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Soon-to-be-parents will be able to access extra weeks of leave three months earlier than expected.

This year’s federal budget announced additional weeks of “use-it-or-lose-it” leave for non-birthing parents, like fathers, and set June 2019 as the date it would come into effect.

The reason for the timing was largely technical in nature. The system that operates employment insurance, which includes special benefits like parental leave, had to be updated to handle the government’s new options.

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Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the system updates were finished faster than expected, and the timeline to add the new leave for dads was moved up to mid-March 2019. Only parents whose children are born or adopted after March 17 will be able to take advantage of the additional weeks.

The Liberals said that moving the date of implementation up by three months could benefit more than 24,000 people.

Parents will get five additional weeks if they opt for the traditional 12-month parental leave, or eight weeks under the new 18-month option introduced late last year, so long as the couple agrees to split the time off to care for a new child.

If the couple doesn’t share the time off, then the family won’t qualify for the extra weeks — making it a use-it or lose-it option.

Quebec has already dedicated leave for second parents, which provides up to five weeks of paid leave to new fathers that covers up to 70 per cent of their income.

Duclos said in an interview that the results in Quebec, his home province, are clear. In 2016, he said four in every five fathers took the time off, compared to about one in 10 in the rest of the country.

The Liberals have faced calls from experts, labour and business groups to make further changes to the parental leave system to allow more parents to qualify, boost the value of benefits paid out and ensure that single parents can also benefit from things like dedicated leave for second parents.

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There have also been calls to make leaves available to anyone who isn’t considered a primary caregiver, such as a grandparent.

Duclos says the government will continue to look at ways to modernize the employment insurance system.

“The answer is, of course, there will always be more to do. Our families and our economy are changing rapidly, and our EI system needs to adjust.”

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