Use-it-or-lose-it parental leave among the highlights of 2018 'feminist' budget

It's being applauded as a "feminist" budget and while women are said to be the big winners in this year's newly unveiled federal budget, for many Toronto parents, a new five-week use-it-or-lose-it parental leave is among the highlights.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau delivered his 3rd federal budget Tuesday

Yulanda Julien had a one-year maternity leave but found that she and her partner had to take vacation time after that so that they'd have enough time to transition. She says the new leave option would have been a huge help to her family. (Ousama Farag/CBC)

It's being applauded as a "feminist" budget and while women are said to be the big winners in this year's newly unveiled federal spending plan, for many Toronto parents, a new five-week use-it-or-lose-it parental leave is among the highlights.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau delivered his third federal budget Tuesday, a fiscal plan touted as one that will strengthen the economy by promoting gender equality and bringing more women into the workforce.

Styled after a popular Quebec provincial program, the use-it-or-lose-it measure will give fathers or non-birth parents, including adoptive and same-sex partners, five weeks of leave — at a cost of $1.2 billion over five years, starting this year, and another $345 million each year after that.

The leave option will become available in June 2019, just months before the federal election.

And for many, it can't come soon enough.

'Would have given us more time to prepare'

"That would have helped our entire family," parent Yulanda Julien told CBC Toronto.

Julien had a one-year maternity leave but found that she and her partner had to take vacation time after that so they'd have enough time to make the transition.

"It would have given us more time to prepare for daycare ... It would have been great."
Ameed Al-Masri was lucky to negotiate a year off work when his young son was born — something he says was vitally important for their relationship. (Ousama Farag/CBC)

Ameed Al-Masri was lucky to negotiate a year off work when his young son was born — something he says was vitally important for their relationship.

"It's a two-people job," he said. "And I think dads definitely have a place in the household as far as time management, as far as trying to be present for your child. I'm seeing a positive effect on our son… Being able to spend the time together definitely brings us closer.

"This is a step in the right direction, certainly."

Not all agree, however, that the spending plan will translate into tangible change. 

These were issues... that a prior generation in the 70s politicized and made real, and then those issues, just like violence against women, fell off the map.- Judith Taylor, University of Toronto professor of sociology

Former Saskatchewan finance minister Janice MacKinnon agrees with the concept of growing Canada's productivity by encouraging more women to join the workplace, but says the measures included in the budget are "small and symbolic."

The goal behind the use-it-or-lose-it leave is to give parents more incentive to share responsibilities with the new baby so that new moms can more easily re-enter the workforce.

But MacKinnon says the budget's measures won't be enough to have any influence on whether women work or stay home.

"The sorts of things that are going to change that decision are what happened in Quebec —  billions of dollars spent to make daycare affordable and available," she said.

Echoes the earlier Trudeau government's focus

The budget isn't a superficial one for University of Toronto sociology professor Judith Taylor, who say it prioritizes concerns that had come to the fore several decades ago, but fell out of focus in later years.

"These were issues, [like] pay equity, that a prior generation in the 70s politicized and made real, and then those issues, just like violence against women, fell off the map," she said. "So it's really courageous of this new Trudeau government to mirror the old Trudeau government to focus on these bread and butter issues."
The budget isn't a superficial one for University of Toronto sociology professor Judith Taylor, who says it prioritizes concerns that had come to the fore several decades ago, but fell out of focus in later years. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

Another focus of the budget is bringing more women into the workforce in sectors ranging from science to skilled trades.

With the #Metoo movement fighting sexual harassment and assault against women building in strength, the plan adds an additional $86 million over five years to a gender-based violence prevention program.

It also offers $10 million to create a new national unit of the RCMP to review sexual assault cases that were deemed by investigators to be "unfounded."

And while the plan may not be a silver bullet on its own, Taylor says the measures announced Tuesday lay the groundwork for a more level playing field for men and women. 

"It's quite a feminist budget," she said. 

With files from Talia Ricci