It's time to update Parliament's policies on parental leave
Newsflash: a person with a high profile job just showed up at work with her new baby. In Canada this apparently still merits front-page coverage in a national newspaper.
Of course, the baby in question, Oliver by name, is awfully cute, which alone might justify a page one photo. But it’s his mother’s job that has people talking. Karina Gould is the minister for democratic institutions in Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government and she’s the first federal minister to give birth while in office.
This is a milestone of sorts in the unfolding story of gender and politics in Canada. But, if anything, it shows how far Parliament still lags behind other workplaces and other countries, despite the gender-parity rhetoric so favoured in Liberal Ottawa.
At this point pregnant politicians are old hat. Here in Ontario, for example, Laurel Broten gave birth to twins while serving as a minister at Queen’s Park more than a decade ago. New Zealand even has a pregnant prime minister: Jacinda Ardern is expecting her first child in June and plans to take a six-week mat leave.
Other countries are also used to seeing MPs breastfeeding their tots while taking care of business. Australian senator Larissa Waters broke that barrier in Canberra last year, and lactating lawmakers have been spotted in parliaments from Argentina to Spain, Iceland, Scotland and Strasbourg. A notable exception, ironically, is the so-called Mother of Parliaments at Westminster, which still struggles with the issue.
Ottawa, though, is way behind the curve. Our House of Commons doesn’t even have an official parental leave policy. Gould and other MPs who’ve given birth have to take time off under medical or family leave policies and are officially allowed only 21 days off before having their pay docked.
The Trudeau government promised to change this in its last budget, as well it should. Young Oliver’s visit to Parliament Hill should serve as a reminder to get on with the job.