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Court rejects Ottawa's parental-leave plan [CA-QC]

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Seguin, Rheal
Publication Date: 
28 Jan 2004

See text below.


The federal government's parental- and maternity-leave program is unconstitutional, the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled yesterday, saying that Ottawa cannot use the Employment Insurance Act to offer social benefits for programs that are exclusively a provincial jurisdiction.

The court ruled that employment insurance exists only to replace wages for people who lose their jobs for economic reasons, "not for the interruption of employment for reasons related to personal conditions."

According to the ruling, when the federal government acquired the jurisdiction over employment insurance in 1940, it was clearly understood that it could not be used to introduce social-welfare measures that are under provincial jurisdiction.

If upheld, the ruling would allow Quebec -- or any other province -- to opt out of the federal maternity- and parental-leave program with full financial compensation to help pay for its own program. Quebec wants to offer more benefits than that of the federal program.

As well, the federal government's compassionate-leave program, which offers special benefits under the employment-insurance plan for people who need to care for dying family members, would have to be reviewed.

Ottawa introduced the program without the provinces' consent.

The unanimous decision of the three-judge panel is a major victory for Quebec, which traditionally fought federal intrusions into social programs.

It may have serious implications for Ottawa's plans to introduce other national social programs without the province's consent, such as child-care support and a national daycare program.

It also could create obstacles for an agreement signed in 1999 by Ottawa and all the provinces except Quebec that gave the federal government a major role in defining national social programs.

The federal government, which has 60 days to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada, refused to comment on it, saying it would study the decision first.

Quebec claimed that Ottawa was abusing its powers under the Employment Insurance Act to dictate social policies to the provinces.

- reprinted from The Globe and Mail