Denied parental leave, Maj. Jim Duquette helps fix an EI Act that favours cons
by SUSAN SHERRING
Leaving behind his newborn son, having spent just one brief night together in their home, was gut-wrenching for Maj. Jim Duquette as he left Canada in 2004 to serve in the Golan Heights.
There were regular e-mails from his wife Anne, updating him with pictures and stories, but Duquette had no idea what it was like to be a father.
When he returned to his Edmonton home more than a year later, he took comfort in an anticipated 37 weeks of parental leave to get to know his young son, to begin really being a father.
Not so, according to the Employment Insurance Act, which stipulates the leave must be taken within 52 weeks following a birth or adoption.
He was away 54 weeks.
Those are the rules. That’s it, that’s all. No exceptions.
Well, just a little one. If Duquette had been a convict serving time behind bars — and not helping to keep peace overseas — an extension could have been made.
Under federal legislation, prisoners have more benefits than the men and women who put their lives on the line for our country.
Duquette, who’s not given to hyperbole, admits to being in a state of disbelief.
“I couldn’t believe it to tell you the truth, I honestly couldn’t believe it,” Duquette tells the Sun from Kabul. “I started reading all about the Employment Insurance Act. It was a frustrating thing, I must say.
“I re-read it a number of times, I’d ask other people, ‘Am I reading this correctly?’ ”
Following his return from the Golan Heights, the Duquettes were transferred to Ottawa — which turns out to be a good thing for everyone involved.
Thanks to a chance meeting with Nepean-Carleton MP Pierre Poilievre, who was going door-to-door campaigning in the past election, the two have managed to bring about changes, and the feds are poised to right the wrong.
Legislation is expected shortly that will change the rules and allow an extension of up to an extra 52 weeks to military personnel serving overseas.
Poilievre says he was as shocked as Duquette when he heard his story.
“It’s unbelievable. I was appalled that we would give criminals better treatment than soldiers and I think most Canadians would feel the same. I took up the cause, promising him we would get it fixed,” he says.
And that’s just what the duo have done.
The budget tabled on March 4 contains a section which commits the government to solve the problem.
Poilievre phoned Duquette in Afghanistan and read him the section of the budget.
“After all of his work, we were able to move forward with a solution so that other military families don’t suffer the same injustice,” Poilievre says.
“Major Duquette wasn’t asking for anything special for soldiers, it’s a benefit they pay for, it’s the right thing to do. And I’m glad that the government will be announcing action soon,” he says.
Both Duquette and Poilievre have reason to be proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish.
It’s a feel-good, heartwarming story in a milieu where few exist.
When Duquette came back, Jacob had already celebrated his first birthday. His family met him at the airport, and he admits to one fear — that his son might make strange with him.
“I got to hold him. He didn’t play strange. It was one of the best moments I’ve had,” he says.
When the Duquettes had a second child, daughter Megan, he was able to take parental leave.
And he’s honoured he has been able to work with Poilievre to ensure all military personnel will have the opportunity to do the same.
“That I’ve been able to do this for my fellow soldiers, well, I still really can’t believe it. I’m still in a state of shock.”
And what of the time he spent with Megan?
“It was an experience I will never forget and one I wouldn’t trade for anything.”