In last week’s federal budget, the government announced intentions to give new parents the option of extending their leave to 18 months instead of the 12 months most are now eligible for under EI rules. (With the same conditions applying).
At first I had a good reaction to this change. Assuming that parents would still be able to split parental live, it would give both a good amount of time with a new baby and more time to find childcare. It would also help with one issue that I discovered when we were looking for childcare at the 12-month mark – Childcare spots for babies under 18 months are few and far between, and also tend to be more expensive than when your child is over 18 months.
I’ve said before that we were very lucky with the childcare we found. My daughter bonded with her caregiver right away, the cost was reasonable for our area, and the location worked for my husband to drop our daughter off and pick her up. I was also thrilled to get back to work after 12 months of being at home with my daughter, even though I loved the time we spent and adventures we got to have. Still, if my husband had been in a place to take part of the leave, I think it would have been fantastic for us as a family.
Diving further into this new policy, you start to see problems. Mainly, that if a parent opts for 18 months of leave they have to subsist on 33 per cent of their salary for that time. Now, some families will be able to do that, and some really, really won’t. I was very lucky to have my maternity benefits topped up by my employer, which meant that while I was off, I was still getting 90 per cent of what I earned – Except the deductions weren’t being taken off, which caused a high tax bill the next year that I wish someone had warned me about.
Presumably if EI is paying 33 per cent instead of 55 per cent the employer won’t be topping up to 90, that would be a huge cost outlay for them, as well as having to employ a maternity replacement for 18 months, which could cause additional problems. (My union contract stated that anyone employment for more than 12 months automatically became full time, permanent, which is actually how I ended up as permanent employee. I don’t know what trouble, if any, an 18 month leave would cause, but it’s something they would have to prepare for).
So, problem number one is the 18 month option isn’t really an option for everyone, only those that can afford it.
Problem number two is part of the bigger problem this government promised to solve – A lack of affordable childcare across this country.
As I said, we were very lucky to find childcare at a reasonable rate. That rate was $43 a day, or about $1,200 a month (roughly equivalent to one of my paycheques every month). In some regions (hi Toronto!), childcare costs much more. Much, much more.
The Liberal Party was elected on many promises, one of which was:
We will meet with provinces, territories, and Indigenous communities to begin work on a new National Early Learning and Child Care Framework, to deliver affordable, high-quality, flexible, and fully inclusive child care for Canadian families. This work will begin in the first 100 days of a Liberal government and will be funded through our investments in social infrastructure.
The 2016/17 budget includes $7 billion over 10 years, starting in 2017 with $500 million, with details of how this money will be used to be revealed later this year. It should be noted here that the Liberals are already in the second year of a four-year mandate, and that 10 years of spending takes us past both the 2019 election and the 2023 election. All of the provinces and territories also have to be involved in the planning, and over the next year they will all also go through multiple elections.
All of these moving parts may not be able to give us the national framework that was promised or the childcare that young Canadian families need.