Would more dads stay home if parental leave was extended?

Click to play video: 'Family Matters: Fathers and parental leave'
Family Matters: Fathers and parental leave
WATCH ABOVE: Only a fraction of fathers in Alberta choose to take parental leave, even if they’re eligible for it. Laurel Gregory reports on why so few are using it, and what the federal government is proposing to change that – Mar 8, 2016

James Galipeau smiles as he lifts his five-month-old son Oscar into the air.

“Cuckoo! Cuckoo!”

The father and son are sitting in for songs and stories at the Edmonton Public Library’s “Daddy and Baby Time.” The program is designed specifically to give fathers quality time with babies, aged 18 months and under. While most of the library’s parent-baby programs are held in the morning and afternoon, this one is offered in the evening. That’s no accident. During the day, most of these fathers are punching the clock.

“I spend so much time working that making sure we try to get dedicated time every week, just me and him, is really good for us,” Galipeau says. “It’s also really good for mom because then mom gets the house to herself. She gets the evening to recharge.”

When Oscar was born, Galipeau spent six weeks at home with his family.

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“I was very lucky that I was able to save up the vacation time.” He returned to work after that, like most fathers in Canada.

According to Statistics Canada, outside of Quebec, only about 10 per cent of eligible fathers collect parental leave benefits. For a lot of families, the decision of who stays home comes down to household finances.

The Federal Government pays up to 55 per cent of your salary for 52 weeks of parental leave. Seventeen weeks are set aside for the mother and the parents can split the remaining 35 weeks.

“In our case, there was an income differential,” says Aaron Brown, father of eight-month-old Mason. “It didn’t make it economically feasible for me to take the time.”

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The Federal Government is considering giving families more options for how they take parental leave. Under a “flex time” policy, the benefit time would be stretched from 12 months to 18 months.

“It’s not necessarily an expansion of the benefits, it’s the ability to take those benefits in different ways,” says MaryAnn Mihychuk, federal minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour. “The issue of flex time will not only help parental, it will help people who are looking after loved ones that may be facing serious illness.”

The minister says flex time would benefit a child’s bond with their father along with their mother’s advancement in the workplace.

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“We’ve heard of employers saying, ‘We’re reluctant to take this young woman because she could potentially go on maternity and therefore we will be short of a person,’ Mihychuk says. “It impacts their ability to get those good career jobs, to get those promotions they may want. If we changed it so that males and females or partners shared that I think it would really benefit primarily women in Canada.”

Mihychuk plans to consult families, academics and employers about flex time in the coming months.

With no extra money attached to an extended parental leave, flex time wouldn’t change much for the Galipeau family.

“It would be really nice if there’s enough time that I could take six months off and my wife could take a year off – the 18 months thing would be really nice – the only downside is that the percentage of the income is going down and we wouldn’t be able to make the mortgage if we both took the time off and were both on EI for that long a time.”

For now, that means Galipeau’s quality time with his son will remain scheduled before and after work.

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