Alberta looks to change ‘archaic’ legislation around MLA parental leave

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said her government will look into changing “an archaic piece of legislation” in order to allow more flexibility for Members of the Legislative Assembly who want to take parental leave.

“In the long term, obviously, we’re going to change that piece of legislation. No question. It’s got to be fixed. It’s wrong,” Notley said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Under current legislation, sitting MLAs cannot take paid maternity or parental leave because they do not pay into Employment Insurance. The house rules also state that any MLA who misses more than 10 days in the house will have their pay docked by $100 per day, unless it’s for illness, injury, bereavement or official business.

The legislation hasn’t been an issue until now because an Alberta MLA has never given birth to a child while in office. However, Calgary-Varsity MLA Stephanie McLean is expecting a child early next year, which has caused the government to stop and reconsider the policy.

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“It’s, I would suggest, an archaic piece of legislation in that respect and probably would not withstand the test of a charter challenge,” said Notley.

“We are looking at ways to fix it but we will fix it and we will make sure that she suffers no economic loss.”

McLean called the premier’s comments “encouraging and supportive.”

“I knew going in to the job that it was very much like that of a small business owner in many respects which I was previously,” said McLean.

“However, what was surprising is to see in the legislature act that there is almost a punitive section.”

McLean added that being at the centre of the discussion surrounding a potential change to the current policy is a “big responsibilities.”

“It’s not one that I take lightly, and, you know, it’s certainly an opportunity that I have to champion some of these causes, and that in of itself is exciting.”

Notley did note, though, that taking time off as an MLA does bring up some concerns about how constituents would be properly represented.

“It’s a bit of a different situation when you’re in an elected position for a short term. How do you balance those interests and the interests of your constituents to have representation against the fact that other people get the full year off through mat leave?” she said.

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“There’s going to have to be some creative problem solving on this one but the key is to acknowledge that elected officials have kids.”

During Wednesday’s news conference, Notley also congratulated McLean and showed the media a Jack Layton-inspired onesie she’s ready to give McLean as a gift.

“Let me just say we’re very much looking forward to the new caucus member that we will be having and I look forward to giving her the first ever, well, the Jack Layton onesie, but the first one given to a caucus member here in Alberta.”

Alberta’s Opposition Wildrose party said Thursday it would support changing rules to make life easier for politicians who are parents of young children, including allowing them to bring their babies to the legislature. Wildrose member Angela Pitt said being a politician is not like other jobs and all Albertans need to be treated equally.

Neither the Wildrose nor the NDP provided details of proposals on how the government can come up with a family-friendly parental leave policy for politicians.

With files from The Canadian Press

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