Bill 46 aims make parental leave equitable

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On Oct. 27, Bill 46, a Private Member’s Bill that calls for a 20-week parental leave, opposed to 12 weeks, for Ontario mayors and municipal councillors who become new parents while in office, passed with all-party support.

Bill 46, also known as the Municipal Statute Law Amendment Act

(Councillor Pregnancy and Parental Leave), 2016, was passed at the Ontario Legislature and was introduced by Kitchener-Centre MPP, Daiene Vernile.

Currently, the Municipal Act, 2001, does not mention or recognize maternity or parental leave for municipal councillors or mayors while they are in office. While there was originally a general leave of 12 weeks, if a councillor or mayor wanted to extend their leave, they would have to stand before council and ask permission for more time.

According to the Act, council members who are absent from meetings for more than 12 weeks will have their seat vacated if they do not receive permission from their council colleagues.

According to Vernile, some council members have found it demeaning in the past to ask for more time off.

“There are some municipal councillors who said to me that it’s degrading to have to do that, to have to beg for time off,” said Vernile.

While this practice may be demeaning, the number of women serving as municipal councillors or mayors in Ontario is underwhelming.

Currently, only 16 per cent of mayors are female and only 26 per cent of municipal councillors are women, in Ontario.

“We don’t really have a whole lot. There are very few examples where you have women in childbearing years who are serving at the local level,” said Vernile.

Kelly Galloway-Sealock, a Kitchener councillor who began lobbying for clarity within the Municipal Act when her first child was born, was the inspiration behind Bill 46. However, Galloway-Sealock couldn’t attend the passing of Bill 46 as her third child was born eight days prior.

“As a mom of 3 young children, all of which I have had during my time on Kitchener City Council, I believe it is important for the Municipal Act to recognize and acknowledge maternity and parental leave. My advocacy focuses around changes to the Municipal Act to include provisions and wording specific to maternity and parental leave,” said Galloway-Sealock’s statement regarding Vernile’s Private Member’s Bill.

“I feel strongly that changes to the Act should be clear and omit the ability for the municipal council to have authority to vote for a leave extension as is the case in the current Municipal Act. With the addition of any language around maternity and parental leave in the Municipal Act, I believe it will bring the Act up to current standards.”

According to Vernile, Kitchener mayor, Berry Vrbanovic, also approached Vernile to advocate for more women in local politics.

“[Vrbanovic] said to me, ‘Daiene, you have to fix this. It’s unfair, it’s archaic and essentially it penalizes women for motherhood, so if they are going to attract more women into local politics, we really need more to address this’,” said Vernile.

While some may believe serving  a local government is more family oriented, Vernile explained that becoming a MP or MPP requires traveling to Toronto or Ottawa, which results in more time spent away from family.

“You have to ask yourself, how family-friendly is it if you have a baby while you’re in office if you’re only going to get 12 weeks off after the birth or the adoption of a child. So it’s been stressed to me that this business of having to ask permission for the time is degrading,” she said.

While this is a big stride for mothers in politics, Vernile also stressed the importance of having fathers take time off to spend time with their children.

“Bill 46 also applies to dads who want to take parental leave. The language in the Bill specifies that term parental leave so it’s either for moms or dads who can take the leave,” she said.

“This bill is going to be clarity to parental leave rights within the Municipal Act. We want to have it stated right within the Act and hopefully it will serve to attract more women to local politics.”

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