Nfld. & Labrador

Young children at home mean challenges on the campaign trail, candidates say

Candidates from several parties say that having kids makes it more difficult to get involved in politics, but also provides additional motivation to do the work.

Adding child care to the list of campaign to-dos can be difficult, especially without broader family support

Having young children sometimes means taking them out campaigning with you, Gillian Pearson says. (Gillian Pearson/Facebook)

Kissing babies on the campaign trail is a long-standing political cliché, but the children in question aren't expected to be a candidate's own.

Several candidates in the province's ongoing provincial election, however, are balancing the demands of campaigning with those of child rearing — and they say more people like them should be able to do the same.

But even candidates who say they got into the race in part because they want to see issues like child care addressed in provincial politics concede that doing so with young children in the family is a challenge.

"I feel if we are electing the same types of people, that we're generally talking about the same perspective and the same outcome," said Gillian Pearson, the PC candidate for Mount Pearl-Southlands who has brought her youngest child to the campaign office and from door to door when child care wasn't available.

"I thought, you know, it's really important to have a range of voices at the table and parents with young children are underrepresented in legislatures in electoral politics. So I wanted to change that."

Several provincial election candidates told CBC about the difficulty of balancing the demands of running a campaign with a young family to care for, but they also said family was part of their motivation for getting involved in politics in the first place.

'This is a very young town'

As a province, Newfoundland and Labrador is getting older, with an average age of 43.7 years, compared with the national average of 41.0. 

But there are still many people in the province who are raising children, and those potential voters have concerns about issues like child-care costs, which have been singled out during the election campaign by all three major parties.

Jordan Brown, the NDP's candidate in Labrador West, said access to affordable child care was part of his own motivation for running.

The challenges of running while parenting young children are amplified for Brown during this campaign, he said, because his wife unexpectedly had to travel to St. John's for a few weeks of job training. 

"I'm trying to juggle my kids and my campaign along with my dad's work schedule and my stepmom's work schedule and my mom's work schedule so that there's always someone to watch the children," he said.

That sometimes means having his younger daughter, who is two and a half years old, with him as he works on the campaign. But while that's logistically challenging, Brown said, it's also a positive for some voters.

"This is a very young town," he said. There are many young families just like his in Labrador City, Brown said, and he's received feedback that voters are happy to see someone like them — with young children of his own — running.

"I live here with my own family, so I know what parents and young people are facing in this community right now."

Family sacrifices

The difficulty of securing child care, due to both high costs and a shortage of spaces, is one of the reasons he decided to run for office, Brown said.

"I'm running to improve things for parents."

If he wins in Labrador West, Brown will have to spend some time away from home at legislature in St. John's. The commitment will be different than for the governing party or official opposition, he said, but his mother-in-law will be available for child care when needed.

"My ultimate goal is only to be in St. John's when I absolutely have to be in St. John's, and I will be home as much as I possibly can be because I don't feel that I'm doing much good [locally] if I'm not in my own community," he said.

There's no doubt it requires a lot of sacrifice by a lot of people around you.- Andrew Parsons

For Andrew Parsons, who was a cabinet minister in the Ball government before the election call, the sacrifices of a political career do mean time away from his young family.

"It's a challenge. I know there are other candidates out there, in my party and others, that have kids, and it's a challenge," said Parsons, who is running for the Liberals in Burgeo-La Poile. 

"There's no doubt it requires a lot of sacrifice by a lot of people around you."

There are ways to mitigate those absences, said Parsons, who pointed to changes like the Wednesday morning sittings, which reduce the overall length of the House of Assembly session, and earlier planning of House sittings.

Technology has also naturally added some flexibility to the job, said Parsons, who spent that morning working from home on the campaign in between games of hide-and-seek with his five-year-old daughter.

Importance of support

But some of the tension between politics and parenting, Parsons conceded, is inevitable, especially if you are in cabinet. "For me, it's not just a matter of getting up in the morning and driving to work and then driving home," Parsons said. "Usually when the House in session, I leave on Sunday and drive or fly to St. John's, and then I don't get home usually [until] Friday lunchtime."

And the candidates who spoke with CBC said that without supportive spouses and extended family members who can help with child care, even running for office — let alone holding it — would be significantly more difficult.

So many of us working on the campaign have kids, and we have to bring them in.- Jenn Deon

"If I didn't have my mother, my mother-in-law, and a partner who is done [work] at 4 o'clock in the day, there's just no way I would have been able to take it on," said Pearson.

Along with structural changes like those Parsons mentioned, candidates and elected officials can do things on their own to make it more feasible for people with young families to get involved in provincial politics. Jenn Deon, the NDP candidate for Virginia Waters-Pleasantville, announced that her campaign headquarters are child-friendly.

"So many of us working on the campaign have kids, and we have to bring them in," Deon said.

The campaign started just before the Easter break week at school, she said, and her volunteer co-ordinator's children spent much of that week at her campaign office, which has board games and an extra computer on hand not only to occupy the children of staff and volunteers but also those of potential constituents who might stop by.

In addition to making it easier for people with children to work for or volunteer with her campaign, Deon said the change makes it more likely that older kids — like her own son, who is a teenager — will get involved as volunteers as well, perhaps even catching the political bug that could lead them to become the candidates of the future.

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