Calgary city councillor 'appalled' during parental leave debate

The debate around whether Calgary city councillors should be allowed to take parental leave left some on council shaking their heads Monday and others "appalled" by comments from a colleague.

'If this conversation was around somebody with a disability ... we would do everything we could'

Coun. Jyoti Gondek said she's committed to the future of the city, which is why she supports four major new developments that Coun. Jeromy Farkas characterized in a recent newspaper column as a 'Hail Mary event' (CBC)

The debate around whether Calgary city councillors should be allowed to take parental leave left some on council shaking their heads Monday and others "appalled" by comments from a colleague. 

Council voted to have administration explore the idea and report back by the second quarter of the year, looking at things like how much leave councillors should be entitled to, how their duties would be fulfilled while they are away and how much they would be paid.

Council voted 13-1 in favour of the move, with Coun. Jeromy Farkas the lone opposing voice (Coun. Evan Woolley removed himself from the discussion as he and his wife are expecting later this year).

Farkas raised the eyebrows — and the hackles — of some of his council colleagues when he questioned the need for elected officials to take parental leave, calling it a "betrayal" of those who voted for them.

"I really respect and admire the intent of this proposal, I see it as attempting to remove barriers, especially for those looking at a career in politics," he said.

"I don't see this as an ordinary job. I think we're elected to serve for a fixed term … Every day we make really important decisions, if I'm not here and part of those decisions, I find that to be a betrayal of those who elected me."

That left some on council flabbergasted, including Coun. Jyoti Gondek, who noted that before being elected to office, she delivered a report to a client, three weeks after delivering a child. 

Calgary city council voted 13-1 in favour of exploring parental leave for councillors. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

"It didn't rob me of my decision-making ability, it didn't rob me of my mental capacity. In fact, it was a welcome diversion at times," she said.

"Granted, I was sleep deprived, but I still enjoyed my work. Putting it in the context of this role ... if this conversation was around somebody with a disability or an injury that kept you out of council chambers, we would do everything we could to figure out a way that that person could join from home or their hospital bed or wherever it may be. We have the technology for god's sake, why don't we use it?

"I am appalled someone would say you cannot represent your constituents because you have a child. Unbelievable to me."

Edmonton city council voted unanimously last month to allow elected members to take up to 26 weeks of leave.

Under that plan, councillors in the capital city receive full pay for the first 10 weeks of leave — paid through the city budget — then they can get a percentage of pay in the following 16 weeks, depending on what duties they are willing or able to perform.

City councillors don't pay into the federal employment insurance program, and are therefore not eligible to collect EI.

Written notice must also be given prior to the leave, along with a plan on how constituents will be represented in their absence.

Asked about proxy voting — one councillor voting on behalf of another — City of Calgary solicitor Glenda Cole told council she's not aware of any language around that in the provincial Municipal Governance Act, which was a concern to some.

"It's items we'd have to look at … when it comes to actually putting it in place," said Coun. Shae Keating. "It may be down to one less vote would, in some cases, change a lot of the patterns in the future."