Parental leave bylaw for elected officials on horizon

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More barriers are about to be broken down for those thinking about running for elected office.

On Tuesday, April 27, council agreed to direct administration to draft a parental leave bylaw for elected officials.

The proposed bylaw will include provisions for six to eight weeks of health-related leave plus up to 20 weeks parental leave, as well as 26 weeks of parental leave for the non-birth parent. Remuneration would cover 100 per cent of time taken for maternity (a.k.a. the parent giving birth) and the non-health-related portion of time would equal the maximum unemployment insurance benefit entitlement of 55 per cent of the base monthly amount (a maximum of $595 weekly). Benefits would continue for the councillor during maternity leave and the councillor would pay both portions during parental leave.

Ward 8 Coun. Katie Berghofer, the lone female on council, said she’s finished having children herself, but she’d like to have this bylaw in place to open the doors to people having young families who might be thinking about running in the upcoming fall municipal election. Tabling the motion to create the bylaw, she said the policy will remove barriers and increase inclusivity on council.

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“As parents, you need time to be there to develop with your children. It doesn’t mean that you can’t add value to this office. I think more individuals who are of that mindset need to be in this office to really truly add value and have their voices heard,” Berghofer said.

“We don’t know if someone would not run because this was lacking. At least have a policy there, so you can choose to use it. You’re not forced to use it; take whatever portion of leave you want,” she added.

During the Tuesday, April 27 council meeting, Ward 8 Coun. Katie Berghofer received support from her council colleague with a 6-2 vote in regards to the creation of a parental leave bylaw for elected officials. The bylaw will return to council for debate and approval on May 18. Lindsay Morey/News Staff
During the Tuesday, April 27 council meeting, Ward 8 Coun. Katie Berghofer received support from her council colleague with a 6-2 vote in regards to the creation of a parental leave bylaw for elected officials. The bylaw will return to council for debate and approval on May 18. Lindsay Morey/News Staff

Ward 2 Coun. Dave Anderson recalled having a very young family during his first time on council and wanted this bylaw to offer support for young women who have just given birth.

“Giving that space to allow them to enjoy the excitement of starting a family and having additional little ones is important and having that sense of security. Knowing that they can take care of some of those financial obligations and having that freedom to just enjoy that time is really important,” Anderson said. “This is a long time coming and I hope this opens the opportunities for others who might be thinking about running for council since we are making it more friendly.”

Ward 4 Coun. Bill Tonita agreed that the role should be flexible for people who are having children and the municipality should be on the leading edge with such policies in order to open the door to more election candidates.

“I’m confident that if one of our members were to go on leave due to parental reasons, the rest of council would step in and sit on that committee or what have you for that period of time because it’s just the right thing to do. If we support family and children and want to create the best world that we can, free of mental health challenges, we should say that we’re supporting our colleagues to the same extent. Parental leave should just be a given, in my view,” Tonita said. “We should be a community that supports everyone.”

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Ward 7 Coun. Glen Lawrence didn’t see the need for this, calling it “poor planning” to have children while in elected office.

“People know what they’re signing up for four years. I don’t know why anyone would go through this (just) to take time off. Is it fair for the rest of us to pick up the slack?” Lawrence said, asking if parental leave would put into question if a ward would be represented adequately.

Ward 5 Coun. Paul Smith baulked at that concept, outlining both of his own children swore they wouldn’t get married or have children and both have done the opposite in a few short years.

“Life happens,” Smith said. “We have to get this done. We have a gap.”

Lawrence also worried anything about elected officials’ salaries should be reviewed by an independent committee, but administration said that might not happen until 2022 due to the expertise needed to be reflected in those chairing that group. He proposed a referral motion, which was defeated in a 7-1 vote (Smith was later absent during the meeting).

Countering that point, Berghofer said something has to be in place now because the nomination process has already started for election candidates, and she suggested the bylaw can be reviewed at a later date.

“This is about being in step with the times,” noted Mayor Rod Frank. “There is a gap. Right now, we need something in place for the impending election.”

Strathcona County is currently an anomaly on this file as many municipalities in Alberta already offer parental leave for elected officials. Some of those include Blackfalds, Calgary, Edmonton, Fort Saskatchewan, Lacombe, Spruce Grove, Sturgeon County, and Sylvan Lake.

Council agreed to creating the bylaw in a 6-2 vote, with councillors Brian Botterill and Lawrence against (Smith was absent).

Botterill agreed overall parental leave should be a county policy, however, he preferred another option that would go a step further and give full salary and benefits.

The bylaw will return to council for debate and approval on May 18.

lmorey@postmedia.com

twitter.com/LindsayDMorey

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