Looking Beyond the Surface: An indepth review of parental benefits (2001 - 2009)

Women's Network PEI worked on improving access to maternity and parental benefits for all Canadians over an eight-year period, from 2001 to 2009. The work was completed in three phases of a project.

Phase I

In January 2001, Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) increased the parental benefits pay-out period to one year, for eligible women. It was thought that this increase in time at home in the first year of life would enable conditions for healthy child development. Upon closer examination, this new policy does not prove equitable for all women, especially those with non-standard work arrangements. This goal of this initiative was to examine the broad implications and the equitability of the new parental benefits legislation.

Phase II

The goal of this initiative was to explore policy options and recommendations regarding federal parental benefits legislation based on findingd of Phase I research, so that it is more equitable for all women, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized in our society.

The research conducted in the first phase of this project showed that even though positive changes are appreciated by some women and their families, it is a benefit not equally accessible to all women and their families. For example, this policy is not equitable for women working seasonal jobs, women who are employed part-time or underemployed, women with temporary job, women who hold more than one job, women who do contract work and cannot contribute to Employment Insurance (EI), and teen mothers, to name a few.

Atlantic Canada was the perfect place to start this review and consultation process. Both women and equality-seeking women's organizations were quick to be involved in the process and provide us with a glimpse of their experiences with this benefit. Seven key messages emerged from the focus group responses:

  • Many eligible parents cannot make full use of this valuable resource,
  • Many Atlantic Canada parents were either not eligible or found it difficult to take advantage of this benefit,
  • Access to adequately paid parental benefits plays a big part in decision-making to have children,
  • Access to adequately paid parental benefits impacts on the health of women, children and families,
  • Access to adequately paid parental benefits contributes to women’s economic and home equality,
  • Parents need more and better information about parental leave, and
  • There are inequities in the EI system that denies much needed support to many Atlantic Canadian children and families.

Phase III

This initiative addressed the issue of women’s economic autonomy and was built on our original research of the current parental benefits legislation and extensive consultation process. Our goal in this project was to communicate specific public policy change recommendations that will increase access to maternity and parental benefits and increase value of benefits for Canadian families.