

Watch above: Conservative leader Stephen Harper announces that a newly re-elected conservative government will implement several benefits for new parents.

SASKATOON – In an effort to appeal to new parents, Stephen Harper promised Wednesday to expand benefits for mothers and fathers on employment insurance so that they can stay off work for a longer period of time to take care of their infants.

The Conservative leader said his government would provide up to 18 months of job protection for new parents and the option to spread EI benefits over that same time frame – up from a year – beginning next year.

Harper made the announcement in Saskatoon, after Laureen Harper introduced her husband and recalled her own challenges working and staying home after the births of their son and daughter.

READ MORE: Stephen Harper makes campaign stop in Saskatoon

He also promoted a two-year pilot project that would be established to allow parents to earn self-employment income while on EI.

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“We hear from many new moms and dads that they’d like to use their time at home to start a new business or at least earn some income part time,” he said in a speech to about 100 people, including a few wailing babies.

Sharaya Kennedy brought her two-year-old son Silas to the event and said she believes young mothers would be pleased with the changes. Other parties have made similar pledges.

Kennedy is expecting another baby and she said the child care announcements are a factor in her vote.

“A lot of the moms I know would like it,” she said. “They would like to stay home longer with their kids and not worry about losing their job or money.”

The self-employed mother said she didn’t catch all the details about the pilot program.

“I was chasing after him,” she said, rolling Silas in his pram.

“But that’s something I would look into actually.”

The Liberals also have proposals for more flexible parental leave proposals under the EI rules, having announced in August that they would work with the provinces to introduce two new parental leave options.

IN DEPTH: Decision Canada

Their plan would also extend 18 months of parental leave, allowing people to take time off, return to work and return to parental leave within that time period. Two parents would also be allowed to split the 18-month leave between them.

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The Liberals are also proposing changes to federal labour laws so workers would have the legal right to ask their bosses for flexibility in their start and finish times as well as the ability to work from home.

The New Democrats have been critical of both the Liberals and the Tories on their plans for parental leave, saying they don’t do enough to ensure that low-income families have proper access to EI or can afford to take time off.

In September, the party announced it would loosen rules on accessing EI programs while also expanding parental benefits.

The NDP says restrictions on EI eligibility have reduced the ability of many poorer families to use employment insurance.