Canadian Parental Leave and Multiples

It’s Thursday, so I’m Crafting my Life! Today I’m talking about possibly the biggest challenges any parent faces when trying to find balance, which occurs with multiple births. I have the utmost respect for parents of twins or more. I think that anyone who’s cared for one baby can appreciate how much work must go into caring for two at the same time.

There are many countries that offer enhanced maternity and parental benefits to parents of multiples. In Sweden, for instance, parents share an additional 180 days of leave if they have twins, increasing the total leave from 480 days to 660 days, or nearly 22 months. Canada, however, does not. Here is a quote taken from a government website answer FAQs about Employment Insurance (EI), the system through which maternity and parental leave is administered:

If I have or adopt more than one child at once, do I get more money?

No, the weekly EI payment and the number of weeks to be paid remain the same.

The idea was that maternity and parental benefits were paid for each pregnancy, and not for each child. So if you had twins or triplets you received exactly the same benefits as any other parent. However, an Ottawa couple recently challenged that rule, and won.

The crux of their argument centres around parental leave. Maternity leave, which comprises the first 17 weeks of the year-long leave, is reserved for the exclusive use of the birth mother. The remaining 35 weeks of parental leave may be shared, in whole or part, by both parents. The total amount of parental leave claimed by both parents cannot exceed 35 weeks. So if my husband takes 10 weeks then I can only take 25. The parents in this case each applied for 35 weeks of parental leave. The mother applied for one of the baby girls, and the father applied for the other one. He was initially rejected, since the law does not provide for this situation. They appealed, and a court finally decided to allow the father’s parental leave claim.

This decision applies only to the couple in question, and is said to not be precedent-setting. It remains to be seen if the government appeals the decision, and what the long-term implications will be. Even if this does become policy it’s likely that many families would not be able to take this much parental leave for financial reasons. And there would be many cases where one or both parents would not qualify for EI. All the same, this is definitely an interesting development, and I am sure that parents of multiples are taking note.

The biggest objection that someone might make to the policy change is that it is somehow unfair. I don’t see it that way. The mother in this case is still receiving only 52 weeks of leave, just as I did. She will not get any additional time with her children. She will get additional time with her partner, which is great. However, if they had these babies separately they would receive a total of 104 weeks of leave and 100 weeks of EI benefits, instead of the 87 weeks of leave and 85 weeks of combined EI benefits they are receiving. Those of us with singletons are really still coming out ahead.

The father, Christian Martin, said a similar thing in an email:

“It is not about multiple-birth parents getting more benefits than parents of single births, but rather to get the equivalent treatment since there are more babies to care for. Two sets of benefits are normally given to the same claimant for two separate babies if they come a couple of years apart.”

The thing that most impresses me about this case is the tenacity of the parents. They saw a rule that they felt was unfair, and they fought to change it. I think that many of us aren’t so proactive. We might complain about the way things are, but we don’t actually step outside of our comfort zone to advocate. I know that I rarely write to my elected representatives or engage in activism, even on issues that I care deeply about like breastfeeding support, environmentalism, or maternity leave. It’s a question that I’m carrying around with me a lot right now, as I consider where I will go and what I will do next.

Am I willing to step outside of my comfort zone? Am I willing to engage with others, stick my neck out, and fight for change? I’m still figuring out the answer, but I hope that it’s ‘yes’.

(If you want to know more about how maternity leave works in Canada you might want to read my post on Canadian Maternity Leave, or get my super-cool guide, which are more comprehensive and general.)

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  1. It’s a good question. I know I’m proactive at a local level when I’m directly involved, but I’m not sure I’d take that to a, say, national level, and engage in activism to try and change a rule/ a cultural taboo that affects many people in the wrong way. I was very “proactive” when it came to change the way pregnancy loss patients were cared for at my hospital, and I did make a substantial difference there. But I never took that to the next level up, though I’m trying to figure out a way of doing that through my blog (which, really, is what you’re doing with regards to mat leave, so you are stepping outside of your comfort zone!)
    .-= Francesca´s last post ..French fall ideés =-.

  2. PS I never took a look at your super-cool guide: when I realized I had to download it, I got concerned that my super-slow-“fast” connect would not be happy with it.
    .-= Francesca´s last post ..French fall ideés =-.

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  1. […] eligible to share 35 weeks of paid parental benefits. Last year one couple, the parents of twins, challenged this rule. They argued that the mother should be eligible to claim parental leave to care for one child, and […]

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