Life often requires us to step away from work commitments and focus on our loved ones’ needs. Whether a person has a child with a profound disability, an aging parent, a newborn, a sibling in profound mental distress, or a spouse with a terminal condition, the need to “be there” for our loved ones often takes priority over whatever else we may have going on in our lives. In this sense, families are a sick person’s–and a society’s–ultimate safety net. By acknowledging the role caregivers play in easing the burdens of newborns, the aged, or the ill, government policies can reinforce the positive contributions caregivers make to the economy. Here’s a glimpse of how Canada’s provincial and federal governments are acknowledging the various roles caregivers play.
Last April 10, 2018, The Times Colonist, a Canadian newspaper based in British Columbia, reported from Victoria, BC on news that could affect caregivers in many common caregiving scenarios. “The British Columbia government is moving to upgrade employment legislation covering five specific work absences ranging from pregnancy leave to time off for parents of a missing or deceased child.” The changes were implemented through the Employment Standards Act.
A news release from the Labour Ministry says the amendments support workers by extending compassion to families facing tragic circumstances. Parents grieving the death of a child receive up to 104 weeks of unpaid leave without concern about job loss, while compassionate care leave more than tripled from eight to 27 weeks for employees caring for a terminally ill family member.
The changes include an option for longer leave for mothers before the birth of their child, extended, unpaid parental leave for new parents, and up to 52 weeks of unpaid leave for parents dealing with a crime-related disappearance of a child.
Quebec’s Parental Leave Policy
The province of Quebec has been leading the way in improving employment standards for families with two working parents. Quebec pays for new fathers to take parental leave. The provincial program covers up to 70 percent of their income. In Quebec eighty percent of fathers claimed or planned to take parental leave in 2016, almost triple the 28 per cent recorded in 2005.
Policies in Alberta are similar, but not nearly as generous, as those in Quebec. Employees are eligible for five days of personal and family responsibility leave if they have been employed at least 90 days with the same employer. Leave must be considered necessary for the health of the employee or for the employee to meet his or her family responsibilities in relation to a family member. Employers and employees may agree that the employee may take the leave in half day increments if required.
So who’s eligible? The definition is broad. All of the following are considered family members:
- Partner (spouse, adult interdependent or common-law)
- Parents, foster parents, guardians
- Children, foster children, wards, partner’s children
- Any other person living with the employee as a member of their family
Caregivers Alberta has a very good description of caregivers’ challenges and contributions. “There are more than 8 million caregivers in Canada- more than 1 in 4 adults. If you were to replace all the care they provide it would cost $66 billion per year…As a society, we need caregivers. The population is aging, and people are living longer with illness and disability. As care needs grow, we rely on caregivers to fill in the gaps. But caregivers can’t do it without support and recognition from the government, the system and the community.”
It’s interesting to note that in Canada, government policies have been very forward-thinking when it comes to providing support for young parents.
Changes in Federal Policies
Across Canada the trends of fathers taking parental leave is on the rise. An analysis of recently released census data by the Vanier Institute of the Family found that nationwide, fathers are increasingly taking more time off after the birth of a child. The institute found 30 percent of new fathers in 2016 reported they took, or intended to take, parental leave, up from three per cent in 2000.
The Canadian federal budget now includes 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, according to The Canadian Press. The goal was to give parents more incentive to share child-rearing responsibilities so that new moms could more easily enter the workforce. “The government has been under increasing pressure from advocates to make further changes to Canada’s parental leave policies,” according to reporter Andy Blatchford from The Canadian Press.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said making it easier for fathers to take time off to care for a newborn would help remove workforce barriers for women. In general, the participation rate of women in Canada’s job market is largely unchanged from where it was in the early 2000s, said a memo, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
“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,” Trudeau said.
Under rules that came into effect in December, new parents can spread 12 months of employment insurance benefits over 18 months, even though experts, labor and business groups expressed concern the program would only benefit families with higher incomes.
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.
What does this all cost? Last year’s budget pegged the cost of the measure at $152 million over five years and $27.5 million a year afterwards. It’s interesting to look to our neighbor to the north and contemplate why some circumstances (and people) receive support.