The Current

Liberal's 18-month parental leave a disservice to women, says critic

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised an 18-month parental leave package in his election campaign and delivered. But critics are asking why a so-called feminist government's actions to empower women ends up giving them more time away from paid work.
Advocate for the Liberal's 18-month option for parental leave feel it gives parents more choice, but critics say more time from paid work is a risk to a woman's career. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

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The Liberal government has followed through with a 2015 promise to deliver an 18-month parental leave package — giving families the option of taking an extra six months off. But some critics are asking whether the extended leave option helps or hinders new parents, especially new mothers. 

On March 22, the federal budget — the second from Trudeau's Liberal government — made good on his pledge to extend parental leave, which would mean stretching out Employment Insurance (EI) benefits for an extra six months at the same cost but spread over a longer amount of time.

Kathleen Lahey, a law professor at Queen's University, sees this extended leave as a potential risk to women's careers and suggests the only solution is to provide subsidized childcare.

"I wouldn't say that it doesn't help some women but the underlying problem clearly is that Canada has for far too long dragged its feet in putting adequate childcare facilities in the place available to all women who need it. And the lower the income the more serious that need is," Lahey tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"Spreading out the benefits that are already not sustainable incomes for single parents, or for low income working parent couples is not going to solve the problem."

Lahey says that when women are absent from 18 months from paid work, "lifetime earning opportunities fall." 

"Once [women] have been away from paid work for 10 to 12 months, there's clear social science research that demonstrates that women have a falling rate of return-to-paid work at all or to good full-time, full year paid work," Lahey points out.

Related: What good is 6 more months?

She tells Tremonti that "the only people who will genuinely benefit from this type of choice are the ones who have incomes high enough to be able to afford to sit back and decide just which option would enhance their lifestyle."

But for Alisa Fulshtinsky, extended parental leave means more choice, and that's a good thing.

She's a working mom, a real estate agent, and the founder of Toronto Mommies — an online network of moms with 14, 300 of members who petitioned the government to make good on their campaign promise of an 18-month parental leave.
Should extend parental leave include a mandatory portion for fathers? (John Moore/Getty Images)

Fulshtinsky tells Tremonti that one of the main reasons behind this push for extended care is the lack of access to safe and high-quality childcare for children under the age of 18 months.

She says the extra time helps searching for the right care for their child.

"And since we have so much more availability after 18 months, we're also hoping you know that gives them the option of not dropping off from the workforce — especially for women."

Fulshtinsky adds that because fathers can also share in this extended leave, "it creates a more balanced, more equal marriage and as a result happier marriages."

Reva Seth, author of The MomShift, agrees fathers should share in this extended leave and suggests a portion of the leave should be mandatory for men.

"We can close the gender gap," Seth tells Tremonti.

"When you increase the number of men who take paternity leave, even by a small amount and even for a few weeks, it just sets up this ripple effect where children become healthier, workplaces become more equitable," says Seth of the research and data that exists on this front.

Seth says men become healthier and happier in the process too.

"So it becomes this win-win scenario, and it doesn't take very much for us to get to that place."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's John Chipman and Steph Kampf.