With a municipal election seven months away, a mother of three and councillor from Fort Saskatchewan wanted to make it easier for young people to see themselves sitting on council.
Jibs Abitoye was pregnant with her youngest child, her daughter, in 2019 – in the middle of her elected term.
“I had my baby in the summer, when council has a six-week break,” she said.
Abitoye feels lucky to have had that time with her daughter, because if it weren’t for the break, she wouldn’t have been able to stay home with her.
Elected officials in Alberta don’t pay employment insurance, and so they are ineligible for traditional parental leave.
But a few years ago, the NDP government made changes allowing municipalities to set their own parental leave bylaws; recently, Fort Saskatchewan did just that.
Abitoye proposed the change for future councillors, based on her own experience.
“It is very challenging, to be honest with you. I count myself very blessed to have a lot of support.”
When Abitoye’s husband had to return to work, she ended up bringing her baby girl to city hall.
“I actually got a babysitter and we came to council chambers together,” she laughed.
Her daughter was welcomed with open arms, even getting her picture taken with the mayor.
“I loved seeing her baby in and out of the budget deliberations and having to take a break for that. I think council was really receptive,” fellow councillor Lisa Makin said.
Fort Saskatchewan’s council unanimously supported the idea of a 16-week parental leave, with compensation set at 55 per cent.
“We’re diverse culturally, educationally, with experience and I would love to see that continue. I think this parental leave policy would reduce barriers for some people who would want to run,” Makin explained.
The new leave is available for new parents, both men and women, whether their child is biological or adopted.
“Especially in an election year like this, maybe we might be opening up the possibility of different demographics to run for council,” Abitoye explained.
Councillor Makin’s children are teenagers now, but she believes such a policy would have been instrumental when she was starting her family.
“If I implement this policy in my life back then, I think it truly would have broken down that barrier, it would have opened doors for me,” she said.
“To me, if it even helps one person to put their name forward this fall, I think that’s wonderful.”
The City of Edmonton implemented a bylaw for 26 weeks of parental leave back in 2018.
The first 10 weeks are paid in full, and compensation after that is dependent on how much work the councillor does.