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Vicky Mochama: House of Commons must consider paid parental leave

With an election coming, the challenge will not only be to ensure women are ready to run, but rather that politics is ready for what it means when women run.

Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould is expecting her first child.

Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press

Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould is expecting her first child.

There might be more babies in the House of Commons, and, for once, that’s not a complaint about its members.

Karina Gould, the minister for democratic institutions, is set to be the first female cabinet member (though not the first MP) to have a child while in office, according to the Globe and Mail.

(The “female” is key, because, presumably, dozens of men have had a kid while presiding over a government department without it being noted before.)

The challenge for Gould is that there are no paid days for parental leave for Members of Parliament. Gould is fortunate in that her salary is ample and she has some flexibility.

But in looking at ways to make politics and Parliament more woman-friendly, paid parental leave for elected officials must be considered.

MPs do not pay into federal employment insurance. This then leaves it to either parties to allow their members to take the time off or for the elected body to make up appropriate rules.

Canada’s Parliament has long been considering ways to adapt for MPs who wanted to have families while in office. For the larger portion of history, women MPs made the choice to sacrifice their family time in favour of their political career, or vice versa.

A report by the Parliamentary Library in 2012 noted a number of ways that gender-related issues affected women in Parliament from the length of sitting days to proxy voting to allowing of children on the House floor. A more recent report from the procedures and House affairs committee recommended that MPs should no longer be fined for absences stemming from parental leave or pregnancy.

Recently, changes to Alberta’s Municipal Governance Act gave city councils more leeway to decide their own parental leave policies for councillors. Ontario’s Municipal Act allows parents up to 20 weeks for maternity or parental leave. Similar changes are under consideration in Quebec, British Columbia and Nova Scotia.

There can be no doubt that more and more women from all backgrounds are going to run for office. There is an urgency in this moment that requires it.

A December report from the New York Times noted that in the aftermath of Trump’s election, Hilary Clinton’s loss and the attendant Women’s Marches, more women have signed up to run for office in the United States at every level of politics.

Along with clear sexual harassment guidelines, equal pay and changes to the sitting schedule, parental leave must be a part of putting more women in the House and elsewhere.

With a federal election coming in 2019, the greater challenge will not only be to ensure that women are ready to run, but rather that politics is ready for what it means when women run.

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