Quebec fathers flock to parental leave

New dads five times more likely to take time off than rest of Canada

When it comes to fatherhood, the rest of Canada could learn a few things from Quebec.

That’s because fathers in Quebec are far more likely to take time off work to care for newborns, according to Statistics Canada. In 2001, 11 per cent of eligible fathers outside Quebec received parental leave benefits. In Quebec, that figure was 32 per cent — almost three times as high. But after the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP) was implemented in 2006, that figure skyrocketed to 56 per cent of eligible fathers.

So why the staggering difference between Quebec and the rest of the country? The numbers suggest the province’s general culture may influence overall participation, said Katherine Marshall, author of the Statistics Canada study Fathers’ Use of Paid Parental Leave.

Quebec tends to have more progressive social legislation compared to Canada overall. This affects how people and employers see social issues such as the conciliation of work and family — implying many employers in Quebec simply expect new fathers to take the leave, she said.

Better child-care programs in Quebec exemplify the province’s tendency to be more progressive on social issues and its policies are more supportive of working parents, said Andrea Doucet, professor of sociology at Carleton University in Ottawa and research collaborator at the Fatherhood Involvement Research Alliance (FIRA), a national alliance dedicated to research on father involvement.

A clear factor in the rising participation in Quebec was the introduction of QPIP. In 2005, Quebec reached an agreement with Ottawa to run its own parental leave program, which kicked in at the start of 2006. One main variation was the inclusion of a five-week, individual, non-transferable paternity leave paid at 70 per cent of earnings — also known as “daddy days.” Other tweaks included coverage for the self-employed, higher rates of pay for maternity and parental leave and no minimum hours worked to qualify.

More dads are taking leave in Quebec because there is no reason not to, what with daddy days set aside specifically for them, said Doucet. The parental benefits program (PBP) that operates in the rest of the country, by contrast, leaves it up to couples to negotiate who is taking the time off. Quebec is investing more in work-family conciliation in terms of parental leave and child care while the rest of Canada treats these issues as a private one.

In the workplace, fathers across Canada generally feel they have trouble justifying to employers their desire to be at home with their children, said Doucet.

“It’s difficult for men to step up when it is unusual in their workplace,” she said.

Fathers may be afraid employers will think they don’t take their job seriously if they take a longer leave, said Donna Lero, professor of sociology at the University of Guelph’s Centre for Families, Work and Well-Being in Guelph, Ont., and a collaborator of FIRA.

The federal PBP was altered in 2001 to increase the amount of shareable paid benefit weeks from 10 to 35 weeks and eliminate the second two-week unpaid waiting period. This accounts for why, outside of Quebec, dads have increased the amount of time they take off work from 11 to 17 weeks.

It will take another decade before the shareable leave becomes part of the overall Canadian culture, said Doucet. The shareable federal plan will take more time to become a social expectation because it doesn’t specifically give fathers their own time, she said. In Quebec, fathers’ leave integrated into the culture at a fast rate since it is a purposely designated time for dad. Fathers don’t have to fight to take the time with their family because “employers see it as a given,” said Doucet.

The engaged dad role has become part of the Quebecois culture, she said.

“Fathers have come to feel it is their right to take the designated leave, while in the rest of Canada, it is just viewed as a progressive idea,” she said.

“Canadian employers are still quite adverse in giving the green light to their employees,” said Marshall.

But the effect on the Quebec workplace of more fathers taking their designated leave is slight. It is a soft cost as most employers don’t give dads top-ups and, since it is a short leave, the worker usually doesn’t need to be replaced, said Lucie Paquet, Quebec market manager for Hewitt.

“The adjustments are smooth since the amount of time taken is significantly less,” said Paquet. As the leave is planned in advance, dads and employers can strategize to alleviate any possible inconvenience.

Two-thirds of men are still the higher earners in Canada, said Doucet. So a dad taking leave might result in a loss of income and be detrimental to a new family. And Statistics Canada’s study revealed 22 per cent of fathers nationally who were eligible for paid parental leave did not claim benefits because they had difficulty taking time off work.

It is apparent that “the more fathers go to their employer to take paid leave, the more employers will expect fathers to take the time off,” said Marshall.

“This is absolutely true in Quebec,” said Lucie Paquet. “Ten years ago, it was rare to see dads express a desire to take leave as it was fully expected the mother would take the full leave.”

Mylène Freeman is a student at McGill University in Montreal. She spent her summer working in the offices of Canadian HR Reporter, assisting with various editorial initiatives including HR Guide 2009, the vendor directory that will be distributed with the Dec. 1 issue.

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