It’s Mat Leave Monday! Today I’m sharing the history of maternity (and parental) leave in Canada, and how it evolved over the decades. I know that you are all as excited as I am to receive a bit of edu-ma-cation on how maternity leave has evolved in this great land of ours.
Maternity leave was first introduced in Canada when BC introduced the Maternity Protection Act of 1921. That law prohibited employers from employing women in the 6 weeks after they gave birth. It doesn’t sound all that progressive, but at the time it really was. It was the only legislation of its kind in Canada at that time, and for many years afterward.
In 1940, the Unemployment Insurance Act was introduced in Canada. It did not cover maternity leave in its early decades. Maternity leave as we currently understand it was first introduced in BC in 1966. Five years later, the federal government followed suit, amending the Canada Labour Code.
Under the 1971 provisions, mothers with at least 20 weeks of insurable earnings could claim up to 15 weeks of benefits through the Unemployment Insurance system. It was more than a touch controversial to cover expectant and new mothers under a program intended for the unemployed, and it represented a departure from provincially-administered maternity leave to a federally-regulated system as we know it today.
In January of 1984 maternity benefits were modified and extended to include adoptive parents. At the time, adoptive and birth mothers received the same benefits. In 1990, 10 weeks of parental leave was added. Once parental leave was introduced, maternity leave was available to birth mothers only. Adoptive parents and partners were eligible only for parental leave.
In July of 1996 the Unemployment Insurance system was renamed the Employment Insurance system. No actual changes were made to maternity leave, but that’s why we refer to it as EI today, and you might see references to UI in the past.
The last significant change came in January 2001, expanding parental leave from 10 weeks to the 35 weeks that we enjoy today. Since 2001, maternity and parental leave has remained largely the same.
So there you have it. From forbidding employers to force women to work immediately after delivery, to a government funded year-long leave in 80 years. We’ve come a long way, baby.