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Parental leave for MPs a first, to be seen how it addresses reality of political life

Parental leave for MPs a first, to be seen how it addresses reality of political life
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NDP MP and new mom Niki Ashton s stroller with her twins made a visit to Parliament Hill recently as she prepares to go back to work. (Niki Ashton / Twitter)

Rachel Aiello , Ottawa News Bureau Online Producer

Published Monday, March 5, 2018 4:32PM EST

OTTAWA For the first time the federal government is pursuing a parental leave program for parliamentarians, but questions are being raised about how itll work for politicians whose jobs centre on representing their constituents year-round.

With a slowly growing contingent of female MPs of childbearing age and MPs with young families, there has been an increasing push to think seriously about revamping the rules to reflect the changing demographics. The 2018 budget took steps to address this, including promising a first-ever parental leave program for parliamentarians.

However, MPs will have to determine how to offer their colleagues time off to be with their newborns, while balancing their responsibilities as elected officials who operate under the idea that theyre "always working."

"The people are our bosses, and so its a little bit difficult to navigate so well have to see what the government, what ideas they have," said Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen in an interview with CTVNews.ca. "Youre always working, youre always on, always needing and wanting to meet with people, and to do your job."

In the 2018 budget tabled on Feb. 27, the government said it plans to create a system for maternity and parental leave for parliamentarians and will introduce amendments to the Parliament of Canada Act to do so.

As the rules currently stand, MPs:

Government House Leader Bardish Chagger -- who has been mandated to look at how the House could be better tailored to MPs work-life balance and is expected to spearhead this plan so far has no specific timeline or additional details on when the legislation to institute parental leave will come, or how itll work.

"There is no legislation or policy on parental leave for Parliamentarians. We believe this should change," she said in an email to CTVNews.ca. She said her plan is to work with both MPs and senators on their respective Internal Economy committees to develop the policy and said the concepts lean heavily on the recommendations from the Procedure and House Affairs Committees

A different kind of parental leave

NDP MP Niki Ashton has been a vocal proponent of improving the services available in Ottawa for parliamentarians who are new parents. After giving birth to twin boys four months ago, Ashton has returned to Parliament Hill with them on either hip.

Speaking to MPs ability to represent their constituents potentially being impacted by taking parental leave, Ashton told CTV News last week that while the work doesnt really stop, parental leave for MPs could consider a smaller window of time or different breakdown than is available to the general population.

Feb 8, 2018 at 2:06pm PST

"We should be looking at a bit of a different time frame absolutely, but what I would say is right now there is no recognition and thats not good enough."

Ashton said she was back on job going to local events eleven days after giving birth.

"There needs to be a different kind of parental leave. When were in the constituency we are doing work so just because were not on Parliament Hill doesnt necessarily mean were not doing the work," she told CTV News last week.

Bergen also suggested that the proposed parental leave should not be more generous than what is offered to other Canadians.

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould is currently on leave, in the anticipation of her first child in the coming days. She plans to stay in her Burlington, Ont. riding for six to eight weeks before returning to Parliament in May, but has pledged to stay involved locally.

Feb 15, 2018 at 4:20pm PST

Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef said the pledge to bring in parental leave is directly aimed at getting more women into federal politics, though she anticipates male MPs will be able to use the program as well.

"A diverse range of people need to take their seats in their house to ensure that our Parliament looks like our Canada," Monsef said in an interview with CTVNews.ca. "A lot of the decisions we make in Parliament are on behalf of the next generation," she said.

As for whether she is concerned that some Canadians may not like seeing their elected representatives taking time off, Monsef said: "The people who elect us expect us to have a lot in common with them and to know their realities."

House of Commons rules changing

In the 2018 budget the government also pledged to work with the other parties to implement other recommendations from the House Affairs Committee aimed at making Parliament more family-friendly. But this will come with re-opening the contentious Standing Orders, the rules that govern MPs and the House of Commons.

Among what the committee proposes that the government wants to put into action:

Chagger did not directly answer whether shed be looking to make other changes to the rules when the Standing Orders are amended to allow babies in the chamber.

A past attempt this Parliament made to update the Standing Orders resulted in acrimony between the government and the opposition and a filibuster in protest over the Liberals attempt to unilaterally change the rules for all MPs, without all MPs support.

The Conservatives so far do not support the proposal to re-open the Standing Orders in order to make this change.

"I dont see that the Standing Orders have to be changed. I think we all recognize that sometimes a mom or a dad whos an MP has to bring their baby in for just a short time and I think its working well," Bergen said.
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