Tories promise new parents on leave could earn up to $1,000 without losing EI benefit

The federal Conservatives promised Monday to let new parents earn up to $1,000 per month without it affecting their maternity or parental leave payments.

The pledge builds on Tory Leader Erin O'Toole's explicit pitch to women voters a day earlier, when he vowed to boost support for parents following a miscarriage -- part of a "compassionate conservatism" the leader has been extolling ahead of the federal election on Sept. 20.

Many lower-income Canadians can't afford the reduced pay offered by the current federal maternity and parental benefits system, O'Toole told reporters Monday at a field on the outskirts of Ottawa. Employment insurance currently allows parents to receive up to 55 per cent of their earnings, to a maximum of $595 per week.

Vowing to "make our EI system more compassionate," O'Toole said new parents would be able to supplement those payments with extra earnings from remote or part-time work. Moms and dads could earn $1,000 per month without it affecting their payments, after which each dollar earned would result in a 50 per cent reduction in EI benefits.

"What we've announced today is on top of what is presently in the system," O'Toole said, as toddlers bounced on a playset behind him while parents stood watch. "What we want to see is our EI system modernized and more flexible to meet the needs of Canadians, particularly women that want to keep a foot in the workforce with respect to maternity and other decisions."

O'Toole also promised to expand the Canada Child Benefit to start at the seventh month of pregnancy instead of at childbirth.

Lindsay Tedds, an associate professor of economics at the University of Calgary, said O'Toole's "heart's in the right place" but parties need to push a more substantial overhaul to parental benefits.

"Our EI system lacks a significant amount of flexibility -- earning income on EI certainly being one of them," Tedds said.

She suggested a system based on hours rather than weeks in order to ease the return to work or better accommodate reduced work during late pregnancy and after a child is born.

"When you have an hours-based system, it means that you can return to work part-time while also getting your leave, so that this becomes a much more gradual adjustment from being on those benefits versus returning into the workforce," she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 13, 2021.