Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau focused on families and work-life balance on the campaign trail Wednesday, outlining a pitch to increase flexible work options for some, as well as proposals for more flexible parental leave.
"The workplace is changed, the families have changed, and it's up to the Canadian government to catch up," Trudeau said Wednesday.
At an event in Vancouver, Trudeau said a Liberal government would work with provinces to introduce two new parental leave options.
The first would allow new parents to access benefits in portions over a period of up to 18 months, Trudeau said. Workers would be able to take time off, return to work and take more time off within that 18-month period.
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The second would let parents to take a longer leave of "up to 18 months when combined with maternity beneﬁts — at a lower benefit level," a Liberal statement posted online said.
Trudeau said the option would provide more flexibility and security — without increasing employment insurance
"This added flexibility will increase the use of parental leave benefits, which means it would translate into an investment of $125 million more per year in the economic security of Canadian families," he said.
The announcement provided a broad outline of the proposals but didn't provide specifics on how it would be funded or implemented.
Currently, employment insurance covers up to 50 weeks for eligible parents.
Catherine Haeck, a professor of economics with the Université du Québec à Montréal who has written about parental leave and child care, said she has questions about how lower-income families might use the plan.
"What I would expect to see is that families who are more well off, who can afford such a leave, will take the leave, and other families, who are less well off, will likely return to work," she said.
At the Vancouver event, Trudeau also took aim at Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's policies, saying they have failed to adapt to the modern work world and don't recognize the number of families in which two parents work.
Conservative candidate Michelle Rempel said Wednesday that she thinks people are wondering "how are all of these political promises going to be paid for."
Earlier in the day, Trudeau told a Winnipeg rally that, if elected this fall, his party would ensure all employees covered by federal labour law would have the legal right to ask their bosses for flexibility in their workday start and finish times, as well as the ability to work from home.
A Liberal government would amend the Canada Labour Code and would also work with provincial and territorial governments to put the same rights into their own labour legislation, Trudeau said.
"The employee is allowed to ask and the employer needs to formally respond in writing to that request," Trudeau said. But while employees would be given the right to ask, there would be no requirement that requests be met by employers.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair called the proposal "wanting" and wouldn't say whether his party would support a similar initiative.
"You're going to be allowed to ask for flexible hours but your employer can say no," Mulcair said during a stop in Surrey, B.C. "Well, that's already the case today so I'm not too sure what they announced, to be honest with you."
The Conservatives criticized the proposal saying the "entire 'policy' involves employers writing a letter."
"Justin's announcement lacks any teeth or enforceability, and does not apply to the vast majority of workers," the party said in an emailed statement.
Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said it's not clear what the Liberal proposal would accomplish.