Should Ontario workers be able to take a parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child? The answer, of course, is “yes” – as supported by the province’s Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA).
New parents have the right to take up to 37 weeks of parental leave, without fear of losing their jobs. However, these rules do not apply to municipal councillors and mayors in Ontario.
This family-“unfriendly” omission was brought to my attention by Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic. During a June meeting, he pointed out that the Municipal Act allows for a 12 week leave, but if members of council are absent for longer, his/her seat is considered “vacant.”
In other words – the councillor or mayor is fired. Council has the ability to extend the leave, but the member has to go before council to ask for an extension.
One person who has faced this issue is Kitchener Councillor Kelly Galloway-Sealock, who just had her third child in October. A committed public servant, Galloway-Sealock has, in the past, packed up her babies and toted them to council meetings.
Is it reasonable or supportive of families to require a new parent to return to work just three months after the birth or adoption of a child? Berry said to me, “Daiene, you have to fix this.”
I agree with our mayor.
That’s why I’ve brought forward a Private Member’s Bill (PMB) titled: The Municipal Statute Law Amendment Act (Councillor Pregnancy and Parent Leave) 2016. The bill would extend the parental leave period to 20 weeks, and is similar to an amendment brought forward in neighbouring Quebec earlier this year.
My PMB would also eliminate the requirement of a council member having to “ask permission” to spend time with his/her baby, which is a demeaning process.
There are many barriers which already prevent women from choosing a career in politics, for example, the long hours and time away from family. In provincial and federal politics, the partisan sparring and acrimony is a turn off to many.
Limiting parental leave to three months is another barrier to women who are considering entering the world of Municipal politics. Three months is insufficient time to bond with your newborn or adopted child.
Removing this obstacle begins to change political structures for the better by further encouraging women to run at the local level.
Currently, only 26 percent of municipal councillors are women, while only 16 percent are serving as mayors. These figures are substantially below targets set by the United Nations, which suggests 30 percent representation is required to achieve a “critical mass” to produce more representative public policy.
When you have women sitting at the decision-making table, they advance very different issues for the betterment of communities and society.
Guaranteeing Ontario municipal council members the right to a 20 week parental leave is an important step toward attracting more women to the political sphere where their voices need to be heard.
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