This past Monday, many local families enjoyed a variety of activities offered at local carnivals. This week’s issue includes photos of families swimming, sliding and skating. Family Day provided a great opportunity for family fun, but it’s also a good reason to discuss a subject important for many families: parental leave.
Tweaking Canada’s parental leave program was part of the Federal Liberal party’s election campaign in 2015. The current system can provide 15 weeks of benefits for mothers, and 35 weeks per family in parental benefits, which can be shared between parents. Families can use parental benefits over 12 months. A discussion paper published by the government in late 2016 said changes being considered include allowing benefits to be used over 18 months instead, either with smaller payments each month or in blocks. The paper noted neither option would mean more benefits overall.
These proposed changes haven’t satisfied everyone. The Canadian Press reported that 25 groups, including child care advocates, wrote an open letter asking for different changes, including eight weeks of dedicated leave for non-birthing parents, which would include fathers.
While Canada’s existing parental leave can be shared between parents, statistics suggest in practice, mothers leave work for longer. Statistics Canada says that in 2014, 89 per cent of new mothers eligible for benefits were receiving maternal or parental benefits. By contrast, only about 27 per cent of eligible fathers received benefits.
The difference here between men and women is even greater when you factor in whether or not specific benefits are available for fathers. In Quebec, for example, dedicated paternal leave exists. The same Statistics Canada report said that in 2014, 78.3 per cent of eligible new fathers in Quebec received benefits. That means in the rest of Canada, only about 9 per cent of recent fathers claimed parental benefits.
There are many possible reasons why it’s mostly moms who use parental benefits: a difference in incomes between men and women, breastfeeding, and stigma around fathers using parental leave could all factor in.
Studies have suggested men who benefit from paternal leave become more involved in parenting in general later on. The Economist reported on a study of fathers in America, Australia, Britain and Denmark, which found “fathers who had taken paternity leave were more likely to feed, dress, bathe and play with their child long after the period of leave had ended.”
A CBC News report from April, 2016 said Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk “said she’s interested in making dedicated paternity leave a part of promised changes to parental leave.” That’s great news. A paternity leave policy would mean money specifically for men, of course, but it is a feminist issue. Dedicated benefits already exist for women, and a paternity leave policy would be a reflection of the idea that men and women are equally responsible for childcare.

Theresa Ketterling
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