A Nova Scotia deputy mayor cheered yesterday as the provincial government unveiled legislation enabling municipal councillors to take parental leave without penalty and without asking permission of their councils.
Emily Lutz gave birth to her daughter Azie just nine days ago.
“I’m incredibly thrilled, I think it’s a barrier that is removed for young people who are interested in running for office,” said Lutz, who is a councillor and deputy mayor of Kings County, N.S., and one of the women who pushed for the change.
Amendments to the Municipal Government Act and the Halifax Charter introduced Friday would allow councillors who are pregnant, or who have recently become a parent, to miss three council meetings without risk of losing their seat and without financial penalty for up to 52 weeks.
Under current legislation, councillors automatically lose their seats if they miss three consecutive council meetings, while parental leave is granted by a motion of council and leave requests can be publicly debated.
Lutz said society has recognized for a while that maternity leave is something new mothers and fathers are entitled to.
“To have it applied to municipal politicians is a really positive step. I think it will open the doors for younger people and women to want to get involved and to feel like they are included.”
Municipal Affairs Minister Derek Mombourquette said the changes ensure any elected official in any municipality can make personal family decisions in private.
“These amendments will ensure that any elected official in any municipality can make a personal family decision in private without a public debate or motion of council and that they can take extended leave without penalty,” said Mombourquette.
WATCH: ‘Eliminates another barrier’: Political community reacts to potential maternity leave rights
He said the changes were developed with input from a parental accommodations committee, which included representatives from the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities, the Nova Scotia Village Commission, the Association of Municipal Administrators of Nova Scotia, and the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women.
The changes would also allow any elected official who is absent on parental leave to return to committees on which they serve.
Parental leave was also highlighted by Lutz’s council colleague Megan Hodges, who appeared at the legislature last fall in support of an NDP private member’s bill, saying the issue had been “overlooked.”
The NDP bill was tabled by Claudia Chender, who said she was pleased by what the government presented.
“It’s long overdue,” said Chender.
“We know that there is a barrier for parents … entering political life and we believe that this will reduce one of those barriers.”
Chender said the legislature’s house management committee is continuing to look at maternity leave for provincial politicians.
Currently, members would have to ask the Speaker’s permission to miss more than three sittings of the house.
Meanwhile, Lutz, who also has a two-year-old son, said she’s particularly glad municipal politicians won’t have to ask permission from their colleagues for something that can’t be equated with being sick or taking a vacation.
“To see it (parental leave) as something that is recognized as a natural thing and part of human life, I think is important,” she said.