Family-friendly changes coming to Alberta legislature

Justice Minster Kathleen Ganley is expecting her first child this fall, making her the third Alberta MLA to give birth while in office. The pregnancies of Ganley and two of her colleagues have prompted changes to the legislative assembly.

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley will be only the third Alberta MLA to give birth while holding office

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley was flanked by Nunavut Minister of Justice Keith Peterson, left, and Northwest Territories Minister of Justice Louis Sebert at a meeting of justice ministers in Ottawa last April. Ganley announced Friday she is expecting her first child this fall. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press )

Legislative changes preventing MLAs from being docked pay for parental leave are in the works after they were set aside so the government could pass its labour legislation last spring.

Calgary-East NDP MLA Robyn Luff chaired the subcommittee on family-friendly workplaces.

"It was really important for our caucus to get through some other changes like in Bill 17 with the labour relations because we really wanted to make sure we were looking after women all across Alberta before looking after ourselves," Luff said.

Luff's committee made seven recommendations last October.

They include the creation of a resource guide for new parents, changes to the the standing orders to allow children on the floor of the legislature and improved access for spouses, children and caregivers to the assembly and Federal Building.

The standing order allowing MLAs to bring a child into the legislative assembly was passed in March. The guide and improved access are still in the works. 

Change tables and improved signage have been added to legislative assembly washrooms and there is a booster seat in the legislature cafeteria.

The changes were prompted by the pregnancy of Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean, who gave birth in February 2016, making her the first MLA to have a child while in office.

Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne had her second child, a daughter, last summer.

Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean was joined by her husband Shane and their son Patrick at Monday's top baby names announcement. (CBC/Rick Bremness)

On Friday, Premier Rachel Notley announced Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley was expecting her first child.

Ganley is due at the end of November. She hasn't yet decided how much time she will take off after she gives birth, but acknowledges she won't be able to take a full maternity leave.

However, she plans to look to McLean and Payne for guidance.

"Fortunately, I have two colleagues to rely on for expertise in this particular area even just in our government," she said.

No paid parental leave

McLean's experience showed there was very little available to help expectant MLAs.

When she learned she was pregnant in 2015, McLean couldn't find any official information on parental leave. The closest thing she uncovered was a section in the standing orders of the legislative assembly that dealt with bereavement.  

McLean was appointed to cabinet 10 days before she had her son. She was back on the job three weeks later and didn't miss any time in the assembly.

She credits ministry staff and her fellow cabinet ministers for making the transition easier.

She recalls how her colleagues helped when she brought her son to her first cabinet meeting.

"They were lovely and supportive and it just made it all the much more easier to even just have those words of comfort," she said.

McLean said the work of Luff's committee will address some of the problems she encountered. As minister for the status of women, McLean has actively encouraged women to run for public office. Having a resource guide would help.

"It would take a little bit of anxiety out of it, especially for women who are considering running," she said.

The recommendation to amend section 34 of the Legislative Assembly Act would allow MLAs to miss a spring or fall sitting without financial penalty.

Unlike most Canadians, MLAs can't take paid parental leave because they don't pay into employment insurance.

But they currently face deductions from their indemnity and expense allowances if they miss more than 10 sitting days in a session.

This means that a woman could be penalized for missing time after having a baby since the only exceptions are illness, injury, bereavement and official business.

Luff isn't sure when the legislative amendments will be introduced but hopes they will come this fall.