‘Let’s make this normal’: Maritime politicians want more support for new parents in politics

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WATCH: Memramcook-Tantramar MLA Megan Mitton, who is expecting her second child, is pushing for changes that will better support new parents who are in politics. Silas Brown reports – Mar 9, 2021

From change tables in the washrooms, to the status of infants on the floor of the legislature, Memramcook-Tantramar MLA Megan Mitton is pushing for protocols to be put in place to aid lawmakers who are new parents.

Mitton, who is expecting her second child in June, says she recently discovered the lack of systems in place for MLAs who have children while in office.

Read more: Opposition forces standoff in N.B. legislature over lack of hybrid sittings

“There’s a whole list of things that I think should be implemented that would really support new parents as MLAs and make the legislature more gender inclusive,” Mitton said.

“When I contacted HR to find out what’s in place, what’s on the books, it was clear that there’s not really a plan in place.”

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That should change, Mitton says. She says she’s received a commitment that changing tables will be installed in the bathrooms of the legislative precinct, but larger suggestions need more study.

Some possibilities include allowing infants on the floor of the legislature, proxy or virtual voting for new parents who can’t be present, parental leave for new parents and subsequent constituent support. The Legislative Administration Committee is due to look at some of the issues.

“I’m hoping we can get some stuff written down, so that there are clear policies, there are clear supports for parents,” she said.

“This is something I believe could help more women to be involved and increase the diversity of our legislature, but it’s also good for any new parent.”

Mitton noted that the last MLA to give birth was Carolle de Ste-Croix some time in the mid-90s.

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More recently, during a debate on hybrid sittings of the legislature last month, fellow Green caucus member, Kent North MLA Kevin Arseneau, spoke about leaving for Fredericton just 72 hours after his wife had given birth.

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But with women still tasked with the majority of child-rearing responsibilities, and remaining under represented in politics, some say changes to make political workplaces more child-friendly are crucial to increasing diversity.

The election in the summer of 2020 saw a record 14 women elected — just under 30 per cent of total MLAs. The only party to run a gender-balanced slate were the Greens.

A province over, Amanda McDougall knows the challenges of being a new mother in politics intimately.

McDougall was elected mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality in October 2020 and gave birth to her son Emmett in December. She’s had to deal with repeated questions of how she can balance caring for a newborn and her position in the mayor’s office.

“Let’s make this normal, let’s make it normal for elected officials to have their children and know that they’re completely capable of their jobs,” McDougall said, as she fed Emmett from a bottle in her Sydney, N.S. office.

“It’s interesting when people question, ‘Well can you do your job?’ I am.”

Read more: Cape Breton elects Amanda McDougall as its first female mayor

McDougall, the first woman to serve as mayor of the CBRM, says fostering an environment that is friendly for new parents is important to attracting younger people to politics.

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“If you want young people in politics, if you want change, if you want things to be done differently, you’re going to have to work with different,” she said.

Mitton echoed that concern, saying that young men and women shouldn’t have to choose between politics and starting a family.

“There’s an opportunity to have younger people, to have people who would put off entering politics, or might not enter politics because of their caregiving and their family responsibilities,” Mitton said.

“There’s an opportunity to make our legislature more inclusive of different people.”

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