Historic Pregnancy Gets Canada Talking About Child Care and Parental Leave

Stephanie McLean, Alberta's first pregnant MLA, is raising questions about the logistics of moms-to-be in office

Stephanie McLean, a 28-year-old Calgary native, is having a baby. It’s happy news for her and her family. But it isn’t exactly big news, is it?

Well, throw into the mix, the fact that the mom-to-be is a New Democrat politician, who was elected in the Alberta General election this year to represent the district of Calgary-Varsity, and you’ve got yourself some pretty groundbreaking stuff. 

Because Stephanie, expecting her first child—a boy—in February, is the first MLA in the province to be pregnant while in office.       

And while the history books are being rewritten and everyone gets excited about this significant moment in Calgary’s history, government is rushing around trying to find somewhere for mothers to change their baby’s diapers in Federal Building. 

McLean has said that she is planning to return to work as soon as possible after her delivery. Which is just as well, considering that MLA’s can’t take paid parental leave because they do not pay into employment insurance. 

To add further difficulties to would-be MLA parents, any who miss more than ten days of a sitting will have his or her pay docked by $100 for every absence.

And while there are some exceptions—bereavement, public duties or illness—as McLean sardonically observed, “Well, having a child is not an illness.” You sass them, sister! 

When the Premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley, came into power, she filled the government benches with a lot more women, almost levelling the gender balance (hooray!) but simultaneously creating a need for child care facilities that reflected that (hmm.) 

So, down the nitty-gritty of the situation. If Stephanie, as suggested, plans to get back to work after the birth of her child, will she be able to bring the child into government offices? What happens if she needs to vote on something? Will baby be allowed in the chamber?

McLean herself mused on the logistics of her situation: "We all wear these passes around our neck with our picture on it," she said. "Am I going to have to get one of those for baby? Will they give me one?"

Well, first of all, we hope that baby McLean does have to wear a teeny-tiny lanyard with his official government photograph on, because, how cute would that be?

But on a serious note, it is a bit of a head scratcher. We’re hoping that this historic milestone marks a shift in changing attitudes and facilities that help to aid the transition of MLA mothers (or indeed fathers) back into work. The NDP, who have parents to 15 children under 10, are beginning to explore whether its time to create on-site childcare.

Brandy Payne, the MLA for Calgary-Acadia, said: “It seems to be that this is the first time this is being considered — that members, whether they’re mothers or fathers, might need support with child care”.

And it seems, everyone is weighing in on the debate and talking about making changes. Another NDP MLA, for Strathcona-Sherwood Park, Estefania Cortes-Vargas, proposed a non-binding motion, asking the province to consider the possibility of including childcare spaces in new government buildings.

And they did. It passed 56 to 9 in favour. The negatives mostly came from those concerned that it would create a huge increase in spending.

Progressive Conservative MLA Sandra Jansen, who voted in favour, said: “As a single mom, child care was the first thing I thought of when I woke up in the morning and the last thing I thought of when I went to bed at night”. 

The government will also be pushing to move the legislature hours to include times that would be more family friendly, like the morning, and away from its current reliance on evening sittings, which start at 7.30pm and can go late into the night.

As McLean commented, this is all something that “should have been a long time ago.” Amen, Stephanie, amen.







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