Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday that his government is considering a paid leave option for new dads and other non-birthing parents.
But was the PM talking about what might be in the upcoming federal budget, set to be unveiled on Feb. 27? Or was he talking up something that’s still a fairly vague idea on what happened to be Family Day in a lot of Canada?
Ottawa is keeping mum about this so far. The office of Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos avoided answering questions from Global News about when the government might roll out a new paternity leave policy and whether provisions for it might be in the next budget.
“Our government is committed to helping individuals balance work and parental responsibilities when welcoming a new child to their family. That’s why we already have made some changes to the EI parental benefits to allow parents to choose the option that best suits their needs based on their work, family and childcare circumstances. We continue our work to explore how we can further support Canadian families when welcoming a child in their family,” a spokesperson for the office of Minister Duclos said in an emailed statement.
In last year’s federal budget, the government made it possible for parents to take up to 18 months of paid parental leave. Under new rules, which came into effect in December, Canadians can now spread out 12 months of Employment Insurance (EI) benefits over six more months, at a benefit rate of 33 per cent of their average weekly earnings, instead of the traditional 55 per cent.
Still, Nora Spinks, chief executive officer of the Vanier Institute of the Family, a non-profit that has been part of federal consultations around national parental leave policies, said a new paternity leave could plausibly be part of budget 2018.
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But dads can already take up to 35 weeks of the standard EI parental benefits and up to 61 weeks of extended benefits. So why create a new type of leave?
Dads are more likely to take time off work if they can use a parental leave that’s just for them
Data from within and outside Canada strongly suggests that fathers are more likely to take advantage of parental leave if the government creates a benefits regime specifically for them.
In Canada, the evidence comes from Quebec, which has been offering non-transferable paternity leave since 2006.
The province has seen the share of dads taking or planning to take parental leave increase to 86 per cent in 2015 from 28 per cent in 2005, according to Statistics Canada. That compares with 12 per cent for fathers in the rest of Canada, a percentage that has barely budged over the same period.
A federally legislated paternity leave would take away the stigma that men sometimes face when they take time off work after the birth of a child, Spinks said.
Taking advantage of available parental leave would be “publicly sanctioned to be not only OK but expected,” she added.
In Europe, “the seven countries with the highest male shares of parental leave users (Iceland, Sweden, Portugal, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Germany) all have father-specific (or partner-specific) entitlements to paid parental leave,” reads a 2016 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The new leave would make it easier for dad to help out moms in the post-partum phase
A new dad would likely be able to use his leave in conjunction with mom using the traditional EI benefits, according to Spinks. This would enable fathers to take extended time off during the first weeks after the birth of the child, when women are typically in need of support as they recover from labour, she added.
“Historically, post-partum care of new moms fell onto grandmothers, but now with the boomer generation, many of those grandparents are in the labour force,” Spinks told Global News. “Dads need to step in,” she added.
Many of them do, but often have to resort to using up vacation time in order to be at home when mom is off work, too.
WATCH: What changes are coming to child care and parental leave after the release of the 2017 budget?
The new benefits are meant for same-sex couples, too
Dads would represent the largest number of beneficiaries of the new policy, but the changes wouldn’t be just for them. The tweaks are also intended to increase the availability of paid leave for same-sex couples, adoptive parents and other non-traditional families, said Spinks.
Working grandparents would be eligible to get paid leave if dad, or a second parent, isn’t in the picture
There have been calls for grandparents to also be eligible for paid parental leave if they have to step into the role of second parent.
Families in which single mothers are often forced to rely heavily on support from a grandparent who is working are at a disadvantage because the second caregiver isn’t currently eligible for EI benefits, Spinks said. Still, grandparents would likely be able to access these benefits only if the father or second parent isn’t alive or known.
“If there is a dad, it’s his benefit,” Spinks said.