Political leaders place focus on parental leave

Published Oct. 11, 2015

Canada's political leaders have been kissing babies and making election promises to their parents to lengthen maternity and parental leaves for up to 18 months.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives are matching the Liberal party pledge to extend benefits from the current one-year program.

With the federal election looming on Oct. 19 and the Conservatives and Liberals in a see-saw battle for first place in the polls, Harper took aim at young families.

He said the Conservatives would extend benefits to 1½ years and continue to protect parents' jobs while they're away.

For parents wanting to return to work sooner or who are self-employed, the government would consider programs allowing them to combine work and time off for child care without their payments being reduced, he said.

"We want to support new parents by giving them as much choice and flexibility as possible in achieving the balance and making the career and financial decisions that are right for your family," Harper said.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's plan unveiled in August is similar but would allow periods of work and time off during the 18 months of paid employment insurance benefits.

Spending fuels deficit

It's a decade of spending to blame for Alberta's budget problems — not plunging oil prices, a right-leaning agency says.

The Fraser Institute said the oil-rich province's spending soared by almost 100 percent since 2004.

The "think tank" agency said if spending had just kept pace with inflation and population growth, Alberta would have a $4.4 billion surplus today.

Current projections show the province with a record deficit of at least $5.9 billion.

The new socialist New Democratic government isn't all to blame as much of the spending happened under previous Conservative governments, the institute said.

News in brief

• Airline operators are upset over proposed changes to reduce the amount of hours commercial pilots can be on duty. They say the changes would cost more, resulting in higher fares and potential loss of service to some remote communities. The federal government has delayed implementation of changes to assess the "feedback."

• Continued strength in condominium construction has pushed Canada's rate of housing starts to their fastest pace in three years. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said the annual rate of construction increased to 230,701 units last month, up from 214,255 in August when housing prices were 1.3 percent higher.

Facts and figures

The Canadian dollar has moved higher to 77.19 cents U.S., up almost two cents for the week, while the U.S. dollar returned $1.2954 in Canadian funds, before bank exchange fees.

The Bank of Canada's key interest rate is steady at 0.5 percent while the prime-lending rate is 2.7 percent.

Markets are higher with the Toronto Stock Exchange index at 13,964 points and the TSX Venture index 551 points.

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The average price of gas is higher at a national average of $1.0676 a liter or $4.05 (Canadian) for a U.S. gallon.

Lotto 6/49: (Oct. 7) 4, 10, 19, 31, 38 and 43; bonus 5. (Oct. 3) 1, 3, 15, 27, 31 and 36; bonus 33. Lotto Max: (Oct. 2) 10, 12, 24, 26, 34, 43 and 47; bonus 38.

Regional briefs

• Should an appeal court overturn the environmental approval for the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, the $7 billion project won't proceed, attorney Bernard Roth says. Native groups, environmentalists and a labor union are challenging approval for the 745-mile twin pipeline. If built, it would transport diluted bitumen from Alberta's oilsands to British Columbia's northern coast for shipping overseas.

• Talks to settle a contract dispute by Ontario's elementary school teachers are said to be making progress. Education Minister Liz Sandals said both sides are slowly moving forward. The 78,000 teachers are working to rule to back their demands.

• It could be Canadian pumpkins that will save Halloween in the U.S. Midwest. Canadian producers are carving out opportunities after heavy rain resulted in a jack o' lantern shortage. Growers say up to 60 percent of the crop was wiped out and they've sought help from Canada to make up the shortfall. There's also concern about enough of the crop for Thanksgiving pumpkin pies.

Contact Jim Fox at