As of Jan. 1, Quebec employees and employers will begin paying higher premiums, for a total of $289 million a year, for parental leave, supporting what government officials call Canada’s most generous leave program.
Canada’s federal program covers 55 per cent of salaries to a maximum of $39,000 over 50 weeks. Quebec opted out of the federal leave program but the payroll deductions paid by the average Quebecer will increase to cover the cost of the $1.035-billion provincial plan.
Workers who earn $30,000 will pay $125 a year, up $23, while those who make $60,000 will pay $239, up $107.
Quebec’s program increases the maximum insurable salary to $57,500 and offers two plans: coverage for 75 per cent of a parent’s salary for 43 weeks or 70 per cent of the salary for 25 weeks followed by 55 per cent for another 55 weeks.
The plan covers all employees, including the self-employed, and provides a paternity leave option.
Employment and Social Solidarity Minister Michelle Courchesne refused to call the Regime Quebecois d’assurance parentale (RQAP) premiums a tax.
“It is not a tax,” she said. “It’s an insurance rate and there’s a benefit that will come back to you directly.”
During the 2003 provincial election, Jean Charest’s Liberals promised not to raise taxes and the new program has garnered a lot of criticism from business groups. However, Charest defended the program and the cost to workers and employers, saying that business and labour groups supported the idea from the beginning.
“Let’s be clear: if (Quebecers) don’t pay when they pay their premiums, they will pay elsewhere,” Charest said last week.
“Let’s stop fooling ourselves — as if there is a government somewhere that prints money. The government is not an abstraction. The government is Quebecers who pay taxes.”