New parents who suffer the loss of their child while on parental leave in Canada also immediately lose their financial benefits, says a Conservative MP. And that often forces them back to work at an extremely difficult time.
Alberta MP Blake Richards stood in the House of Commons on Friday morning to flag what he perceives as a serious flaw in the federal Employment Insurance rules.
“Tomorrow marks the beginning of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, an important reminder of the babies lost and the families that survive them,” Richards said.
He said now is a good time “to reflect on whether our current policies are adequately supporting (those) families.”
New moms and dads may share up to 35 weeks of paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child. During that time, they receive 55 per cent of their average insurable weekly earnings, up to a maximum of $537 per week.
‘They may not even have buried the infant’
A spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada confirmed that parental leave benefits cease immediately upon the death of the baby. Maternity leave benefits, which are paid out for 15 weeks surrounding a birth, continue even if a newborn dies because they are designed to allow the mother to recover from the birth, both physically and emotionally.
“As the purpose of parental benefits is to provide care for a newborn or newly adopted child, parental benefits cease to be payable in the unfortunate event that the child passes away,” wrote spokesperson Julia Sullivan.
“The final week for which benefits would be paid corresponds to the week of the child’s death.”
Richards says there’s an obvious problem there.
“Families are in a situation where they’ve lost a child, within a week they’re losing the benefits and that forces many families with financial hardship to have to go back to work,” he told Global News outside the House of Commons on Friday.
“They may not even have buried the infant at that point. I want to look at way we can fix that, but want to begin today by just raising awareness of that issue.”
There is one exception to the rule: Parents of a child who is murdered or goes missing receive government support for up to 35 weeks through a stand-alone grant outside the Employment Insurance program.
Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos was unavailable to comment on the matter this week, but a spokesperson for the minister said the subject is one “that matters to Minister Duclos.”
“Our Government is committed to improving (employment insurance),” wrote Émilie Gauduchon-Campbell.
“This includes making compassionate care benefits more flexible and more inclusive for those who provide care for seriously ill family members and providing more flexibility in parental benefits and leaves.”
The government has committed to consult with the provinces, the territories and other stakeholders in the coming months in an effort to “modernize” employment insurance.
“Minister Duclos received the responsibility of EI less than a month ago, he intends to make changes after the consultations,” added Gauduchon-Campbell.
Richards, who is father to one adult son, said that’s a start.
“Consultations is kind of a buzzword for this Liberal government,” he noted. “I certainly hope there will be more than just consultations, I hope there will be some action.”
For now, Richards said, the Conservatives are trying to “get a sense of the comparative research that’s out there … and see what might be possible in Canada.” One option would be to provide a bereavement extension to keep benefits flowing for at least two or three weeks after the death of a baby.
“I know people personally who’ve been touched by this,” the Conservative MP noted. “The least I can do is raise awareness on my part.”
— With files from Bryan Mullan