New parental benefit will be arriving ‘in the coming months’

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The federal government is preparing to implement a new parental benefit that will offer parents who adopt or grow their families with the help of a surrogate more time at home with their baby.

Major reforms to employment insurance will be announced in the coming months and the overhaul will include a new 15-week parental benefit.

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said in an exclusive interview that a new adoptive parent benefit is being created and will include parents who welcome a child via surrogacy.

“It’s a matter of equity,” the minister said. “We need to make sure people bond and we heard that very loudly during our consultations on EI modernization that parents want this and we are going to deliver it for them.”

The Liberals promised during the 2019 federal election to introduce a 15-week leave for parents who adopt so that “everyone gets the same benefits,” but families growing with the help of a surrogate were excluded.

The promise was repeated in the Employment Minister’s 2021 mandate letter.

Years later, the changes still haven’t been implemented.

Under the current EI system, standard parental leave offers one parent up to 35 weeks of paid leave, or up to 40 weeks of leave shared between the parents. In addition, anyone who gives birth is eligible for up to 15 more weeks of maternity leave.

Asked whether the government is considering increases to the weekly EI maximums, Qualtrough said the government has been working to better understand how changes to EI payments affect employee and employer contributions.

“Absolutely all of that is on the table,” she said. “All of this is in the mix in terms of a modern approach is a lot more equitable, particularly for women.”

Intended parents Baden and Zane Colt have been advocating for an additional 15 weeks so they can spend more time with their adopted child, due in July.

“Really what we are looking for is to have all Canadians babies have the same opportunity from birth and that will be regardless of whether they are both to their parents, adopted or born through surrogacy,” said Baden Colt.

Dr. Jean Clinton, a physician and a professor in McMaster University’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neuroscience, said the science shows the more time parents can spend with newborns the better.

“What we know is what [babies] need is people who think the sun rises and sets on them,” she said. “I absolutely think that no matter how that baby, that gift, that precious one is brought to families they should have the opportunity to have a full, engaged, many, many, many weeks of time together.”

The Colts are hopeful they will get that extra time, but with their baby due in July the family isn’t overly optimistic the benefit will be available by then.

“I think it is going to be very quick for the government to act on that so we will see what happens,” said Zane Colt. “Hopefully for the second child, whenever that happens in the next few years, we will have it then.”

It’s unclear how soon the new benefit will be available. The federal budget will be tabled on March 28, but the employment minister wouldn’t say whether the EI reforms will be included.

“I will not scoop the Finance Minister but I can just say in the coming months and leave it at that,” Qualtrough said.

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