News / Calgary

'I'm offended:' Calgary council's parental leave debate takes a turn

Jeromy Farkas' opposition to parental leave motion leaves councillors upset

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra's motion was to have a policy drafted for council to review and vote on.

Courtesy / Freelance

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra's motion was to have a policy drafted for council to review and vote on.

Council's conversation to fall into line with Edmonton and have an option for elected officials to take parental leave took a turn on Monday.

Only one councillor, Jeromy Farkas, voted against the motion to create rules around parental leave related absences. The motion didn't have any details on what timelines, pay or interim representation rules would stand in the new parent's absence.

The notice of motion drafted by Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra asked the city's human resource office and the council offices to work together on drafted rules around how a councillor can take parental leave.

The motion passed 13 to 1, with Coun. Evan Woolley excused from the vote by the chair. Woolley and his wife are expecting a baby later this year.

Farkas' statement on the council floor, especially calling a politician taking time for a newborn a "betrayal" of their office, drew attention from a number of his colleagues.

"I don't see this as a career like any other. I'm very concerned we may be going down a line where we're introducing unelected representation," said Farkas. "Every day we make really important decisions. If I'm not here, and part of those decisions, I find that to be a betrayal of those who elected me."

Coun. Peter Demong said he didn't even know how to respond to Farkas' remarks, to which Mayor Naheed Nenshi said, "don't."

"I have to, your worship, I'm sorry," said Demong. "If we don't do what even the most basic job does ... if you turn around and basically say you can only take this job if you promise to not have a child – I don't even know what to say in response to that. I'm offended."

Coun. Jyoti Gondek said she had absolutely nothing prepared for the conversation to take a "bizarre" turn, but wanted to weigh in personally about her own experience as a mother.

"I had a child, I delivered a baby and then delivered a report three weeks later to a client, and worked," she said. "It didn't rob me of my decision making ability, it didn't rob me of my mental capacity, in fact, it was a welcome diversion at times – granted I was sleep deprived."

Gondek was adamant that the conversation would be different if a councillor injured themselves, and couldn't physically be in chambers. She noted there's the technology to join in from home, or a hospital bed.

When asked why Farkas didn't reserve his vote for when rules were actually proposed he said he'd have an open mind for the future, and hopes the city can look at technology for those on leave to vote.

"I found it suitably vague enough that it wasn't able to earn my support today," he said, suggesting Coun. Carra's proposal was being altered on the fly, he called it a hot potato as to who would write the rules. "Again, I'm open minded for the future."

A sticking point for Farkas was the suggestion of proxy voting – where councillors who can't be at a meeting in person can still vote. The municipal governance act allows for councillors to vote even if they can't physically be in council chambers.

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