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Publication Date: 2024/06/11

TORONTO, June 11, 2024 – Canada’s parental leave system is deeply inequitable, favouring educated parents with secure jobs, while excluding parents whose children stand to benefit the most from adequately paid, protected time off, according to a new UNICEF Canada-Léger poll released for UNICEF’s Parenting Month. As a result, one in three newborns in Canada has a parent unable to access parental leave*.  

The poll found that parents of children under six with a university degree and employed, who are married or in a common-law relationship and do not identify as a visible minority are significantly more likely to be eligible to paid parental leave. Yet, findings show most Canadians are unaware of parental leave inequities. More than three out of four Canadians (77 per cent) believe that all parents of newborns in Canada benefit from paid parental leave.  

“It’s time to rethink parental leave in Canada. This needs to be considered more than a parental or worker benefit and rather a child’s right.” said Sevaun Palvetzian, President & CEO of UNICEF Canada. “Every infant in this country should have the opportunity for the best possible start in life, which includes having time with parents with an adequate income during the most critical stage in their development."   

The poll also found:  

  • 9 out of 10 Canadians (91 per cent) agree that it is important for every newborn to have a caregiver who is provided with time for caregiving and adequate income support for at least six months following birth.  
  • 8 out of 10 Canadians (81 per cent) agree that all parents, no matter their family structure, should be entitled to parental leave benefits. 
  • Less than half of Canadians (42 per cent) consider that current parental leave policies reflect the actual needs of Canadian families. 

Among parents with children under six surveyed, less than half (48 per cent) found parental leave time sufficient for caregiving, while only 38 per cent considered the amount received from parental leave sufficient to meet the needs of their family. Virtually every Canadian surveyed (95 per cent) could identify benefits of parental leave for caregiving and care receiving.  

UNICEF research shows the extensive and overwhelming benefits of parental leave include economic stability and parent-child bonding, both of which promote child health and development. Parental leave also helps increase food security and reduce preterm birth, infant mortality, family violence and poverty—all outcomes where Canada has improvements to make to give children the best start.  

“If we don’t invest in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, they are at risk of falling behind long before stepping foot into school. It is critical that every parent and caregiver receives the support necessary to provide their children the foundational building blocks in their early years to reach their full potential,” added Palvetzian.  

UNICEF Canada is advocating for:  

  • At least 6 months of adequately paid, protected time with a parent or caregiver for every newborn and adopted child in Canada. 
  • An increase in parental leave pay to meet international standards.  

For more information about UNICEF Canada’s work on parental leave, please visit unicef.ca/parentalleave.   


Notes to Editors: 

The results are part of a Léger poll of 2,025 Canadians, including 500 parents with children aged 0 to 5 years old, commissioned by UNICEF Canada to gain a better understanding of perceptions and experiences of parental leave in Canada. Data was collected from April 30 to May 12, 2024. 

*As noted in UNICEF Canada’s latest Policy Brief on parental leave, eligibility restrictions associated with Canada’s Employment Insurance system (EI) to which parental leave is anchored exclude close to one-third of newborns from protected time with a primary caregiver together with income support. Data excludes Quebec, which has a distinct parental leave system. In force since 2006, the Québec Parental Insurance Plan has broader eligibility and a higher pay rate than EI. As a result, about one in 10 newborns in Quebec has a parent unable to access paid parental leave.  

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