On Parliament Hill, most everyone agrees that self-employed people like Lainey Bonsell should be able to tap into parental benefits when they decide to start a family.

But that’s easier said than done.

Bonsell, 29, is a real estate agent in Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood, expecting her first baby. Because she’s self-employed, she isn’t eligible for the EI payments that are sent automatically to other new parents, and is instead saving to take two months off.

Like a wide range of advocates and politicians, Bonsell thinks she should at least have the choice to collect benefits during her maternity leave.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley is poised to table a bill after the Thanksgiving break that would allow self-employed people access to a plan that would pay them EI benefits after having babies.

The number of self-employed women in Canada grew by 8.4 per cent between 2001 and 2006, according to the last census, and by an enormous 234 per cent between 1981 and 2006. But they struggle to keep their businesses going, care for their babies and pay the bills all at once — a fact politicians of all stripes have recognized.

“I think it should be done, but it depends on how it can be done. That’s the big problem,” said Sylvain Schetagne, senior economist at the Canadian Labour Congress.

Should participation in the plan be voluntary or mandatory? Should it be self-financing, or cross-subsidized by premiums from other employees and employers? Should the government kick in money from general revenues? If not, won’t premiums be so high as to be prohibitive?

“We’re supporting self-employed people to be able to have parental leave. It’s how we draft the bill that’s in question,” said MP Yvon Godin, the NDP’s critic on employment insurance.

Latest From ...