Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Chantal Braganza is a writer based in Toronto and a senior editor at Chatelaine.

Earlier this year, my co-workers sent me off on a maternity leave with a potato chip toast, bringing their favourites – shrimp crisps, Miss Vickie’s Salt and Vinegar, Ruffles Double Crunch Ketchup – to the Google Hangout. It felt nice to talk about snacks instead of, say, anxieties around caring for a newborn during a global pandemic. I also felt fortunate. Looking forward to returning to work with a group of people I like spending time with is a blessing in and of itself. But that I’m able to take a leave at all is also a privilege – particularly at a time when the social and economic upheaval of COVID-19 has thrown people’s plans around children and parental leave up in the air.

This shouldn’t be the case, but the truth is parental benefits in this country have always been flawed. The pandemic didn’t reveal this; it emphasized the reasons why it needs to change.

Story continues below advertisement

The first parental work-leave protections in Canada were introduced in 1921 – an unpaid six weeks, in British Columbia, and for women specifically. Paid leave as we know it now wasn’t a national benefit until 1971, when the federal government expanded its employment insurance program to include 15 weeks for pregnant and newly postpartum mothers. Not everyone loved its implied idea that raising children was a form of economically valuable labour, i.e. “real” work.

“At a time when unemployment is high and likely to continue so,” The Globe and Mail’s editorial board wrote at the time, “all available money should be directed to alleviating real need and not frittered away as bonuses to those who have neither earned nor need them.” It took more than a decade and a six-week mail strike by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers for the idea of paid parental leave to truly go mainstream, and another 20 years afterwards for the benefit to expand to a year. In 2017 the federal government extended it to 18 months, albeit the same amount of benefits are stretched to cover that additional time.

While Canada loves to compare our parental leave program to the United States, which federally only requires up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, we actually don’t measure up all that well globally. We rank 23rd among the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries in paid leave length, with places such as Japan, Sweden, South Korea and Portugal far outstripping us in terms of paternal- or second-parent-specific leave. But what really sends us further down the slope is how these benefits are calculated and distributed, and to whom.

Since Canada’s paid leave is distributed through Employment Insurance you have to qualify for EI to get it. Generally, middle-to-high income families tend to benefit from it the most, and therefore participate in it. This is because the program pays participants only up to 55 per cent of their earnings, which for many amounts to a monthly income well below the cost of living. Most people in freelance, contract and shift work also have a hard time qualifying for it, if they qualify for it at all.

Not only does a parent’s access to leave have implications for their choices concerning, say, pediatric guidelines around nursing and sleeping, it also all but ensures families who can’t take advantage of parental leave end up spending more on daycare, often at the higher infant enrolment rates.

This is our status quo at the best of times; the past year has been the opposite. The pandemic suddenly put a massive number of Canadians out of work, and meant early on that many expecting parents suddenly wouldn’t qualify for mat/pat leave under its usual hours-worked requirement. Under the eventually-established Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), many households didn’t receive the amount of weekly benefit they’d otherwise have received, or waited months for the parental leave they did qualify for to be paid out. Some families even relied on loans and credit cards to make ends meet while waiting for delayed payments.

Last October, researchers acknowledged these effects in a COVID-specific review of our country’s mat leave program for the journal Canadian Public Policy. We know that women, particularly racialized women and women in service and care-oriented industries, haven’t economically recovered alongside their white and male counterparts. “The already wide gap between parental-leave-rich and parental-leave-poor households has implications for which infants and young children receive financially supported parental care time,” the authors wrote. “This divide may deepen during and after the pandemic, especially for lower-income, racialized, new immigrant, and Indigenous families.”

Story continues below advertisement

One way of imagining better parental leave would be comparing the rest of Canada with Quebec, which administers its own benefits. While leave is still tied to employment, the requirements are less stringent (a parent needs to have earned $2,000 during the qualifying period) and pay more: as much as 75 per cent of the parent’s original income, up to an income of $83,500 this year.

Another approach – one I believe in – is to untether leave benefits from employment insurance. A new parent’s ability to participate in child care wouldn’t be tied to their wage history at all. That 1971 editorial disparaging paid mat leave may sound like a sexist take borne of its time, but treating parental leave benefits as an interruption to the “real” work so-called deserving parents should otherwise be doing isn’t all that more evolved. Domestic work is a historically un- and underpaid form of labour unto itself, a socially and economically valuable service our society relies on.

If we want to imagine a future beyond this pandemic in which people of all means still want to have and raise children, we need to pay attention to more than just revamping education and child care. Better parental leave needs to be part of that future, too.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies