Modern Mothers in Canada “Making It Work”

Mother’s Day is just around the corner, a time when Canadians of all ages recognize and honour mothers, grandmothers and, increasingly, great-grandmothers. As women across Canada – including new and expectant mothers – continue to increase their presence in the workforce, families, communities and policy-makers are adapting and reacting to provide flexibility for working moms.

Flexible workplaces helping working moms manage caregiving responsibilities

New and expectant mothers in Canada are increasingly engaged in the workforce, many of whom also provide care to ill and injured family members. Research shows that workplace flexibility is helping moms manage their multiple responsibilities, which in turn can have a positive impact on family well-being.

  • In 2016, the labour force participation rate of mothers whose youngest child was under age 6 was 73%, more than double the rate in 1976 (36%).((Canadian Institute of Child Health, “Module 8, Section 2: Labour Force Participation Rate,” The Health of Canada’s Children and Youth: A CICH Profile (2018). Link: http://bit.ly/2oq4xyZ.))
  • In 2012, 72% of surveyed women said they were satisfied with their work–life balance – the rate was significantly higher for those with a flexible schedule (75%) than for those without a flexible schedule (63%).((Statistics Canada, “Satisfaction with Work–Life Balance: Fact Sheet,” Spotlight on Canadians: Results from the General Social Survey, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 89-652-X (page last updated August 12, 2016). Link: http://bit.ly/1S7H2nb.))
  • In 2012, 3 in 10 women were caregivers, 1 in 6 of whom spent 20 or more hours per week providing care.((Maire Sinha, “Portrait of Caregivers, 2012,” Spotlight on Canadians: Results from the General Social Survey, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 89-652-X (page last updated November 30, 2015), http://bit.ly/1jxgAAm.))
  • In 2012, 63% of working mothers who were also caregivers said they were satisfied with their work–life balance (compared with 73% among fathers).((According to Statistics Canada, this is in part because “women are more likely than men to provide care to a family member or friend suffering from a long-term health condition. In addition, those caregivers provide more hours of care on average.” Link: https://bit.ly/1S7H2nb.))

Learn more in A Snapshot of Women, Work and Family in Canada and Women, Caregiving and Work in Canada.

New benefit options providing flexibility to new and expectant working mothers

A number of changes to Canada’s Employment Insurance (EI) maternity and parental benefits((These changes do not apply in Quebec, which has followed the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP) since 2006.)) program went into effect December 3, 2017, providing more flexibility to working mothers (and fathers) through more options regarding the timing and duration of the benefit period.((Qualifying standards remain in place: workers require 600 hours of paid employment in the previous year to be eligible, and benefits are generally paid at 55% of average weekly earnings, up to a cap. As of January 1, 2018, the maximum yearly insurable earnings is $51,700 (a maximum amount of $547 per week). Link: https://bit.ly/2IMJv5g.))

  • Parents can now choose an extended parental benefits option, which allows them to receive their EI parental benefits over a period of up to 18 months at a benefit rate of 33% of average weekly earnings. This extends the duration of the benefit period but decreases the benefit rate, which stand at 12 months and 55% of average weekly earnings, respectively.((The potential overall benefit hasn’t changed: they either can be used up over 12 months or the same amount of money can be stretched out over 18 months. Parents must choose between the standard or extended option when they first apply for EI benefits, and are “locked in” once they do so.))
  • Expectant mothers are also now able to file for benefits up to 12 weeks before their due date – four weeks earlier than the previous eight-week limit (no additional weeks are available).

Learn more in Webinar Content: Changes to EI Special Benefits and Caring Enough to Flex, Flexing Enough to Care.

 


Published on May 13, 2018




Facing Death: Emerging Trends in Death and Dying in Canada

Emily Beckett

Throughout Canada’s history, the experience of death and dying has changed significantly for families and their communities. Across generations, evolving social, cultural and medical trends have shaped family experiences with death, be they shifts in the causes of death, progressive practices in medicine and care at the end of life or social norms and customs surrounding death that are perpetually in transition. Throughout all this, families have adapted and reacted, finding new ways of mourning the loss of loved ones, and acknowledging and celebrating their lives and their legacies.

To explore developments in the experience of death and dying in Canada, the Vanier Institute of the Family published Family Perspectives: Death and Dying in Canada, authored by writer, speaker and retired Carleton University professor Dr. Katherine Arnup. An update to the original 2013 edition, this conversation catalyst explores diverse family experiences with death while encouraging families to have conversations about death and end-of-life care planning. While these topics are important to the well-being of dying people and their families, many find it difficult to discuss end-of-life subjects with their loved ones and health care providers. However, the topic has been brought to the forefront of public discourse, fuelled by population aging and the legalization of medical assistance in dying (MAID) in June 2016.

With this silence broken, the ways that families across Canada recognize, accept and react to death have changed. People are finding new ways to confront their mortality, face death and celebrate the lives of those they care about, as new opportunities for connection and communication are now possible thanks to social media and online life. These changes are driven by individuals, families and communities – all of which intersect, interact with and have an impact on an ever-changing policy landscape. By exploring some of the new and emerging ways people think about and manage death and end-of-life care planning, much can be learned about how families in Canada are adapting and reacting to death in the current climate.

Death cafés

One new trend that provides an opportunity to confront death is the creation and popularization of death cafés. In 2004, Swiss-born anthropologist Bernard Crettaz hosted a small gathering called café mortel to talk about death. The concept was picked up and popularized by Londoner Jon Underwood, who hosted his first death café in his East Hackney home is 2011. Since then, more than 6,000 death cafés across 55 countries have been held. Though many informal death cafés exist, only those planned by individuals associated with Underwood’s organization can use the title “Death Café.”

The idea [behind death cafes] is to “demystify” death and help people face their fears by facilitating conversation, thus helping to mitigate people’s fears about death and erode the taboo on the subject.

A death café is a gathering of strangers who connect online to come together over tea and cake to discuss death. Participants are separated into tables of four or five with a list of potential conversation starters. The ages of participants vary, ranging from youths to seniors. Most people in attendance have some first-hand experience with death or have had a serious illness themselves, but it isn’t a requirement. Death cafés have few rules – no promotions of services or merchandise and no orthodoxy. These gatherings provide an opportunity to confront and air out our fears regarding death and examine our own desires for the end of our lives. The idea is to “demystify” death and help people face their fears by facilitating conversation, thus helping to mitigate people’s fears about death and erode the taboo on the subject.

Managing death in a digital age

With communications technology rapidly evolving and a growing share of Canadians connecting and staying in touch online, it’s no surprise that this influences how people respond to major life events such as death – a reality highlighted in Family Perspectives: Death and Dying in Canada. As social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have become ubiquitous only in recent years, our norms, expectations and sense of propriety surrounding death in the “digital age” are still in their infancy. For example, searching for the “#funeral” hashtag on Instagram reveals people’s diverse ways of acknowledging and sometimes celebrating the lives of recently passed family members. However, it also provides images that many people might feel “cross the line” when it comes to respecting the feelings and privacy of the deceased and their families. As part of our new conversation of death, discussing boundaries and appropriate ways to intersect our grief with an increasingly public life on social media is imperative.

As social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have become ubiquitous only in recent years, our norms, expectations and sense of propriety surrounding death in the “digital age” are still in their infancy.

Apps such as WeCroak, which sends five notifications at random times during the day to remind users of their eventual death (emulating Bhutanese tradition), represent another way people are using technology to face death. The idea behind WeCroak is to remind people of their mortality and, in doing so, remind them of the value of life.

As fewer Canadians identify with and practise religion, as seen over the last few decades, an increasing number are turning toward non-religious spaces, such as funeral homes, for end-of-life services. As with individuals, places such as funeral homes are also using technology to help people manage death. Recognizing that Canadians are more spread out and mobile than in the past, some now offer video recording or live-streaming of funeral services to reach friends and family members who cannot physically be there to pay their respects.

Death doulas

With a vast majority of Canadians expressing a desire to die at home, many are turning to death doulas (also known as death midwives or soul midwives) to make this a reality for themselves or a loved one. As described in Family Perspectives: Death and Dying in Canada, death doulas are available before, during and after death to support the dying person and their family through the process (much like birth doulas). There is no one particular job for a death doula other than to facilitate the wishes of their client and client’s family. This may include aiding in planning or coordinating end-of-life care, providing emotional support to grieving family and friends through the process, arranging the funeral service, celebration of life or burial rituals, and tending to the body.

Though death doulas are informally trained (mainly by other doulas), some are trained as nurses and can provide medical assistance to the dying. While certification programs are available, no formal government-approved certification currently exists in Canada.

Community mourning and celebrations of life

The decline in the share of Canadians identifying with religion has also shaped where and how we grieve. As services were typically held in churches or religious settings in past generations, a growing number of families are saying goodbye to loved ones in non-religious settings, such as community centres, secular sacred spaces, restaurants, hockey rinks and private homes – locations that may have significantly more meaning to the deceased than a religious place of worship. Many people are passing on events that focus on mourning loss (e.g. funerals, wakes) in favour of celebrations of life. Some are even hosting “living wakes” to honour dying persons and their lives while they are still around to receive the gratitude and respect of their family and friends.

Many people are passing on events that focus on mourning loss (e.g. funerals, wakes) in favour of celebrations of life.

The manner in which people are laid to rest is also changing, and people now have more opportunities than in the past to choose what to do with their remains, with some opting for methods that align with their personal values, preferences and aspirations. For example, green burials (when the body is laid directly in a shroud or simple pine box to limit environmental impact) and biodegradable urns that facilitate the growth of a plant or tree from among the ashes could enable a nature lover who was environmentally conscious in life to maintain that in death. There are even memorial spaceflights available to send a symbolic portion of someone’s remains to land among the stars, on the moon or beyond.((Lauren O’Neil, “You Can Now Be Buried on the Moon – Even If You’re Not Rich,” CBC News (August 25, 2015). Link: https://bit.ly/1isVd82.))

The topic of death and dying in Canada will become increasingly important to families, organizations and policy-makers in coming decades, as the same factors that pushed it to the forefront (e.g. population aging, legislation) are projected to continue.((Learn more in Vanier Institute of the Family, A Snapshot of Population Aging and Intergenerational Relationships in Canada (June 2017).)) While these are difficult topics for people to discuss, they are unquestionably important, and an essential step toward becoming a society that doesn’t defy or deny the universal experience of death.

While death may be a medical fact of life, death is also a human issue, a social issue, an issue that impacts each and every one of us. When we can embrace our deaths … perhaps we can begin to create a culture that truly values living and dying.

– Katherine Arnup, Family Perspectives: Death and Dying in Canada

 

Family Perspectives: Death and Dying in Canada examines the evolution of death and dying in Canada across generations, the desires and realities of families surrounding death and dying, the role of families in end-of-life care and its impact on well-being. Through current data and trend analysis, personal interviews with caregivers and families, and personal reflections from hospice volunteering from author Dr. Katherine Arnup, this study discusses death and dying within the current and emerging social, cultural and policy landscapes.

 

Download Family Perspectives: Death and Dying in Canada


Emily Beckett is a professional writer living in Ottawa.

Published on May 9, 2018




Alan Mirabelli: Hub Hospice and the Palliative Care Experience

Alan Mirabelli was the Vanier Institute of the Family’s Executive Director of Administration, who retired in 2007 after more than 30 years of service. He was diagnosed with cancer the first time in 2015 and again in 2017. Throughout his treatment and following his terminal diagnosis, he continued to be of service, mentoring many emerging artists and seasoned photographers, community leaders and elected officials. His characteristic kindness, generosity and mentorship had a significant impact on many people across Canada and abroad.

Over the years, Alan gave countless presentations, keynote addresses and lectures, and he facilitated many workshops with diverse groups in hotel ballrooms, quaint retreats and boardrooms and conference rooms. His final presentation was hosted by Hub Hospice Palliative Care, a unique community-based hospice-at-home organization in Almonte, Ontario that Alan came to know, as a recipient of their caring and compassionate services. He spoke to a large audience of community members, academics, health care professionals, end-of-life service providers/volunteers and their families. You could hear a pin drop as people clung to his wise and perceptive words. Alan invited people to donate to Hub Hospice, and died only weeks after giving the presentation.

This article is based on Alan’s presentation, which has been edited for print.


 

Hello, how are you?

In the Maasai culture, the common greeting is quite different – and it leads to a different result. Their greeting is, “How are the children? Are the children well?” By paying close attention to greetings, you can learn a lot about what matters to a people. When you consider the Maasai greeting, there’s a vision in the culture that goes beyond today. It’s not just a casual, passing remark – it reflects a sense of care and a sense of direction for the culture’s future.

When you live in a culture in which you are truly vulnerable, where there aren’t systems of health care and they don’t have all the things we take for granted, this expression of care is from the heart. The answer they expect is that all of the children are doing well, not just some of the children.

I use that story to point out the difference in cultures where care is expressed daily, and people aren’t simply asking if the children are well. What they’re doing, in fact, is preparing the next generation to look after them when they’re old. It’s anticipating the needs; if you don’t acculturate the young people and society to be interdependent and of service, you might not have access to the things you need in your times of vulnerability.

I think it’s very appropriate to what I want to tell you today, because it’s why Almonte has become my home since 1981. I have felt the daily care and concern for the future. It’s different in Almonte. It’s developed in a manner that’s consistent with what I see in the Maasai and the question of the greeting.

This presentation was prepared by me at 3:00 a.m. this morning. There is a reason for that. Some of you know me personally, and you know what an incredibly positive journey I have been on since being diagnosed with cancer.

I have been filtering things so that they become meaningful to somebody else, to other people who have not had this experience themselves. From these notes, which are only eight pages, triple-spaced, I could talk for 10 hours about this community of Almonte and about the people who have supported me thus far and will continue to do so until the end.

On a personal note, if you hear a negative undertone anywhere in this presentation, it is an accident of a mind. It is because it is becoming fogged. This afternoon is really tough for me mentally. If you hear any negativity, discount it. My heart is 100% positive and enlivened by the emotions, which are felt with joy and gratitude.

“If you don’t acculturate the young people and society to be interdependent and of service, you get none of the things you require and need in your times of vulnerability.”

Now I was asked to introduce myself, and rightly so, because anything I’ve done professionally – the fact that I was doing A, B, C in the past, giving hundreds of speeches per year – doesn’t help here. This is the toughest one.

What makes this conversation – and it is a conversation – is that I’d really like you to interrupt and ask a question when it is appropriate for you to ask that question. It is the equivalent of you saying, “Are the children well?” This matters to me. I want to understand you.

What makes this a unique case? Well, it is a case of one, me. You can diagnose this old guy on your own. I am a single person. Most people who turn to hospice turn because spouses and family members need the support as they go through the process of watching somebody they care about die.

By the way, you will not hear, as much as I can help it, euphemisms come out of my mouth. You will not hear of someone “passing” here. You die – that’s it. Euphemisms keep us from focusing on what really matters; and we have a culture that will talk at length about children and how much goes into that end of life, but we never want to talk about the other side.

I knew this day was coming since March 11, 1948. I didn’t know how and when I would die, I just knew that one day I would. There it is.

The second reason I’d like to talk about this is I’ve had the luxury of time – and it is a luxury. To be told you have cancer and you have four to six months (now down to one), it gives me time to say thank you, and to not do all of the things that my head says I have to. It is lovely to see my lawyer here, because she took care of the logistics around death and dying in the first week after I received the terminal diagnosis. Now I can speak from the heart, which is the only thing that matters to me. It really is.

As I said, I’m a case of one. I’m a single person, and I’m male. Usually there are people who surround you during times of illness, such as a spouse, who provides support and helps arrange for care. I’m very clear about how I want to leave this earth. I needed to find the people who would help me get there in the manner that I chose, not in the manner in which they wished to impose upon me. Therein lies a very nice bridge in this community.

I knew Hub Hospice existed, but I had a completely false image of what it was. I thought it was bricks and mortar, and they parked me in there, and I’d live my last days there. It’s a far more intelligent system than that, for which I am grateful. It is just what I need. I want a chance to express my gratitude, to be able to say “Thank you.” I want a chance to encourage the development of this model of care further in ways that really are meaningful not only to me, but to the family I choose to define for myself.

The other thing that this journey has taught me is that with the help of the volunteers that I have – and I have unbelievable volunteers, they’re really friends on call; that’s the way I can describe them – the experience that you get, through no other way than by doing what they do, is not an intellectual exercise but very much an emotional one. From my point of view, because I’ve had the luxury of time and I have a very clear vision of how I want to leave, I could ask for what I wanted clearly.

“Euphemisms [about death] keep us from focusing on what really matters, and we have a culture that will talk about children and how much goes into the beginning of life, but we never want to talk about the other end of life.”

Choosing Love and Life

Now I want to talk about why that matters. Just because I’ve been diagnosed with terminal cancer doesn’t mean that I choose to stop living! I wanted to find volunteers who, if asked, would help me live – fully – not watch me die and hold my hand while I do it. That time will come, but that is not what I want right now. As some of you know, art and photography is a lifeline for me. It is a meditation. It is everything that feeds my soul. I wanted two people who, if I said, “Could you drive me somewhere,” would say, “What time?” And they both have.

If I need to go downtown because I want to get something from the store, even though I’m weakening, “What time and when?” You know, just getting that opportunity to nourish that little piece of me has done more to enliven me. These days are getting harder and harder, but both of the volunteers are interested in what I’m doing, so the conversations become real and not sort of passing time.

When I was clear in asking for what I wanted, they were able to respond in a manner that works for them and works for me, and I tell you, it is what keeps me going every day. Every day is a surprise and they’re part of it somehow. Whether it is anticipating the next visit, arranging the next visit or outlining what we might do – and it might have to change on that day because I’m not up to it – that possibility is so vital to me.

Life can be just two emotions: fear and love. The moment I got the diagnosis, I chose the latter. It could be morbid. Ultimately for me, choosing that was probably the wisest thing I could do because it led to an increased sense of spirit. The number of people who have texted me and emailed me and said, “You’re showing courage doing that.” I said, “There’s no courage involved. It is what I want.” It is who I am. Why should I change that?

Let me switch tracks for a minute. Some of you know that I used to work for the Vanier Institute of the Family as Co-Director with Bob Glossop: an incredible 30-year history. I thought a number of things had changed over those years, but either we haven’t perceived them or if we did perceive them, we have chosen to ignore them at our peril.

We’re making assumptions at the level of public policy when it comes to care, possibly at local policy, in the service sector, about who is home to look after people – anybody – and provide the care they need. If you think about families becoming smaller and the demands of the economy, a need has been created for community groups like Hub Hospice. This evolution in our families and communities wasn’t sudden.

These are changes that are continuing. The first institution in society that reacts to change is never government, it is never our public institutions – it is always family. If you can’t make ends meet at the end of the month, you do one thing and one thing only, you send another member of the family out to work. How many double-income families do we have here? A lot of them. Who is home to provide care? Grandparents now are active, and they are not necessarily available to provide care.

Finally, families in the 1940s had on average five people in the household, but this has since fallen to three and it continues to fall. For many single people, there’s really nobody available to provide care.

If you look at mobility rates (how often people move), 50% of Canadians move every five years between cities, actually between streets, cities, provinces, countries. Try that with a bush and see how long it survives. When there is no one, who do you call when you’re told you’re terminally ill? Who?

Well, my family is no different. I have one sister who lives five hours away and one son who has five children under 11 years of age. So the question is, how do I arrange for the things that I know I would need, when I know I want them in a particular manner so that I don’t become a victim of cancer?

In my case, I learned about Hub Hospice services that were available in in my community by accident. That’s why I offered to make this presentation: to help others learn about the exemplary services available. I heard about the hospice service and how it works; I chose to reach out and make contact because, for me, it was an element of hope.

“Life can be summed up in two emotions: fear and love. The moment I got the diagnosis, I chose the latter.”

Getting the News: “It’s Terminal”

I am going to stop here for a moment and describe what it was like to get the news that you have a terminal illness.

In April 2015, I was diagnosed with throat cancer. The oncologists in the medical system in general were superbly amazing. Everyone I met through my treatment showed me care and compassion.

The compassion part is what I was looking for. I don’t expect it from the medical system, as well organized as it is. This isn’t a blame game; there are simply too many patients, too many sick people, too many fears. There’s got to be some middle ground to transition to the human side. Then when you try to invoke it from the medical system, of course, you get their impatience, and I understand it. However, when you really need the health care system, it really comes through for you and there’s nothing better.

I was standing in the Mill Street Bookstore, talking to Mary (the store owner) when my cellphone rang. It was my family physician, who had received the radiology report. He asked if I could talk. It is not very often that you get a doctor calling you directly, and also hard to get them back on the phone, so I said yes as I stood in front of Mary. He told me that my cancer had metastasized and was terminal.

Mary knew something was serious, and she looked at my face with care and compassion. That look kept me grounded. Without knowing the details, she understood that something real and important had happened, so right there – in the community – that first moment of human connection made a difference that day and has ever since.

I thanked my doctor and I was taken aback for no more than 30 seconds – literally. It didn’t take any longer than that. It was: This is it… this is the road I am now on.

The metaphor I have used to describe this journey is my life being a run-on sentence. I do what I do, and I don’t give it much thought, because it is who I am. Then suddenly I got that call and it was like somebody put a comma in that sentence. That’s what I felt. In seeing that comma – which was my diagnosis – I was at a point of choice: What am I going to do after the comma and before the period? The choice took a nanosecond. It was that clear.

I then walked out the door and ran into a friend whom I knew through photography. He said, “You look a little white.” I said, “Well, I just got this news…” My fear of cancer just washed away. That point of choice was vital for me. For somebody else, it might take longer. But here was my concern, which had nothing to do with dying, end of life or my physical well-being: This will be a huge strain on my family. How do I manage that?That was my first reaction.

My second concern was that our health care system, as good as it is, has become so complicated. I had no idea where to start. I needed a navigator from the point of view of the system. I knew I needed help. But what I also knew was, and in my state, I’m a very emotional man by nature. I have no fears of expressing it. You’ll see me cry somewhere along the way. I’m very comfortable with that. But I was also concerned about where I would get the emotional support I needed without overtaxing the people in my life… my small, busy family… the people who care about me… the people who will be caring for me? Yet I knew that, if I was going to get through this with the joy and the sense of purpose that I have, I would need a circle of support around me.

“My life has been a run-on sentence… Then suddenly I got that call and somebody put a comma in that sentence… What am I going to do after the comma and before the period?”

What that led to was a question of how one prepares for death long before one faces it. I lived with depression throughout my adult life. Medication wasn’t the solution for me. So instead I took a year-long sabbatical and focused on developing a spiritual approach to my life, a life that you see in my photographs. My photographs are based on the beauty I see and the joy it brings to me. I share my images so they bring joy to others. It is a short way of saying how I have lived the last 20 years. I’ve chosen to live with daily meditations, focusing on meaning, creating meaningful relationships or receiving meaning by mentoring a sincere group of photographers who have given me purpose and joy in my life.

Jamming on the Brakes

I will give you some advice: don’t get involved in the love/fear debate, but develop an attitude and a set of actions that really do invite you in and provide clarity of what matters. My life was moving forward like everyone else’s, at considerable speed, when with that phone call from my doctor, it was like somebody had jammed on the brakes: the whole world continued to move forward, and I was right there at the windshield, stopped. It felt like I was pressed against this windshield and that I was alone. It is the aloneness that got me, and the burden that I’d become on others.

I can’t describe the aloneness because it is not loneliness. It is a wholeness that haunts. You want to say something to somebody because they mattered and yet you haven’t got the voice. You haven’t got the capacity to articulate something that is life-giving. It is a very strange feeling. Then I started to think, What if I were married? All of everything I’ve encountered as the patient has been absolutely superb. Absolutely superb! If I need something, I can probably figure it out. I can see if I can find somebody who can point me in the right direction.

I thought for that moment, at the windshield, that what I’m feeling has got to be better than what a spouse or family member is feeling, watching their relationship of a lifetime just fade into the haze in front of their eyes. Feeling that aloneness and that incapacity to make a significant difference beyond a certain point, I just couldn’t imagine.

 

Hub Hospice in Almonte: Authentic Kindness

When I first learned about Hub Hospice in Almonte and its unique approach to hospice at home, I thought, Somebody really thought this through. They understood the experience of the family caregiver; they started there in the family and the home. They understood the patient, but they also understood the spouse.

I cannot imagine the conversations around the boardroom table that developed the vision that created this unique hospice model. Having negotiated many a vision and tried to implement them, they can be a nightmare! There are competing interests, there are competing visions, there are the big bricks-and-mortar people, there are the little keep-it-simple people… there is a wide range. It is a palette. To find one that actually feels right and to fulfill it, I just thought, Wow.

What is unique about Hub Hospice is its focus on family. First of all, it started from the position of the spouse. Second, whatever arguments, and I’m sure they weren’t pleasant, that derived from this model, delivered so consistently… the compromise is elegant. I can’t say it any other way. There is a volunteer perspective that I now have come to respect and give that is based on kindness. It is authentic. It is a kindness that provides a very human foundation for what I’m going through and what I imagine a spouse would be going through.

I have two volunteers. Each has a personal style. What amazes me is how complementary they are. Let me describe to you a meeting that I convened in my home a few months ago. I brought my care team together to plan and prepare for my end-of-life journey and the living I want to do along the way. My team included my palliative care nurse (a hero in my books); my son; my power of attorney for personal care, who is the person who ultimately makes all of the decisions for me when I can’t; and my Hub Hospice volunteers. I sat at the head of my dining room table, and I felt like I was the chairman of my destiny because of who was present. When I got emotional – and I did because there was such kindness at that table – whenever an issue arose, the appropriate person had a contribution to make. The team had only respect for me and my wishes. That’s when the tears started.

To have a team, who didn’t know each other before the meeting, set aside the things that usually divide a group and focus on developing the care plan – and occasionally have a hand reach out and just hold mine with no words – that comes from this notion that we start from: kindness.

There were no competing interests; I trusted everything that was communicated. I had confidence that the journey would be as I wanted it to be, and everyone around the table agreed to work together to see that it did. That they could work so coherently together so quickly speaks volumes to everyone in the room. The way they treated my son, trying to hear and elicit his concerns, that was probably the most touching moment for me. In terms of how hospice acted, they were mandated to support me and my family in this manner.

“There is a volunteer perspective that I now have come to respect and give that is based on kindness. It is authentic.”

My biggest joy was when I first met with the staff person and, subsequently, my volunteers. One of the first questions in the interview that I asked with the volunteers and my staff person was who they would talk to and who they wouldn’t talk to. The response I got just made my heart burst, because they understood completely the modernity of life. Family is like an elastic band: it stretches, it contracts, depending on the economy, the culture and a variety of other things. For many now, particularly the young, they create their own tribe or family. They really do, and I have as well.

I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of the flexibility that allows me to define who is intimate, equal to a blood tie, because some blood ties are very messy.

I have assurance that the right people are looking out for me when I define who is “family” and who needs to be provided with the information. To have an organization willing to do that, it is what I want now – and that is what they provide. I have alluded to the fact that, for me, palliative care is not about death and dying: it’s about finding a group that will support life and living.

The Importance of Listening

I’ve just told you how much family means to me in terms of not just being limited by blood. Why? Because that’s how we form lasting relationships in this culture at this time. I certainly have. The reason I cherish the people who are part of the hospice, and I mean cherish, is because when I talk to them, first of all, they listen. They have probably the most acutely developed sense of being rather than doing. It is a rare commodity. Everybody shows up on my door wanting to do something.

What amazes me is that each Hub Hospice volunteer whom I have dealt with is perceptive enough to recognize that, and to make the space to be quiet when it’s necessary, to laugh when it’s important and to cry when it matters. When I say palliative care is what supports life and living, the people at Hub Hospice do it. When I ask for a perspective, a point of view because of their experience, I get clear responses to consider.

“Palliative care is not about death and dying: it’s about finding a group that will support life and living.”

I don’t get told what to do, I don’t get told how to do it. To have a palette – and some of it I refer to as my emotional guides, some of it I refer to as a topographical map that helps me navigate my day and the care I receive because I have no idea how to manage it all… I have never done this before! – to have people who have experience and the human side of attentiveness is what I cherish every day.

“Defining end of life care is… to make the space to be quiet when it’s necessary, to laugh when it’s important and to cry when it matters.”

Now I am going to change to another part of this: the palliative part of it that I’ve come to understand, unfortunately. You notice when you’re around young families who want to talk about education or you’re around young teachers who want to talk about education, they never talk about learning. They talk about money and unions and the board of education, but not learning.

It is the same when you try to form an organization of any kind. You define your end, but then you get a hundred reasons why you can’t do it. Maybe it’s that you don’t have enough money, that you have to go through this step, that step.

A Different Model of Palliative Care

The way Hub Hospice is modelled is brilliant. There is nothing that can’t be done because they’re not depending on grants or bricks and mortar – they are dependent on volunteers, who work to ensure that I’m where I want to be.

Where do I want to be? In my home with the things I adore, with the things that make me alive. To be removed from my home to go to a “hospice” or “day program” in the cold or extreme heat would be uncomfortable. But these wise people have adopted a system that is flexible, responsive and allows me to stay at home. What I’ve come to appreciate is that Hub Hospice has a model that supports human needs. They’re based on kindness, not on the currency of efficiency.

Each cancer patient is complex and receives care from a well-developed medical model in our publicly funded health care system. From my experience, all the techs, all the doctors, all the nurses are fantastic, but it’s patient-focused. Hospice is all about support and guidance for the family – the family as defined by the patient.

For families, it is asking the right questions at the right time. When I need help, whom do I call? Will it be given freely? Will it be given begrudgingly or generously? Those are the things that matter. Support for those who care is vital, and palliative care supports dying with dignity and grace, peace and joy, and love and care. That’s it for me.

Palliative care speaks to and supports those who care for the patients and who ultimately ease the anxiety of the patients – the family. As I’ve told you, my life has been a run-on sentence – and then comes the comma, a terminal diagnosis. I’m moving toward the period and the end of my journey is coming. I’ve chosen a path and I’m choosing to speak about it. I’m not battling anything. I’ve chosen to live fully until I can no longer do so with or without support.

Making Images Is Like Palliative Care

When I make an image, and most of you will know and have seen my images, I always stand behind the camera and the tripod for 45 minutes or more before I make the image, because that time is an invitation. A slight shift from here to there or from this position to that position changes everything. The whole interpretation changes – the whole meaning changes – the whole experience changes. It is that focus, positioning and patience that is crucial.

Hub Hospice is like the photographer in me. The organization and the volunteers stand there observing, waiting for 45 minutes or more to see if they need to make a slight adjustment in order to make a big difference for the patient and their family. I can’t think of a better metaphor, because, in my experience, it’s the small gestures that make the biggest difference.

“Palliative care speaks to and supports those who care for the patients and who ultimately ease the anxiety of the patients – the family.”

In this day and age, it is very hard to find volunteers who will do anything more than once – forget about doing something more than once, twice, three times over a month. To get somebody to commit for an indefinite period of time to care for someone is challenging, and for someone they don’t know seems impossible. Making that commitment is heroic on the part of the volunteer and speaks volumes about the organization. Volunteers don’t make their commitment alone; I find it incredible that there are families in this community that will support the volunteers to sacrifice a good part of their lives for an extended and indefinite period of time. That is a demonstration of how the community supports one another directly and indirectly, a fact I don’t take for granted for a minute. It is to be celebrated and to be honoured.

It leads to a more potent question: how did Almonte develop this kind of caring and compassionate culture? These things don’t happen by accident. I chose to live in Almonte in 1981 because it is a community I felt I wanted to live in. Partly because community matters to me and I really have a sense of what community means to me. I can honestly say Almonte is my home. Having lived in different countries, having lived in different cities, Almonte is my home. It is partly because of its scale, but also because of who chooses to live here, its history and its traditions.

This is what has made this experience so enlivening. It is not an accident, for me, that the hospice was therefore created as it was. First of all, you have a community that has a long history: where a lot of people didn’t move every five years, where families have deep roots, where those roots are visible and talked about. Stories are shared. When somebody like me comes in where families are scattered all over the world, I see them as kind of memories. Somebody mentions a name and somebody at the table will spend the next 20 minutes telling the family history. The fact that people here tell stories, stories about their history, their families for generations, that’s what it’s meant.

It’s not always cute, it’s not always nice and pleasant, but the roots are deep and they’re real. I, the city guy, don’t have to come in and do anything. I just have to absorb tradition. This is a traditionally rich area having large families. They are still in the area. They still talk to each other. They still make contributions. It is the stories we tell each other that remind us that we live in a community that has provided a solid foundation for places like Hub Hospice.

We have an incredibly well-educated community; the people who come from afar tend to want to stay. They’re here to absorb this tradition, understand it, feel it and see how modern culture can be fitted in so that Almonte keeps up but doesn’t lose its strength of tradition. That’s how I see the palliative care process having been formed. People at that table remembering how it used to be done, recognizing it can’t be done that way, but rather how it can be adapted within a legal framework and within compassionate frameworks. It has that think and feel. It is not make-believe. It is why I like what they’ve done with Hub Hospice.

“Almonte is my home. It is partly because of its scale, but also because of who chooses to live here, its history and its traditions.”

I may be making all of this up because this is a case of one, and you can’t generalize. But from a case of one, I’ll tell you it’s made a huge difference.

Today my state of mind may be very fogged, but my state of heart is clear as crystal. It really is. My state of emotions is high and comfortable. The emotions are about gratitude and appreciation for our community that is responsive and chooses to be caring and compassionate. I no longer worry. It has become a conversation that is evolving as it needs to, with comfort, dignity, respect, tenderness and I can’t think of enough words to express how it feels.

The decision I made to come here in 1981 is the best decision I ever made. The decision to say this is my home and to really believe it is the best decision I ever made. I can’t imagine going along this journey any other way but with the joy and gratitude that you’ve afforded me. To the board, to the staff, to the volunteers at Hub Hospice, I thank you. You’ve made the difference. Not just intellectually, but to the heart and to the soul.

I thank you for listening.

 


Alan died on December 20, 2017, a few weeks after he gave this presentation at Hub Hospice Palliative Care. Along with family and friends, his Hub Hospice volunteers were with him as he took the last few steps on his journey. In his final days, every time he woke up he would say, “I am so lucky, I am so blessed, I am so grateful.”


Published on April 3, 2018 with permission from Alan’s family (Marilyn Mirabelli and Michel Mirabelli)

Photo (top of page) by Peter Waiser 




In Focus: Senior Caregivers in Canada

Caregiving is a part of family life, and family caregivers play a crucial role in providing, arranging and sometimes paying for care for their loved ones. While there has been progress over the past decade in recognizing and celebrating the importance and impact of Canada’s 8.1 million caregivers, senior caregivers are often overlooked in the narrative despite accounting for more than 1 in 8 caregivers in 2012.((Maire Sinha, “Portrait of Caregivers, 2012,” Spotlight on Canadians: Results from the General Social Survey, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 89-652-X (September 2013). Link: http://bit.ly/1jxgAAm.))

Senior caregivers make unique and valuable contributions to family caregiving in Canada, though they can also have unique needs resulting from their advanced age. It can be a complex caregiving experience, as many provide care while managing their other responsibilities in workplaces and communities across the country (sometimes while receiving care themselves).

Seniors make significant contributions to caregiving in Canada((Learn more in A Snapshot of Family Caregiving and Work in Canada.))

  • In 2012, nearly 1 million seniors in Canada (966,000) provided care to a family member or friend with a long-term health condition, disability or aging need (12% of all caregivers).((Sinha, 2012.))
  • In 2012, senior caregivers were most likely to spend the longest hours per week providing care, partly due to their higher likelihood of caring for a spouse (spouses typically require greater time commitments for care).((Sinha, 2012.))
    • Nearly one-quarter (23%) of senior caregivers provided 20 or more hours of care per week, approximately twice the rate of carers aged 45 to 54 (13%) and young carers aged 15 to 24 (10%).((Sinha, 2012.))

Many senior caregivers balance their caregiving with paid work and volunteering((Learn more in Modern Family Finances: Seniors in Canada and Modern Family Finances: Income in Canada.))

  • In 2017, 14.2% of seniors were in the paid labour market (18.7% of men, 10.4% of women), more than double the rate in 2000 (6%).((Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey Estimates (LFS), by Sex and Detailed Age Group (CANSIM Table 282-0002), page last updated January 4, 2018. Link: http://bit.ly/2p38FWs.))
  • In 2015, one in five (19.8%) seniors in Canada (1.1 million) worked at some point – nearly twice the rate in 1995 (10.1%). Men were more likely than women to report having worked at some point that year (25.7% and 14.6%, respectively).((Statistics Canada, “Census in Brief: Working Seniors in Canada,” Analytical Products, 2016 Census, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 98-200-X-2016027 (November 29, 2017). Link: http://bit.ly/2AIjwMn.))

Caregiving can have an impact on the well-being of senior carers

  • Research shows that caregiving can have a positive impact on the well-being of caregivers themselves, providing them with a sense of personal growth and renewed meaning and purpose in life, assurance and greater awareness of the care being provided, and a sense of “giving back” to someone who has cared for them.((American Psychological Association, “Positive Aspects of Caregiving,” Public Interest Directorate Reports (January 2011). Link: http://bit.ly/1KMuMRA.))
  • Caregiving can also have a negative impact on the well-being of caregivers. Nearly 3 in 10 people (28%) who provided care in 2012 said that they found it “somewhat or very” stressful, and 1 in 5 (19%) said that their “physical and emotional health suffered” as a result of their caregiving responsibilities.((Sinha, 2012.))

Download In Focus: Senior Caregivers in Canada.

The Vanier Institute of the Family is a national, independent, charitable organization dedicated to understanding the diversity and complexity of families and the reality of family life in Canada. The Institute offers access to a range of publications, research initiatives, presentations and social media content to enhance the national understanding of how families interact with, have an impact on and are affected by social, economic, environmental and cultural forces.

Learn more about family caregiving in Canada:

Learn more about seniors and family relationships in Canada:


Published on March 29, 2018




Webinar Content: Changes to EI Special Benefits

Note: Originally published on November 7, 2017. With the recent changes to parental leave and EI Special Benefits in Canada, we’re highlighting this piece again since it provides context and data related to the ongoing discussion surrounding parental leave, work and families in Canada. Learn more in Supporting Dads: Paternity Leave and Benefits in Canada.

 


Content and resources are now available from our November 1, 2017 webinar on upcoming changes to EI Special Benefits in Canada!

The Vanier Institute of the Family hosted a public webinar on pending changes to EI Special Benefits, including the availability of extended parental benefits option, changes to maternity and caregiving benefits, and implications for workplace policies and practices.

Two panellists from Employment and Social Development Canada participated in this event. Andrew Brown (Acting Director General Employment Insurance Policy) and Rutha Astravas (Director of Special Benefits, Employment Insurance Policy) discussed upcoming changes and shared in a dialogue to better understand the consequences for both employers and employees. This timely and important webinar also covered fundamentals of employer-provided top-ups (supplemental EI benefits), administration of the new program and implications for new fathers in the workplace.

WEBINAR RESOURCES (available in English and French):

 


Webinar Transcript: Changes to Parental, Maternity and Caregiving Benefits

The following is an excerpt from this webinar, which provides an overview of upcoming changes to EI Special Benefits.

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Nora Spinks (NS), Chief Executive Officer, The Vanier Institute of the Family

Thanks, Lauren, and good afternoon, everyone. I’d like to begin by welcoming our subject matter experts, Andrew Brown, Acting Director General; and Rutha Astravas, who’s Director both at the Employment Insurance Policy Directorate and at Employment and Social Development Canada.

Now just before we begin with our experts, I would just like to provide a little bit of context for our comments today.

Families come in all shapes and sizes. Families are dynamic and families are continually adapting. In a recent listening tour that we held across the country, we asked people to define families by answering the question “Family is…” and we got responses from Canadians all across the country: from new Canadians, Indigenous families, immigrant refugee families, families affected by incarceration, families with low income, high income, rural, urban, you name it, and they all answered what family is. The top three answers were: family is love, family is care, and family is support. We’re going to talk today about the care side of what family is.

These days, motherhood is more likely to include not only caring for children but also participation in family finances, generating income, employment in a paid labour force. Millennial dads are redefining parenting every day. In the 50s and 60s, we used to hear dads refer to “my wife is pregnant.” In the 70s and 80s, “my wife is expecting.” By the 90s, we started to hear the phrase “we are expecting.” And recently I was at a session with some young dads and they referred to “we delivered.”

Millennial dads are redefining parenting. They’re more actively involved than ever before. They’re involved from beginning to end. They’re actively involved in labour and delivery as well as care for the newborn. Families are diverse. Families across this country are made up of individuals who love, care and support one another. There is no one-size-fits-all. What does hold them together is this concept of caring, and most care is provided while they’re in the paid labour force.

When we look at the issues before us today, it’s important to understand that when we talk about family, we’re really talking about self-defining family. It’s not just a traditional or a legal definition of family but how families define themselves, and that’s going to be important as we continue our conversation today.

Caregiving is a big part of families, whether it’s caring for a newborn or caring for our seniors and elders and everybody in between. When we look at care and caregiving, we also have to look at work. So when we look at work, the next generation is redefining what work is and what work is important, and redefining work and family.

Now there are three ways that people are defining work and family these days. They’re either separating work and family and work begins and work ends and life happens around it, or integrated, where you might work part-time or flexible hours or flexible locations and you integrate work and life, or you may blend work and life, where work is simply a part of life and all of life happens of which work is simply a part.

Now it is also important when we start talking about the modern workplace, and today’s workplace is as diverse as our families are, and employers all across the country are creating inclusive, supportive work environments. It’s within that context that we’re going to begin our conversation today as we talk about employment insurance and special benefits.

So we’re going to begin our first segment looking at maternity, parental and family caregiving, and when we do, it’s important to recognize that there are several elements related to the conversation. One is the benefits, which we’re going to be focusing on today with our special guest, which is employment insurance, which is the cash benefit that families receive. Often confused with or treated the same as leave, and that’s where you have job protected leave that’s protected under either the Canada Labour Code, if you’re part of a federally regulated industry, or your provincial or territorial employment standards legislation, or if you’re part of a union, a collective agreement.

In addition to benefits and leave, there are also workplace programs, which are optional, which are available in some workplaces, such as top-ups, flexible return from leave, and we’ll be talking a little bit about those today as well. And you can’t talk about benefits, leaves and workplaces without also recognizing and acknowledging community programs and services which exist in neighborhoods, which include child care programs, parent and tote programs, before and after school initiatives, caregiving for seniors or people with mental illness. So community services and programs, although we won’t be getting into in this call, need to be considered as part of the context.

So I’d like to begin by asking Andrew from Employment and Social Development Canada to walk us through our existing employment insurance special benefits and then we’ll go from there to identifying and focusing on what’s new and different. Andrew?

Andrew Brown (AB), Acting Director, General Employment Insurance Policy, Employment and Social Development Canada

Great. Thanks, Nora. And really pleased to join you, the Vanier Institute and all of those on the line for this webinar today. So, as Nora asked, I want to take you through the existing EI special benefits before coming to the changes.

First off, I also want to just let you know that there have been no changes to the rules for qualifying for EI special benefits. The worker still requires 600 hours of work in the previous year to be eligible, and benefits are generally paid at 55 percent of the average weekly earnings up to a cap. So those are elements that are not changing with the program.

Let’s begin with maternity benefit. They provide support for up to 15 weeks for workers who leave work due to pregnancy or for recovery from childbirth. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Canadian families welcome new children into their lives and they need to balance work with care responsibilities during this important time.

Let’s move on to the—next up, parental benefits. So as a complement to maternity benefits, these benefits are available for parents who take time to care for a newborn or a newly adopted child. Parental benefits are available to opposite- and same-sex parents and may be shared. They’re currently available for up to 35 weeks.

Third, sickness benefits. These have been unchanged in the budget and provide up to 15 weeks of support for workers who are injured—who are suffering from an illness or are injured.

Then the compassionate care benefit, this was introduced in 2004 as a 6-week benefit. In 2016, compassionate care benefits were extended to 26 weeks and provide support to family members providing end-of-life care. For the compassionate care benefit, the concept of family is very broad and includes more distant relatives as well as a caregiver who is considered to be like family.

Finally, the family caregiver benefit is to provide care or support to a critically ill or injured child or adult who requires care or support. So what was already existing was the benefits available to parents of critically ill children benefit providing up to 35 weeks of support since 2013, and we’ll be speaking shortly to the new benefit that allows Canadians to provide care to a critically ill adult.

NS: Thank you, Andrew, for that quick overview. So we’ve heard from Budget 2017 that there are a number of new changes to EI special benefits. Can you just walk through some of the principles behind those changes?

AB: Certainly. There are really three principles that are guiding the changes to the EI special benefits, and the first of those is flexibility. We’re providing more choice around the timing when the benefits can be taken to help families balance work and family responsibilities. This is particularly true for the changes to maternity and parental benefits. Parents will have more flexibility in how they take the parental benefit weeks with more weeks available to share. There will also be more flexibility in terms of who can receive EI benefits while providing care to a family member.

The second is accessibility. We’re making it easier to access the EI caregiving benefits by expanding the suite of EI benefits for caregivers to cover a greater range of caregiving situations. We’re also making EI caregiving benefits easier to access by expanding the list of who’s eligible to sign medical certificates to include not only doctors but also nurse practitioners. With these changes, we expect to provide improved access particularly for Canadians in rural and remote areas.

The third of the principles is inclusion. For greater inclusion, we’re expanding the list of eligible family members who can provide care to a critically ill or a gravely ill loved one—as I mentioned, immediate extended family members and those considered to be like family are eligible to provide care under the compassionate care benefit and the same now under the family caregiver benefit. By providing choice in parental benefit duration, we’re also being more inclusive to address the diverse needs of parents. So we’ll get into more specifics on the changes to each of the benefits in a moment.

NS: So just before we do that, Andrew, we can’t talk about EI benefits without mentioning Quebec. Can you let us know how Quebec fits in the new program?

AB: Yes. Important to note that in the Province of Quebec the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan provides maternity and parental benefits to residents, and so the changes to EI maternity and parental benefits do not apply to residents of the Province of Quebec. However, EI caregiving benefits do apply across the country, including in Quebec. So just to reiterate, you’ll notice on our slides that we flagged that maternity parental benefits are applied across the country aside from Quebec.

NS: Okay. So what’s really new here is that even though the EI program excludes Quebec the caregiver benefits will include Quebec.

AB: That’s correct.

NS: Is that another layer of complication on that? Okay. So let’s get into the new maternity benefits specifically that will be available. Now what we haven’t talked about is when these new programs are going to be available. Can you give us a hint about what the timing is for these new benefits?

AB: Okay. The specific coming-into-force date for the new measure has yet to be announced. We’re expecting that there will be an announcement coming shortly, but we do expect that the benefit provisions will be coming into force by the end of the year.

For maternity benefits, as I mentioned, there’s additional flexibility regarding the time period during which benefits may be paid, and it’s now possible to access them sooner. So, previously, they could be accessed as early as 8 weeks prior to the expected date of birth, and they could be taken as late as 17 weeks after the date of birth. The new flexibility is that it will now be possible to access maternity benefits up to 12 weeks prior to the expected date of birth or up to 4 weeks earlier.

NS: So there are no additional weeks, but you can just shift the clock ahead 4 weeks to 12 weeks prior to the expected date of birth.

AB: That’s right. So it is providing some additional flexibility to a birth mother. The trade-off being that if you receive your maternity benefits sooner, they’re not available following the birth.

NS: Right. And now just to be clear, if there’s a complication due to a pregnancy and say you’re on doctor-ordered bed rest for a couple of months prior to birth, can you access your sick benefits if you don’t already have sick benefits from work through the EI program in addition to your maternity benefits?

AB: Yes, you can also access sickness benefits. Sickness benefits may be accessed before or after the maternity benefit.

NS: Okay, great. So let’s look at the new flexibility and choice in parental benefits.

AB: Okay. So the big change for EI parental benefits is that parents will be able to select between two options when they’re applying. In fact, they’ll need to select between either the standard parental benefits option, which is to have those benefits—35 weeks being paid at a 55 percent average weekly benefit—at a benefit rate that’s equal to 55 percent of their average weekly earnings, or to select the extended parental benefits option, which is to receive 61 weeks of benefits paid at a lower rate, 33 percent of their average weekly earnings.

The reduced rate, important to note, only applies to the parental benefit, so it does not have an impact on maternity benefits. Also important to keep in mind that parental benefits can be paid at the same time or at different times. So in other words, regardless of when parent number one chooses to take benefits, another parent could decide to take the benefits at the same time, perhaps most of the time at birth or might choose to take those benefits later on.

NS: So that’s where things like community services come into play. If there is no available infant child care, then you’ll want to take them after one another, but if there is availability of infant child care, then you may want to overlap your parental benefits and be off as a family. Okay. So when we’re talking about the standard benefit, parental benefit, there’s no change. So the big change here is the option to choose 33 percent of earnings for 61 weeks. So when we hear in the media that it’s been extended to 18 months, that’s where that comes from, right? We add 61 weeks, plus the maternity weeks, that gives us roughly 18 months.

AB: That’s right. So the difference from—35 to 61 seem like awkward numbers—but the difference is it’s actually 26 weeks, which is half the year or 6 months. Certainly, there are a variety of considerations that a family would want to take into account when deciding whether to take the standard or extended duration option and this now provides flexibility. We expect there are many families who would continue to take the 12-month option for standard benefits at a higher benefit rate.

NS: Okay. So let’s look at some of the conditions or limitations to the benefits. We have a question in the chat box that if somebody chooses 35 weeks at the beginning and then decides to extend to 61 weeks, can they do so?

AB: Okay. So that is a great question and right on cue. When applying, parents will need to choose either standard parental or extended parental benefits. There’s no default. So we will be asking them to make that selection when they first apply for EI benefits. Once they have received even a dollar of their parental benefits, they’re not able to switch. So they become locked in at that point.

The other thing is that parents need to be on the same option. So two parents need to either both be on the standard parental benefits option or both be on the extended parental benefits option.

Another thing I just want to speak to is transition. So considering that once the new measures come into force, some people will already be receiving parental benefits. If that’s the case, they will continue to receive standard parental benefits, which is what they’re effectively on right now.

NS: But if you’re on maternity leave now and they’re receiving maternity benefits, and they don’t start their parental benefits until after the effective date, then they can choose standard or extended.

AB: That’s right. So access for the extended option will occur once for a birth or an adoption that occurs after coming into force and, provided they have not yet started parental benefits, they have a choice even if they’ve already started maternity benefits.

NS: Okay, great. So parents have a lot to consider when they’re trying to decide between the standard or extended parental options. Obviously there are family implications—certainly careers. Some careers, even a year away from a career may have negative consequences and the 18 months may be impossible. Obviously the math is important, so some families may choose the extended benefits because they’re factoring in the high cost of infant care and the math works out that way. There may not be any child care available so they have no choice but to extend, or they may have a return to work implication based on their employer or the type of work that they’re doing. They may be able to phase back to work. If somebody were to phase back to work and be working say part-time while receiving benefits, what’s the impact on that family?

AB: Okay. So under the EI program, it is possible to combine work with EI benefits. In the case of somebody who is phasing back to work, there is a specific time period during which they may receive EI benefits. And if a parent is earning some income while they’re on parental benefits, then their EI benefits will be reduced essentially $0.50 on the dollar because, from the program perspective, there’s less need for income support if they’re earning income.

NS: Right. Okay. The other considerations that parents have to make are what are their workplace policies and programs, top-up, for example. Is the employer going to supplement the EI benefits? We’ll talk more about that later on in the call, but also what’s available in the community in terms of parenting programs or the like.

So why don’t we walk through a couple of specific scenarios to try to make this a little less complicated. So why don’t we start off with one parent standard benefits, one parent receiving everything.

AB: Okay. Let’s take a look at that scenario then. We’ve got a couple here, Martine and Ibrahim, who are expecting their second child, and they’ve decided that Martine will take all of the maternity parental benefits and she earns $60,000 per year. Now if she chooses the standard option, she’s eligible for up to 35 weeks of parental benefits that would be paid at the 55 percent replacement rate. The maternity benefits would also be paid at the 55 percent replacement rate and she’s receiving $543 per week because she is at the maximum based on her annual income. In total, over a 12-month period, she would be able to receive approximately $27,000.

NS: Okay. So fairly standard. This is what a typical parental maternity benefit has been for the last several years now. So let’s look at another scenario where we’re going to have two parents sharing the parental benefits.

AB: Just before we get to that scenario, Nora, why don’t we take a look at if Martine makes the choice to take extended parental.

NS: Yes. Okay.

AB: So with the other option, they would still see maternity benefits paid at 55 percent for 15 weeks, but if she takes the option for the extended duration of parental benefits, she’d have benefits over 61 weeks, a longer period, but paid at a lower replacement rate: so $326 per week. So that’s the main difference, receiving benefits over a longer period but at a lower rate. The total amount you’ll see is roughly $28,000, very comparable to what she would have received under the other scenario, because essentially the EI benefits are being pro-rated over the longer 18-month duration.

NS: Got it, okay. So now let’s look at scenario where two parents are going to share a standard benefit.

AB: Okay. So this time we’ve got Jessica and Jean expecting their first child and they’ve decided that they’ll share parental benefits, both of them are earning $60,000 per year. They’ve decided that Jessica will take 25 weeks of parental benefits and Jean will take 10 weeks of the total 35. So now we take a look at the math, similar to what we saw in the last example, Jessica would receive 15 weeks maternity, 25 parental for a total of $21,700 in EI maternity and parental benefits over about a 10-month period. Jean would be eligible to receive the 10 weeks in parental benefits for about $5,400 in total. The total amount that they receive being the same as if one person took all of the benefits because they are receiving—they have the same income.

NS: Okay, now let’s say that Jean is actually Gene and Jessica and Gene are in a same-sex relationship and one of them has given birth. There is no change in that.

AB: That’s correct.

NS: If neither one of them gives birth, then neither one of them is eligible for the maternity benefits, but they can continue to split the parental benefits in this example.

AB: That’s also correct.

NS: Okay. So let’s move on to the even more complicated two parents with extended benefits.

AB: Okay. So here what we see now is that with a longer duration, the 61 weeks of parental benefits, this does offer new opportunities in terms of sharing. For example, one parent might want to take a total of 12 months and another parent to take a total of 6 months. Let’s take a look at this scenario here. Jessica has decided to take 45 weeks of parental benefits and Jean will be taking 16 weeks of parental benefits. The total there again is 61. So, to see what they would receive then over that period of up to 18 months is that Jessica could receive here about $23,000 in EI benefits and Jean would receive about $5,000 in parental benefits.

NS: Okay. And like the previous example, if Jean is partnered with Jeff instead of Jessica, then neither one of them, because neither one of them can give birth, neither one can qualify for maternity benefit but they can continue in this scenario with the split any way they choose at 33 percent of earnings for a total of 61 weeks.

AB: That’s right. So now in that example of a same-sex male couple or an adoptive family, there’s access to up to 61 weeks at a lower benefit rate or the standard 35 weeks at the 55 percent benefit rate.

NS: Got it, okay. So why don’t we open the phone lines now. We’ve got lots of questions coming in. Why don’t we first look at the question of alignment with the Canada Labour Code. We are hearing a lot about the changes and how there’s also changes to the Canada Labour Code for those who are federally regulated. Can you just give us a quick overview on what’s happening with the Canada Labour Code?

AB: So I’ll speak to the Canada Labour Code first. So changes are being made to the Canada Labour Code to align with the changes that are being made to EI special benefits. The Canada Labour Code applies to workers in federally regulated enterprises and so it’s a relatively small portion of Canadian workers. It’s about 6 percent to 8 percent of workers across the country.

NS: So banking, transportation, telecommunication, telecom. Okay. And everybody else is either covered under a collective agreement or they are provincially regulated. So what that means is that some province standards state that they will provide job protection in alignment with the federal program of benefits and others will need to be modified or updated in order to align with the benefits program. Correct?

AB: That’s right. So for provinces and territories, they are responsible for their own employment standards. Currently, all of the provinces and territories are aligned to be current EI maternity benefits or at least provide protection that covers the period for EI maternity and parental benefits. With the change, it will be something that provinces and territories need to decide for themselves whether to align or not. In the past, we have seen provinces and territories make changes to align with federal changes. That said, it can take some time. There is one province that so far has announced that it will be making changes, and that’s in Ontario, where they introduced changes to their employment standards legislation to reflect the changes to this new parental benefits option.

NS: Right, and it gets more complicated with collective agreements because some of those won’t be renegotiated until the bargaining session begins and some of them may be included because they already have language that states that they’re going to be in alignment with whatever changes happen at the federal level. So you have to check your agreement and you have to check your labour standards.

 


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Originally published on November 7, 2017
Reposted on January 24, 2018