By Dominique St-Jean, Women’s Director, PSAC-Quebec
As we know all too well, the lead-up to an election is a time when goodies are handed out to win votes. According to an announcement in Quebec City, the Liberal government’s plan to reform the parental leave plan (QPIP) to give parents more flexibility seems promising.
We know from a reliable source that the government’s decisions have not taken into account the suggestions made by the committees working in this field that were asked to advise the government. The official announcements will take place in the spring, and legislation will need to be enacted to implement these proposals. But what does this flexibility that is being touted actually mean?
Parents will be able to use their parental leave over a two-year period in a way that reflects their own situation. It is difficult to come out against the merit of this proposal, but how can we celebrate a program for which no additional funding has been earmarked? Not only that, but the program’s implementation will still be highly subjective, since it will depend entirely on the employer’s agreement. There will be no increase in the maximum number of days of paid leave, and neither the government nor employers will be asked to put in any money. In light of all this, who are the real winners here? You could say parents, if not for all the contortions they would have to go through to go back to work sooner, when the first year of a child’s life is so full and when children need so much attention from their parents.
The gradual return that is being proposed (a few days less per week) paves the way for yet more short-term contracts and casual and part-time employment as a way of meeting needs. In reality, this government has imposed several years of negative impacts and cuts to public services by practicing a neoliberalism that has negative consequences for women and families. We need look no further than the cuts to health care and education and to the publicly funded child care system, which will cost more in the coming years and which has tended to become weaker since its creation.
Even if they are not tainted, election goodies can leave a bitter taste if they fail to take into account real social issues such as the $15 minimum wage, the fight against systemic discrimination and the under-funding of community organizations and human rights advocacy groups. These remain vital issues, and they cannot be separated out from advancements in the living conditions of individuals, families and women in particular. This government is casting aside such matters as it creates a smokescreen with the other hand by making what are essentially insipid announcements about progress in the living conditions of Quebec workers.
Without a stronger commitment to supporting new parents in the first months of their children’s lives, we must remain critical of this type of announcement by the Couillard government.