Businesses to pay for workers' 5-day paid leave, CAQ says

Quebec's political leaders keep making promises that, they hope, will help garner the public's attention and a vote in the upcoming election.
The CAQ hopes to offer more paid time off for workers with sick children. (CBC)

Quebec's political leaders keep making promises that, they hope, will help garner the public's attention and a vote in the upcoming election.

François Legault, leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec, has been aiming his campaign primarily at families by promising tax cuts for the middle class and a family doctor for everyone, is now putting forward the possibility of having parents take paid leave to help sick family members.

"It's possible that some entrepreneurs may find this difficult in 2012 to tell parents they're only allowed to take five paid days to take care of their sick child. I think it's reasonable in 2012," said Legault.

The CAQ would allow every worker with children under the age of six to take five paid days to take care of ill family members. This paid leave would be in addition to the 10 days to which people are already entitled to under Labour Code laws.

The program would be implemented over a period of five years, with private company workers entitled to an additional day off every year. 

Legault said the program would allow 350,000 Quebecers to receive pay while looking after family members.

The program would cost $350 million to implement and would be funded by business owners.

Charest and the pearly whites

Quebec's Liberal Party Leader Jean Charest and Health Minister Yves Bolduc, announced that the party would seek to stretch government-subsidized dental care to children aged 16.

This program would cost $58 million.

Charest also introduced the idea of a new website that would list accessibility to medical specialists in hopes of reducing waitlists.

The announcement was made at the Montreal Sciences Centre.

The Liberals also vow to invest $47 million in research for chronic illnesses.

Marois wants EI provincial takeover

Saying it's a program ill-suited to Quebec's needs, Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois repeated her pledge Wednesday to "open negotiations" with the federal Conservative government to have Quebec take over Employment Insurance within the province.

Quebec is the only province to opt out of the Canada Pension Plan in favour of its own retirement regime, and already has charge of the parental-leave component of EI.

But Marois insists that's not enough.

"Given that we know less than 50 per cent of unemployed people have access to the program and that the Conservatives refuse to help them, we have a moral obligation to take matters into our own hands," she said. "The federal government's only involvement in recent years has been to take contributors' money and put it toward other programs or to offset the federal deficit."

Marois said over the years, $60 billion in surplus worker and company contributions to the EI fund have been diverted to pay down the federal debt. "The Employment Insurance program isn't financed by the federal government, but by employees and employers," she noted.

"The push we're launching today has really been afoot for more than a year … and brings together the labour associations and many community groups, rights groups," she told an audience in her riding of Charlevoix –Côte-de-Beaupré, where she was campaigning.

Seasonal labourers stiffed, Marois says

Quebec politicians have debated taking over control of EI since the 1980s, when a Quebec Liberal Party committee proposed doing just that in a report on potential reforms to federal-provincial powers.

The current PQ leader renewed her party's push to devolve EI to Quebec control last fall, saying the program as it is know doesn't cover many seasonal workers in Quebec's regions and also leaves a disproportionate number of young and female employees in the lurch.

The lack of benefits for many seasonal labourers, who nevertheless pay premiums into EI, is particularly galling, Marois says, because Quebec's seasonal industries need workers and their lack of coverage prompts them to seek work in other sectors or to move to other regions.

Marois promised that if Quebec gets control of EI, it wouldn't divert away any surplus contributions but would use the money only for benefits for out-of-work employees.

When the issue of came up in the provincial legislature earlier this year, Quebec Employment Minister Julie Boulet said Quebec is a net beneficiary — with its workers receiving more in benefits than they contribute — and would have to find $863 million to plug that gap were it to take over responsibility for EI. Boulet called the PQ's campaign an attempt to "pick a fight" with Ottawa.

The Quebec worker-rights group Conseil national des chômeurs et chômeuses and several labour associations and Pierre Fortin, former president of the Canadian Economics Association have backed a repatriation of EI.

Quebecers go to the polls Sept. 4.