Whither paternity leave? A father’s day lament.

Whither paternity leave? A father’s day lament.

Father’s day is a good time for us as Canadians to reflect on a couple of things. Like the importance of men in our children’s lives.

As women have expanded their careers and moved into the workforce, there has been a slow, but constant movement of dads increasing their roles at home. Dads, more than ever before, are involved in raising their kids and helping out around the house.

As Katherine Marshall indicates in a Statistics Canada report from 2011, “As women have increased their hours of paid work, men have steadily increased their share of household work.” Though huge gaps still remain between the amount of time spent on child care and household chores, the truth is that our men have been pitching in.1

Has our culture made space for men in childrearing, do we have policies that really support dads, to let them become nurturers and be involved in raising their children from the very first moment?

Only if you’re in Quebec.

Quebec opted out of the federal program and manages their own. They offer the best deal around when it comes to leave after a child is born. To start, they only require you earn $2,000 before you are eligible for leave. This means that 87.4% of new mothers in Quebec qualified for leave. How does that compare? If you were in the rest of Canada, only 71.9% qualified, leaving a significant gap.2 What else does Quebec do? They pay more overall, reaching 75% as opposed to our 55%. And Quebec has just announced it will be increasing their total amount before you hit the ceiling. Moreover, there are five weeks of paternity leave in Quebec. Yep, five weeks just for men. So what has this done for men? In Quebec, 78% of all men take leave in the first year to year and a half of their children’s lives. As opposed to 27% in the rest of Canada. Parents in Quebec also get to break up their leave as needed, and can opt into two plans: one at 52 weeks, or one at 70. (Taking the longer plan in Quebec means less money per week.) Other things the Quebec system does is accommodate self-employed individuals, and both parents can take leave at the same time.

Deliberate policy changes in Quebec to increase access to parental leave and to provide families with more support has worked.

What do Canadians in the rest of the country currently have?

  • Up to 55% of pay, to a maximum of $530 a week.
  • Fifteen weeks of leave for the mom, 35 of parental that can be shared.
  • Parents cannot take leave at the same time.
  • Support for self-employed if they opt into Employment Insurance.
  • Inability to split the time with work periods when on parental leave.
  • Strict rules on how much money can be earned in this time (on a $30,000 income at 55%, this matters).

So what did the federal government do for the rest of Canada?

  • Number of hours worked to qualify is still at 600 hours.
  • You can choose between a year’s leave at 55% or take 18 months at 33%.3

Be still my beating heart. How does this help families?

It is a known fact that first time parents on the current leave system rely on money in savings or on help from family members to bring them through. And they rely heavily on the income of their spouse during this time. The research is quite clear, you want to support families? Supporting childcare to allow parents to return to work is much more effective.

In an interview with Brian Russell, coordinator of Dad Central Ontario, he said:

“My big concern is that from a financial perspective, they’ve done nothing. Stretching it to 18 months with the same amount of benefits because people are losing money in the long-run and it’s a step backwards. This hurts low income marginalized families.”4

According to Jennifer Robson, in her report called Parental Benefits in Canada: Which way forward?, she outlines several important factors, which include:

  • The lack of coverage due to needing 600 hours to qualify.
  • Inadequate benefits paid to low income families (try surviving off 55% of a $30,000 income).
  • Rigid rules discouraging the sharing of leave, forcing the mother to leave all forms of paid work.5

But when we look at the current government’s proposal, do we see any support for increasing the number of parents who receive leave, to building something to support more families, and providing more income? The answer is clearly no.

And what about dad only leave? What about letting dad’s role in early childhood be recognized as important?

According to Robson, our focus shouldn’t be creating token leave for dads. She believes that dad only leave could exacerbate inequalities, making it harder for single parent families, particularly as most lone parents are still women.

Looking at the last budget though, we had line item after line item of policies structured to support the role and development of women in our country. And let me be clear, women are very much still needing the support as we are still paid less for one hour of work as compared to men. In Canada alone, women earn 87 cents for every dollar earned by men, and this is when they are working the same jobs. This is extremely problematic and cannot be ignored.6 But how are women supposed to advance if we do not allow men the space to enter in the places where we no longer want to be the only ones in charge? A mirroring has to occur.
Russell hates the word token:

“Token feels like that’s a nice thing to do, it doesn’t have substance. It might be a token thing at the beginning but behind that tokenism is something very real. And sustained by research. When dads spend time with their young kids, those kids do better. And dads do better. And families do better. What may look like tokenism at the beginning, ten, fifteen, twenty years down the road it is not a token thing. We’re not even having this discussion, it’s just a part of who we are.”

