The Current

Minister Karina Gould wants proxy votes for politicians on parental leave

Should politicians on parental leave be able to vote by proxy? We talk to a panel of politicos who argue the provision would encourage more people with young families to run for office, and set an example that could make the work-parenting balance easier for everyone.

Having a baby shouldn't be a barrier to political life: Gould

Members of Parliament, including Minister of International Development Karina Gould and her son Oliver, in the House of Commons chamber after the house rises, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Dec. 13, 2018. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

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Federal minister Karina Gould is calling for politicians on parental leave to be granted proxy votes so they can continue their work while caring for their newborn children.

"If you've just given birth or you have a medical emergency, you should be able to assign a proxy," said Gould, Canada's International Development Minister.

She pointed to the example of Tulip Siddiq, a British MP who delayed her C-section last year to attend a Brexit vote in the House of Commons in London.

"In 2020, we should very much be able to address some of these issues," Gould told The Current's guest host Rosemary Barton.  

In 2018, Gould became the first sitting federal cabinet minister to give birth while in office. She took four weeks parental leave away from official engagements, but said she still worked on government business from her home in Burlington, Ont.

Karina Gould makes history as the first cabinet minister to have a child while in office 1:10

"It is really important to be able to give women and young parents permission to feel that they can do both," she said.

Women in particular "shouldn't be penalized for having a child," she said.

"It's actually something that they should be proud of and encouraged to [do], and it shouldn't be a barrier for taking on these positions."

Britain's parliament is running a pilot program allowing MPs to vote by proxy. Its introduction was prompted by public outcry after the publication of images of a wheelchair-bound Siddiq waiting to vote in the House of Commons.

Labour MP Valerie Vaz spearheaded the pilot. She explained that the absent MP can choose their proxy and tell them how to cast their vote. They can still watch debates and discussions to inform their decision.

"I think that you should seriously think about it in Canada — it hasn't hurt anyone," Vaz said.

British MPs started a pilot program on proxy voting after MP Tulip Siddiq, bottom right, postponed a C-section to attend a vote on Brexit in Jan. 2019. (Reuters)

'I did not run for council to take time off'

Former Toronto City Councillor Christin Carmichael Greb said she doesn't think proxy voting should be allowed. 

"If you do take the parental leave, which just came in last year, which is fully funded by the taxpayer, you should not be allowed to participate in any vote at council or committee," she told The Current.

Carmichael Greb argued that a politician's duty is to the residents that voted them into office.

"When I had my daughter in 2016, there was no parental program, but I wouldn't have taken it because I did not run for council to take time off," she said.

"I ran for council to serve my residents for those four years, and I did not think that it would be fair to residents to not be there." 

Former Toronto City Councillor Christin Carmichael Greb said a politician's duty is to the residents who elected them. (CBC News)

Gould said Carmichael Greb is entitled to choose not to take the time off, and she would support her in that choice.

But she would also support those who decided taking the time off was best for their families, adding that the voices and lived experience of young parents is needed in parliament.

Gould argues that proxy votes would allow those voices to be heard in cabinet, even during leave.

"I think we need the policies in place to make sure that we can support a diversity of people who want to enter politics, and whose voices actually matter," she told Barton.

"It's so fundamentally important that we enable young parents, particularly young women, to be able to participate in the parliamentary process."

Same issues, different sectors

Toronto City Councillor Joe Cressy said better parental leave should be available for all Canadians, not just politicians.

"What I want for me as a father, I want for everybody in society," said Cressy, who has a three-month-old son, Jude, and is calling for proxy votes to be implemented for Toronto City Council.

"Whether you're a freelance worker on [Employment Insurance], or you're in a workplace where you get a parental leave top-up for 12 to 18 months, we want to make it easier for you to take parental leave," he said.

"We want to establish parental leave policies that actually allow you to be there for your kids in that valuable first year."

Sarah Kaplan, who researches parental leave programs, said that politicians can set an influential example in how they approach early childcare. 

"When you have someone like a Joe Cressy saying, 'I'm going to take time to care for my child,' that sends a huge message to the rest of society,'" said Kaplan, director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. 

But she added that people in all careers are struggling with the same issues, because our working lives were designed to allow a man to go to work, and a woman to stay at home and raise children. 

"That's just not a model that holds up," she told Barton.

She suggested workplaces, political or otherwise, could consider aligning work and school calendars. There could also be arrangements for breastfeeding mothers or the ability to work closer to — or from — home when needed. 

"What we're basically saying is we need to redesign jobs to accommodate the very real fact that people have children."


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Idella Sturino. 

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