Cape Breton Regional Municipality’s newly elected mayor Amanda McDougall showed up to her first official day at work on Monday – with her newborn son.
McDougall, who is also Cape Breton’s first female mayor, says her first day in office went better than expected.
“I think I psyched myself out a little too much at home before I came here thinking ‘oh, my goodness, what have I done? Have I over-committed myself and been dishonest with people about being able to do this, be a mom and the mayor?’’’
But she says many parents have been working from home throughout the coronavirus pandemic with their children present, and that she’s no different. McDougall also has a seven-year-old step son at home.
“As parents, you just do what you have to do to make everything happen during the day. So it was no different being in the office than it is at home,” McDougall said.
She says her month-old son Emmett was “super comfortable” at the office on her first day.
In fact, that wasn’t his first time at city hall. McDougall says she brought him in for a council meeting in November, when he was just six days old.
McDougall then took a leave until Monday. Now, she says her colleagues couldn’t be more supportive.
“The council supported me after I gave birth a little earlier than expected, staff members here are just so generous with their love and kindness and patience with me too. It’s really beautiful,” she says.
“And, I think it shows that in 2020 or 2021, it can be normal to bring your kid to work and be a working parent, and find that balance between family life and work life.”
McDougall hopes to set an example for others. She says those who are critical of having a young mother as mayor should talk to her.
“Let me be the example; let me show you that it is completely possible.”
She says she hopes those who are critical will shift their mindsets.
“(I want to) remind people that women have been having children since the beginning of time. There are many places around the world that do not have maternity leave, that this is the norm,” McDougall says.
“I’m hoping that this is the positive example that makes people feel comfortable with electing folks that are young parents.”
McDougall is wasting no time on her agenda in January. This month, the city will begin a strategic planning process, with a facilitator, to outline goals for the next four years.
“That to me is really important and crucial in terms of accountability and transparency to the public,” she said.
The city will also be working with Cape Breton University’s Tom Urbaniak, who McDougall called the “municipal guru,” on meetings, committee structures and planning.
She is also planning on introducing new roles at the office. Instead of the previous executive assistant and communications advisor positions, McDougall plans to introduce municipal Indigenous advisor, community consultation and policy researcher roles.
While Monday was her first official day back, McDougall says the job started the day after she was elected.
“Because I was a councillor, I think the transition into the office was pretty immediate and pretty easy. Because I was familiar with the building and the staff members, we could actually hit the ground running, so, yeah, we’ve got a lot of things on the go.”
The coronavirus pandemic has also been top-of-mind, she says.
“We’re not anywhere near the end of COVID-19 and the impact it’s having. So that is an every-day briefing, making sure that we’re staying strong and staying vigilant.”
McDougall says being a new mother, and a parent to a Grade 2 student, will play a huge role in how she responds to the pandemic as mayor.
“You don’t want your children to be exposed to anything that could hurt them or harm them, right? It’s really different when you’re thinking about yourself rather than thinking about your children,” she said.
She says she hopes Cape Bretoners see the benefit of having a young mother as mayor.
“For a long time the thought was, you know, our community is not growing; there’s no young people,” McDougall says.
“Well in fact, there are young people and there are many young families. And we are all working really, really hard to grow our community, to keep our legacies and our history going, and to find new wonderful creative opportunities.”
One of those legacies, she hopes, will be to normalize having Emmett at the office, and set precedent for other women and mothers in politics.
“When I first took office as mayor and called a meeting of the (senior administrators), I sat in my office and my CAO walked in, who is a woman, the CFO is also a woman, our municipal clerk is a woman. It was a pretty remarkable feeling.”
McDougall says she knows this will have an impact on children too.
“Previously, the only mention of a female mayor was in Paw Patrol, so now then can see it in real life. I think that’s really awesome”