Employers, labour groups push Liberals to rethink parental leave changes

Two months into her second maternity leave, Karine Beauchamp would love to spend extra time at home with her son Maxime – but she can’t afford to.

Among her friends, the new mothers with financially well-to-do partners support the Liberal government’s proposal to extend maternity leave to 18 months from its current 12 months, allowing new parents to work periodically during that longer time frame _ but without any increase in benefits.

Then there is a handful of new mothers who are breadwinners in the house and need to get back to work.

“We are already tight on mat leave. I can’t imagine getting less and getting less for another half a year,” Beauchamp said.

“We would all take more time with our children … but it’s the financial aspect. It’s the No. 1 complaint I hear.”

It is one of several complaints the government has heard over the last month of consultations on the plan, with the Liberals under pressure from employers and labour groups to scrap the proposal amid concerns from both sides that it wouldn’t help many parents and would be problematic for small businesses.

Instead, 25 groups _ child care, poverty advocates and labour organizations _ in an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ask the Liberals to increase benefit payments to new parents over 12 months, add eight weeks of dedicated time off for non-birthing parents regardless of gender and lower the benchmark for new mothers to qualify for maternity leave to either $2,000 of earnings, or 300 hours of work to receive benefits, instead of the current 600-hour requirement.

Employers and labour groups worry the proposal as-is leaves out single and low-income parents the government says it wants to help.

“Moms work 20, 30, 40 years. There’s no reason why they can’t extend that (benefit) amount over six more months to give us better time with our kids to ease the burden of finding child care. It would make more sense,” Beauchamp said.

Morna Ballantyne, executive director of the Child Care Advocacy Association, said the proposal seems to want to address concerns about a lack of child-care spaces for children under 18 months, but falls short of the need to create more affordable spaces nationwide.

Employers and labour groups are also concerned the proposal to let new parents work periodically during the 18 months would put undo strain on small businesses to back fill a position.

“What we’ve always asked is that government gives some thought as to how these things are going to affect employers and to date I don’t think there has even been a notion of that factored in,” said Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Kelly said the proposal doesn’t help new parents, nor their employers.

Any increase in benefits would require an increase in employment insurance premiums, said Angella MacEwen, an economist with the Canadian Labour Congress. The Liberals first budget forecast a drop in premiums, but that didn’t take into account new benefit spending like extended parental leave or compassionate care benefits, she said.

“There is probably going to be some resistance there because premiums will have to go up to pay for any expansion even though they have gone down,” MacEwen said.

“That’s one of our concerns in that there was no room left in the EI budget.”

The consultations on the proposed changes closed Friday and federal officials are reviewing everything they heard before making a final decision.

Emilie Gauduchon, a spokeswoman for Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos who is overseeing changes to employment insurance, said the government wants to introduce more flexible parental benefits that meet the needs of modern Canadian families, and finalize a child care framework with the provinces.

“These initiatives will help address different aspects of the challenges facing young families, providing more flexibility to parents when taking time off of work to care for their newborn child and improving access to early learning and childcare services when returning or continuing to work,” Gauduchon said.


Ontario bill would ban certain door to door sales, license home inspectors

Ontario has introduced legislation that would regulate home inspectors, ban certain door-to-door sales and strengthen payday loan rules.

The changes would all fall under the Putting Consumers First Act, which the government said is aimed at protecting people in transactions involving common household and financial services.

The bill would ban unsolicited door-to-door sales of water heaters, furnaces, air conditioners and water filters, to protect against what the government calls “aggressive” and “high-pressure” sales tactics.

All consumer-initiated contracts, such as for roofing or home renovations, would also have a 10-day “cooling-off period” during which a consumer can change their mind and cancel the contract without any reason.

Home inspectors would have to be licensed if the bill passes, and it would create an administrative authority to oversee them, with complaint and enforcement processes, including discipline and appeal committees.

The regulatory body would establish a code of ethics for home inspectors, standardize home inspection reports and contracts, define what must be inspected to ensure consistency, and set out insurance requirements.

Home inspectors are currently the only professionals involved in real estate transactions in Ontario that are not regulated. The Ontario Real Estate Association applauded the introduction of the bill.

“When buying a home, people have a right to expect high professional standards and government oversight of all professionals involved in a real estate transaction,” said Tim Hudak, the former Progressive Conservative leader and CEO Designate of OREA.

“High standards and a clear legal framework in the home inspection industry will ensure home buyers and sellers receive reliable, informative and professional advice when making one of the largest decisions of their lives.”

The not-for-profit corporation would be funded by licensing fees.

