The Conservative government has introduced legislation that will allow the self-employed to opt into the federal employment insurance plan and collect benefits currently available only to wage-earners and salaried workers.
The Fairness for the Self-Employed Act will extend maternity, parental, adoption, medical and compassionate-care benefits to self-employed workers.
"Self-employed Canadians should not have to choose between their family and business responsibilities," Minister of Human Resources Diane Finley told reporters in Toronto on Tuesday. "Extending access to these benefits is the fair and right thing to do."
Self-employed workers can sign up for the plan beginning Jan. 1, 2010, and can start claiming benefits one year later.
Once self-employed workers access EI, they would have to continue paying premiums for as long as they are self-employed.
In response to a reporter's question, Finley said the government expects the plan to be self-financing, though that will depend on how many of Canada's 2.6 million self-employed workers sign up and on their claim rate.
Dale Ripplinger, president of the Canadian Real Estate Association welcomed the move, saying it will address many of the inequities in the EI system and help its 96,000 members across the country balance career and family life.
Extending parental leave to the self-employed was a Conservative campaign promise from the last election. The Conservative platform document for the 2008 election campaign estimated the cost of extending those EI benefits to the self-employed at $147 million.
Women are heavily represented among the self-employed and are a constituency the Conservatives covet, but one that has proved difficult for the party to attract.
In September, the Conservatives survived a Liberal motion of no-confidence when the NDP backed the government to ensure the speedy passage of legislation extending employment insurance benefits.