The Trudeau government is following through on a Conservative plan to extend compassionate care leave for the care of terminally ill loved ones from six to 26 weeks starting Jan. 3, 2016.

But the government says it plans to rework the program later in the year to expand the number of people who can take advantage of the enriched employment insurance plan.

"These changes were brought in by the Conservatives. They're good," explained MaryAnn Mihychuk, minister of employment. 

"The [new regulations] have some flexibility, but they don't go far enough," she added. The Liberals committed to go further during the campaign, she said.

How far the Liberal government plans to go remains to be seen, but Mihychuk has some ideas.

"[We want to be] more generous. So, if your partner, your child has serious cancer [you could qualify]. It doesn't mean necessarily it's terminal," she said. 

The regulations coming into effect on Jan. 3 apply specifically to people caring for a terminally ill loved one. The Liberals are looking at providing support to individuals who leave work to care for family members.

The government will begin consultations and committee hearings in the new year. Mihychuk doesn't expect changes until later in 2016.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is one of the groups that expects to speak with government about any expansion of the Compassionate Care Benefit.

Tricky issue for small business

It's a tricky issue for small business, said Dan Kelly, the federation's president.

"Most small firms already do things like this without having any legislative framework around it. If they have an employee who is caring for a sick relative they try to accommodate as best they can," Kelly explained.

As well, the number of people who took advantage of the shorter six-week program was smaller than the government expected, said Kelly.

In the 2013-14 fiscal year, 6,003 people claimed compassionate care benefits, according to the federal government's EI Monitoring and Assessment Report. That was a decrease of 1.6 per cent from the previous year.

That could have something to do with the fact that the benefit only applies to federal employees and federally regulated businesses, such as airlines, banks, Crown corporations and many other big employers.

"[The Jan. 3 change] puts in the funding for that leave but it doesn't provide the job protection other than for federally-regulated employees," explained Kelly.

The Conservatives put an additional $37 million towards the Jan. 3 expansion.

Some people are already calling on provinces to get on board with the program.

Dr. Janet Fast, an economist and gerontologist at the University of Alberta, says additional supports for family caregivers are urgently needed to meet the demands of an aging population. 

Fast is the author of a national study into the costs and challenges of caregiving. She said the Alberta government should amend the province's labour code to allow for this.

with files from Kim Trynacity