As was clearly telegraphed, one of the big themes of the new federal budget is gender equality.
The government is arguing that having more women working, choosing full-time employment and earning as much as their male colleagues will ultimately boost economic growth.
WATCH: Government making gender equality a focus
There are two main initiatives the Liberals are ushering in to help Canada get there. The first is a new paternity leave specifically for new dads and other non-birthing parents. The second is legislation to help bridge the gender pay gap.
Paternity leave but no EI benefits boost
The budget introduces a few more weeks of parental leave for families where both parents decide to take some time off work to help care for a newborn child.
Under the current rules for the standard, year-long parental leave, parents can share 35 weeks of paid leave whichever way they want. The new rules would enable families to take up to 40 weeks of leave as long as the second parent claims at least five weeks of it.
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Under the extended, 18-month parental leave introduced by the Liberals in the previous budget, the second parent can take up to eight weeks of additional parental leave.
The changes are aimed at encouraging dads to share the burden of child rearing more evenly and enable women to return to work sooner, if they so choose.
But the new rules are “a missed opportunity,” in that the government didn’t raise the Employment Insurance (EI) benefits available to new parents, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives economist David Macdonald told Global News.
EI benefits sit at 55 per cent of eligible earnings for couples choosing the 12-month leave option and 33 per cent of earnings for those opting for the 18-month leave.
The new, federal paternity leave is modelled after Quebec, where dads can take up to five weeks of paternity leave. The province has seen the number of new fathers claiming or hoping to claim the benefit increase to over 85 per cent since implementing the measure. That compares to less than 15 per cent in the rest of Canada.
But Quebec’s paternity leave covers up to 70 per cent of income, which Macdonald said is a major reason for the program’s large uptake.
Ottawa’s less generous model will help couples, but likely won’t see the same kind of participation rate among fathers that Quebec’s did, Macdonald said.
The budget sets aside $1.2 billion over five years for the paternity leave program and nearly $345 million a year thereafter. It will be formally known as EI Parental Sharing Benefit. The new leave is expected to become available in June 2019.
Pay equity legislation
The government is also planning to table pay equity legislation that it says will help bridge the 12 cents hourly wage gap that currently exists between men and women who work full-time.
The budget document was scant on details on how the government hopes to achieve this but said the legislation, which will be part of the budget implementation bill, will apply to both federal government employees and the federally-regulated private sector.
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The new pay equity rules will also extend to the Federal Contractors Program on contracts worth $1 million and up, meaning they will likely affect government contractors who might be provincially regulated, said Macdonald.
The legislation could reduce the gender wage gap by 2.7 per cent among federal government employees and 2.6 per cent in the federal private sector.
The budget didn’t say how much the measure will cost, but Macdonald estimated it could be $500 million a year just to bridge pay inequities in the federal public administration.
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There was much more about pay and work equity in the budget, including funding to encourage women to join the skill trades, a source of well-paying jobs that remains largely male-dominated.
“There lots of things to be celebrated in this plan,” said economist Armine Yalnizyan. Still, she added, without affordable childcare, it remains “frankly a Plan B.”