OTTAWA — Winnipeg MPs say the federal government isn’t living up to its feminist credentials because it’s short-changing pregnant women who have lost work.
"These mothers are going to spend their Mother’s Day stressing about not being able to afford their babies," said Conservative MP Raquel Dancho.
To qualify for 50 weeks of paid maternity leave, a woman must have worked 600 hours in the previous year. That rules out moms-to-be who are collecting Employment Insurance because of the pandemic, or substantially reduces the weeks they’re covered.
It's a glaring oversight because women have been laid off and have lost work at a higher rate than men, Dancho said.
"They’re not prioritizing, for some reason, pregnant women," said Dancho, who represents Kildonan-St. Paul.
"That’s pretty disappointing from what’s apparently the first feminist prime minister in Canada’s history, as he’s self-proclaimed."
Dancho recently held a virtual roundtable with pregnant women who said they’d shown up to work sick, or are planning to re-enter the workforce within weeks of giving birth.
"That’s just unacceptable. That 50-weeks maternity leave is a coveted, sacred Canadian right for women," said Dancho, who questioned Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough about the issue in Parliament.
"We know that there is more to be done," Qualtrough responded, framing it as part of a long-term revamp of employment insurance.
"We are committed to modernizing our EI system to be even more there for them."
NDP MP Daniel Blaikie has asked Qualtrough to come up with a solution, even if it’s a short-term fix.
"There’s more than one way to solve this problem; what you need is that will, and the volition on the part of government to make it a priority," said Blaikie, who represents Elmwood-Transcona.
The minister declined to be interviewed by the Free Press.
Instead, her department, Employment and Social Development Canada, noted that it had reduced the criteria for maternity leave to 120 working hours.
That doesn’t solve the issue for moms who currently receive EI, who can’t double-dip for mat leave.