Russell goes on to say: “We have a cultural hangover that men don’t take that leave. I don’t think we should give dads more than what we give the moms. If we identify something for fathers, that encourages more father to take it. We’re trying to give dads a different opportunity than what they had in the past with their kids.”

Robson herself even states at one point:

“Previous reviews on the behavioural response of both fathers and employers to policy change suggests that, when  a  new  minimum  threshold  for  leave  is  introduced, individuals and organizations are  likely  to  respond  by  anchoring  their  behaviour  to  the  new  “normal” threshold (Robson 2010).”6

So why aren’t men talking about it?

Russell’s personal opinion is:

“From the men’s perspective, sometimes we are afraid to speak up because we are going to be seen as patriarchal and controlling. When men begin to ask for attention or to address their needs for relationship and care, the tendency is to think they are asserting their rights in demanding and patronizing ways. Attacking men like this is also very stereotypical. We treat them as emotionally immature, expecting them to “man up”, and therefore they are denied their right to their emotions.”

It could also be that men simply aren’t being asked. Brian Russell agreed to the interview because I was the first person to contact him to talk about these things.

It’s clear that the proposed changes to our parental leave system are simply good optics, nothing more:

  • It won’t help more Canadian parents access the leave. You still need your 600 hours to qualify, leaving part-time, low-income families out in the cold.
  • There isn’t more money being offered to families, leaving family to rely on other resources, provided they are available. Can you live on 33% for 18 months?
  • No true support for a national childcare policy. Pushing back leave to 18 months doesn’t address affordability. They want to encourage parents to return to work? Support daycare workers and subsidize daycare costs.
  • Lack of initiatives to support salary top-ups by companies.
  • What if you are low income, making less than $20,000 annually? There is no mention of coordinating benefits with existing social services to serve these families.

These are all things from a gender equity perspective, a lower threshold to qualify, a higher salary replacement rate, more support for low income families would benefit everyone.

But if we’re truly looking to increase father involvement? We need to have a dad only leave. How will we change the culture around childrearing without it?

Why wouldn’t the federal government just take Quebec’s model and adopt in nationally? It’s proven to work better than the current system. I’d like the answer to that one myself.

I’d like to leave you with one last thought. Russell states:
“If it’s anybody’s rights [parental leave], it’s the kids’ rights. Kids have a right to have healthy parents.  The kids are the end users in this discussion for me. The dads aren’t. I don’t support father involvement for the good of the men. All this stuff is about what can I do for my child to have the best environment possible. I support father involvement for the good of the men the kids need them to be.”

Brian Russell spoke about Father Involvement at the Second Babywearing in Canada Conference. His session is available here.

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Footnotes
1. Katherine Marshall. 2011. “Generational change in paid and unpaid work”. Canadian Social Trendsno. 92. Statistics Canada. Catalogue no.11-008-X. (accessed July 27, 2011) Visit website here.
2. Taken from a Statistics Canada report called Families, living arrangments and unpaid work.
3. Globe and Mail article called Seven things to know about Canada’s new parental leave benefits.
4. Interview with Brian Russell, coordinator of Dad Central Ontario, April 11, 2017.
5. IRPP Study, No. 63, March 2017. Report can be accessed here. Things left unsolved by both systems: Uneven access to top-ups, and poor coordination with social services. There are families who earn less than the basic income on your tax statement and once you hit $17,000 annual income you are effectively unable to take any sort of leave.
6. Taken from Statistics Canada report called Women and paid work.
7. IRPP Study, No. 63, March 2017, Parental Benefits in Canada: Which Way Forward?, p 21. Robson continues: In some cases, this could actually lead to a reduction in the frequency or duration of leave relative to what would have happened in the absence of a policy change. I am not able to determine, from the EICS data, trends in leave-taking by fathers outside the EI system or the duration of the leave taken. But to have a large impact, a benefit reserved for fathers would have to be large enough to induce them to increase their rate of leave-taking significantly, relative to what would otherwise have occurred. One of the places we can do this is in our maternity and parental leave provisions. But if you look at the proposed changes by the federal government, not one mention of adding a paternity leave has been included.

About the author

Débora Rodrigues

Débora Rodrigues editor

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