Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/7/2016 (1310 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
There are many ways the House of Commons can become a more family-friendly place to work, but don’t expect much from a standing committee tasked to study the issue. Its report on ways to make Parliament become more inclusive and modern, and to improve the work-life balance of parliamentarians and their staff was lacklustre, to say the least, with three important recommendations put on the shelf for now.
The average age of parliamentarians dropped in 2011 from 52 years of age to 51, with that average maintained in the 2015 election. The so-called orange wave brought with it the youngest MP elected in Canada — 19-year-old NDP MP Pierre-Luc Dusseault, and there were several youthful faces on Parliament Hill following that election. Now, in 2016, with the second-youngest prime minister ever and with an influx of young men and women put into position as cabinet ministers, family-friendly policies are being considered to encourage even more young parents with children to run for office.
Being an MP takes a toll on marriage and families. According to a 2013 report, Canadian MPs have a divorce rate that is twice as high as the national average. In 2013, 85 per cent of Canada’s MPs were divorced, up from 70 per cent in 2011. Some of these MPs were divorced before being elected, but the long hours put in on the Hill and the often long distance from the family is not conducive to marital bliss.
Government House leader Dominic LeBlanc was given the mandate to "work with opposition House leaders to examine ways to make the House of Commons more family-friendly for members of Parliament." Mr. LeBlanc told reporters in March that Parliament should be modernized to encourage parents of young children to run for office.
However, the committee members could not agree on eliminating Friday sittings and extending the hours for sitting Mondays to Thursdays. For many MPs with families, sitting in the House on Friday makes a difficult job even more taxing, particularly those who live a distance away from Ottawa. It is hard to fly back to the home constituency, not only to meet with constituents but also to reconnect with family.
A study by Samara, a non-partisan organization that highlights problems with Canada’s political system, that interviewed MPs after they left politics found those they surveyed supported eliminating House activity on Fridays. One MP was quoted as saying, "I would do away with the Friday sittings altogether. Usually, the leaders and ministers aren’t there anyway; Fridays are pretty much a loss."
Another recommendation that could help MPs with families is the use of either proxy or electronic voting when members are absent for a restricted set of reasons. Australia’s House of Representatives permits members who are nursing infants to cast proxy votes. Again, this recommendation did not move forward.
Allowing a proxy vote would prevent the embarrassing situation that took place in 2012, when NDP MP Sana Hassainia was breastfeeding her three-month-old baby and had to go back into the House to participate in a vote on a bill to abolish the long-gun registry. She had no choice but to take the baby on the legislature floor and was then asked to leave by a page. Being able to vote by proxy or vote electronically would have taken care of that easily.
Finally, MPs are not eligible for maternity leave or any other type of long-term leave. Members’ pay is cut by $120 a day for any absence longer than 21 sitting days per session, yet the committee failed to come up with any recommendations on how to address this issue and has said it will revisit the topic after further study.
If the Trudeau government really wants Parliament to be family-friendly, it needs to do more than open up access for families to MPs’ electronic calendars or change protocol on travel for family members. It needs to make it easier for families to see each other without affecting the job the MPs are paid to do. After all, it’s 2016.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.