The bill would also give the registrar of payday loans the ability to restrict high-frequency borrowing, create standards that lenders must consider when determining a borrower’s ability to repay and give repeat borrowers an extended payment plan option.

It would also come with more enforcement powers to address unlicensed lenders. And municipalities would be allowed to regulate the number and location of payday lenders.

Debt collection rules would be changed under the bill, making firms that purchase debt for the purpose of collecting it subject to the same rules as collection agencies.


Trudeau says work is ‘just beginning’ on Canada EU free trade deal

By Mike Blanchfield


BRUSSELS _ Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revelled in a long-awaited moment Sunday signing Canada’s free trade deal with the European Union, but not before recognizing the challenges ahead to bring it fully into force.

Trudeau expressed hope that the so-called provisional application of the deal approval only by the Canadian and European parliaments but not Europe’s 28 states and myriad regional governments might happen within months.

That, said Trudeau, would result in 98 per cent of the deal coming into force. That’s much higher than the 90-per cent estimate that most European and Canadian officials have said would accompany provisional application of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, known as CETA.

Trudeau had initially expected to sign the deal in Brussels days ago, but the restive Belgian region of Wallonia nearly killed it because its opposition to the pact’s investor-state dispute settlement mechanism gave it a veto under Belgium’s complicated constitution.

After seven arduous years of negotiation, Trudeau joined presidents of the European Council and European Commission, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, and signed the massive 1,600-page pact and its accompanying strategic partnership agreement.

The road to full ratification remains long. After Trudeau and his EU counterparts took a moment Sunday to revel in the milestone, the prime minister was willing to acknowledge it would take more than ceremony to fully ratify the deal.

“The work is only just beginning right now,” Trudeau said.

“It’s not just signing the accords, as difficult and important as that is. It’s about the followup, that we continue to demonstrate and give tools to small and medium sized businesses.”

Trudeau didn’t betray a hint of bitterness towards the socialist regional government of Wallonia, led by Paul Magnette, which picked up the anti-CETA baton that had flourished previously in France, Germany and Austria.

The latest obstacle to CETA was removed Friday when Wallonia officially voted to withdraw its opposition to the deal, paving the way for Trudeau’s trip.

“The fact that throughout people were asking tough questions of a deal that will have a significant impact on our economies, and giving us the opportunity to demonstrate that that impact will be positive, is a good thing,” Trudeau said.

“That is what a democracy is: we need to have a whole chorus of different voices, able to share their concerns.”

Trudeau also praised the support he received from the government of Quebec’s Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard, who was in Brussels along with one of his predecessors, Jean Charest, one of CETA’s early boosters.

International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland called it a great day for Europe.

More than a week ago, Freeland walked out of talks in Belgium, saying it appeared the EU was incapable of signing an agreement.

“OK we did it!” she blurted out during a photo opportunity following the signing ceremony.

The deal’s supporters say it will boost trade by billions through cuts in tariffs across a broad swath of sectors including agriculture, pharmaceuticals and the auto industry.

But opposition among anti-trade activists and left-wing political parties in some European countries has been fierce and nearly blocked the deal. On a sleepy Sunday morning in the largely shuttered EU capital, Trudeau’s entourage was greeted by a small but vocal group of protesters at the European Council.

Trudeau acknowledged the discontent but said political leaders had to work to overcome it.

“That leadership that we were able to show between Canada and Europe is not just something that will reassure our own citizens but should be an example to the world of how we can move forward on trade deals that do genuinely benefit everyone,” Trudeau said.

With the Liberals and Conservatives both favouring the deal, its approval will sail through Parliament.


Former Minister responsible for SGI apologizes to legislature for drunk driving

Former Saskatchewan deputy premier Don McMorris says it is a different experience being back in the legislature after pleading guilty to drunk driving.

For starters, McMorris is no longer Premier Brad Wall’s right-hand man, with a front row seat in the assembly.

McMorris resigned from cabinet and also left the Saskatchewan Party’s caucus after he was charged with drunk driving in August. He now sits as an Independent, tucked back in a corner _ although still on the government side.

“It’s an adjustment, like most everything else has been over the last 2 1/2 months,” McMorris said after question period.

McMorris was driving a government car when he was pulled over by police the morning of Aug. 5 on the Trans-Canada Highway east of Regina.

Court heard he had nearly 2 1/2 times the legal amount of alcohol in his system. He pleaded guilty to having a blood-alcohol level over .08, was fined $1,820 and lost his licence for a year.

Wednesday was the first day of the fall sitting of the legislature and McMorris was the first member to speak.

