Mr. Speaker, maternity and parental benefits are a longstanding part of the Government of Canada's commitment to children and families. These benefits are provided to Quebecers like all other Canadians.
In October 1999 the government indicated that it would extend these benefits to provide greater flexibility to parents to better balance work and family needs. Our priority is to implement our improved parental benefits.
The recent budget announcement on the extended parental benefits now allows parents up to one year of leave instead of the traditional six months. We have also made parental benefits more accessible by lowering the eligibility threshold to 600 hours, about four months on a 40 hour week and five months on a 30 hour week, and giving more flexibility to parents by removing the second waiting period.
In 1997 the Government of Canada did enter into negotiations with Quebec so that it could establish its own parental leave plan. At that time we made a fair and equitable offer to the Government of Quebec but the Government of Quebec walked away from these negotiations. For our part, at the moment our government is focused on providing extended EI maternity and parental benefits to Quebecers and to all other Canadians.