Canada launches parental sharing benefit to encourage equal childcare


The Canadian government has introduced a new parental sharing benefit this month (March 2019), to enable birth, adoptive and same-sex parents to share childcare responsibilities more equally.

The Employment Insurance (EI) parental sharing benefit, which was initially announced during Canada’s 2018 Budget, became effective from 17 March 2019. This increases the standard duration of parental benefits from 35 weeks to 40 weeks, and lengthens the extended duration of parental benefits from 61 weeks to 69 weeks.

Previously, neither parent could access more than 35 weeks in total for the standard duration of parental benefits, or more than 61 weeks in total for the extended duration; this required both parents to take time off in order to access some or all of the additional weeks.

The EI parental sharing benefit is available for parents making a claim for children born or placed for adoption on or after 17 March 2019; both parents must choose the same option, either standard or extended, and the benefits can be accessed at the same time or separately.

The government will also amend the Canada Labour Code, to ensure employees working in the federally regulated private sector will have job protection while receiving the parental sharing benefit. The changes will increase the maximum aggregate amount of parental leave that may be taken by more than one employee for the same birth or adoption from 63 weeks to 71 weeks; the maximum amount of leave for one employee will remain at 63 weeks.

The amendments will further improve the maximum aggregate amount of maternity and parental benefits taken by more than one employee from 78 weeks to 86 weeks; however, this will remain at 78 weeks for one employee taking maternity or parental leave.

The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, minister of families, children and social development, said: “As we’ve seen in Québec and in other jurisdictions that have implemented similar policies, this type of benefit has been proven to encourage a more balanced sharing of childcare responsibilities.

“This new measure will help us break down barriers to gender equality by making it easier for mothers to return to work sooner if they wish, reducing the wage gap between women and men and helping Canadians spend more time with their families.”

EI parental benefits, which were originally introduced in December 2017, allow either parent to take time off work to care for a newborn or newly adopted child. The government in Canada found this was primarily being taken by female employees; between 2016 and 2017, for example, 85% of all parental benefits claims were made by women. The changes to parental benefits, therefore, have been introduced to provide employees with greater flexibility to meet individual family and work situations.

The government expects 97,000 Canadian parents a year to utilise the new benefits.

The Honourable Mary Ng, minister of small business and export promotion and member of Parliament for Markham-Thornhill, added: “Modernising parental leave will help more women participate in the economy, while encouraging two-parent families to share in the responsibilities and joys of raising children.

“The families of Markham-Thornhill will benefit from more time spent with their children and all Canadians will benefit from yet another progressive policy that is making life easier.”