“My actions, there is no rationale and no excuses, absolutely none for it, so with that I apologize to the members of this House,” he said in a brief statement.

McMorris was a key member of Wall’s government.

In addition to being deputy premier, McMorris oversaw the province’s liquor and gaming authority, was the minister of Crown investments and was responsible for Saskatchewan Government Insurance, the government’s publicly owned automobile insurer.

He is also a former health minister and highways minister.

McMorris has said he won’t ask to return to the Saskatchewan Party caucus.

“Oh, I’d love to be back in caucus, don’t get me wrong, but I stepped away. I can’t sit at the edge of the door and knock to get back in. If they want to let me in, they will.”

In the meantime, he said there are some things he’s been thinking about as a private member. He said it is too early to comment further, but suggests the ideas could be along the lines of ways to address drunk driving because of his new perspective.

“When you go through what I’ve gone through, it doesn’t leave your mind,” he said.

Drunk driving rates are high in Saskatchewan.

According to Statistics Canada there were 683 police-reported impaired driving incidents per 100,000 population in Saskatchewan in 2011. The Canadian average was 262.

The premier has said that although the government has toughened penalties for drinking and driving with longer licence suspensions and vehicle seizures, the problem persists.

Wall has called on his ministers to come up with suggestions for tackling the province’s high drinking and driving rates.


Auto insurance rates rise in Ontario despite Liberal pledge to cut by 15 per cent

Auto insurance rates are rising in Ontario, moving the Liberal government even further away from a self-imposed target of an average 15-per-cent reduction.

The Liberals promised in 2013 to cut auto insurance premiums an average of 15 per cent by August 2015, but after that deadline came and went, Premier Kathleen Wynne later admitted that was what she called a “stretch goal.”

Approved rates in the third quarter of 2016 increased by an average of 1.5 per cent, according to the Financial Services Commission of Ontario.

That knocks the average decrease since August 2013 – which at one point was over 10 per cent – back down to about 8.35 per cent, or a little over halfway to their goal.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa said programs that will reduce rates further have yet to come into effect, so though reductions are taking time, “they’re happening.”

“Our target to reduce rates doesn’t change,” he said. “Our desire to have a sustained approach over a long period of time, that’s what we’re trying to establish.”

The government still wants to see rates cut by an average of 15 per cent, Sousa said, though there’s no longer a deadline attached to the goal.

Premier Kathleen Wynne called the work on rates so far a “success.”

“We’re going to continue to work with the industry to find other ways to take costs out of the system,” she said.

The promise in 2013 came as part of a deal to get NDP support for that year’s budget when the Liberals were still a minority government. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government is putting the interests of insurance companies over those of Ontario drivers.

“It’s no doubt that the Liberals have betrayed the discussions that we had during that minority parliament, but more importantly they’re betraying the people of the province yet again,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Sousa noted that the government has lowered the maximum interest rate that an insurer can charge for monthly auto premium payments and prohibited minor at-fault accidents from boosting premiums. As well, it has appointed a special adviser to look at ways to lower costs and further reduce rates.


Ontario Government Handed out $907 Million in Corporate Grants Since 2013

Ontario’s Liberal government has handed out over $907 million in corporate grants since 2013, with the largest amounts going to profitable high-tech companies and big automakers.

Figures released by the government show IT giant Cicso Systems got $220 million from the province, Fiat-Chrysler and Honda Canada both got over $85 million, while the Ford Motor Company got over $70 million.

The government says the grants helped leverage over $2 billion in investment in Ontario’s auto sector, and helped create and retain about 68,500 jobs.

The bulk of the grants were awarded under the province’s jobs and prosperity fund, about $783.7 million so far, while smaller grants were handed out under regional development funds for eastern and southwestern Ontario.

Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid says the government has to enter into “strategic partnerships” with companies because other jurisdictions offer financial incentives to attract new investment _ and the jobs that go with it.

Progressive Conservative critic Monte McNaughton says the government has refused to release the names of companies that received corporate grants between 2003 and 2013, many of which were awarded with no public application process.

“Instead, the minister and the premier, behind closed doors, hand-picked the companies that would receive the payouts, by invitation only,” said McNaughton.

“It’s creating a very unlevel playing field, and businesses who aren’t getting grants are paying higher taxes to supplement their competitors.”

Duguid said direct government support for businesses can often be the deciding factor in securing private sector investment in the province.

“The alternative is they’ll just locate in other jurisdictions because they’re offering business investment supports in many cases four or five times what we offer,” he said. “You’re either in the game or you’re not in the game … and we’re in the game and aggressively out pursuing these investments.”


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