Federal budget to unveil incentive for 5-week second parent leave: official

Goal behind the measure is to give parents more incentive to share child-rearing responsibilities

The upcoming federal budget will include a five-week, use-it-or-lose-it incentive for new dads to take parental leave and share the responsibilities of raising their young child, The Canadian Press has learned.

In recent days, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has mused about just such an additional parental leave for the second parent.

The goal behind the measure — to be included in Tuesday’s budget — is to give parents more incentive to share child-rearing responsibilities so that new moms can more easily enter the workforce, said a government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the budget details have yet to be made public.

The government has been under increasing pressure from advocates to make further changes to Canada’s parental leave policies.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s budget is expected to have a strong focus on gender equality and on finding new ways to help more women enter the workforce — not only as a matter of fairness, but also as a way to bolster the entire economy.

A recently released briefing note prepared for Morneau said Canadian women with children are less involved in the labour market than their counterparts in many of the industrialized countries in the OECD.

In general, the participation rate of women in Canada’s job market is largely unchanged from where it was in the early 2000s, said the memo, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The idea of parental leave for a second parent would be similar to a policy in Quebec, which is the only province that pays for leave for new fathers. Quebec’s system provides up to five weeks of paid leave to new fathers and covers up to 70 per cent of their income.

The Liberals have heard from experts that the popular program in Quebec should be replicated at the federal level.

They’ve also been urged to raise the value of benefits paid out for parents who opt for an 18-month parental leave, and to provide low-income families with access to a six-month leave option with a higher rate of income replacement.

Some have also recommended making leaves available to people who aren’t considered a primary caregiver, such as a grandparent.

Earlier this week, Trudeau said making it easier for fathers to take time off to care for a newborn would help remove workforce barriers for women that are created by the expectation that they should take on the primary child-rearing role.

There is anecdotal evidence that women who are of child-bearing age or are pregnant are passed over for jobs or promotions, even though such actions are prohibited under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Trudeau, who was speaking at a forum in Ahmedabad, India, said his government would consider parental-leave changes, specifically “leave that can only be taken by the second parent, in most cases the father.” He said it would be “a use-it-or-lose-it” model.

The prime minister also suggested the leave could include, for instance, a partner in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transge+nder relationships.

“Whatever format you have, that path is removing some of the barriers and the obligations and the expectations that hold women back in the workforce, so there are a lot of things to do,” he said.

Trudeau’s government has been paying closer attention to parental leave options since some of their earlier changes received a cool welcome late last year.

Under rules that came into effect in December, new parents can spread 12 months of employment insurance benefits over 18 months, even though experts, labour and business groups expressed concern the program would only benefit families with higher incomes.

Last year’s budget pegged the cost of the measure at $152 million over five years and $27.5 million a year afterwards.

An analysis of recently released census data by the Vanier Institute of the Family found fathers are increasingly taking more time off after the birth of a child. In a report last month, the institute found 30 per cent of new fathers in 2016 reported they took, or intended to take, parental leave, up from three per cent in 2000.

Much of the national increase was due to Quebec’s program. In that province, 80 per cent of fathers claimed or planned to take parental leave in 2016, almost triple the 28 per cent recorded in 2005.

Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press

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