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New Westminster adopts maternity/parental leave policy

Council members will be able to take a leave and receive full pay
Maternity and Parental leave - Getty
New West city council has approved a new maternity and parental leave policy for council members.

Members of New Westminster council won’t have to risk losing their jobs if they miss council meetings after becoming parents.

At Monday’s meeting, council adopted a draft maternity/parental leave policy, which will ensure members of council are provided with paid time off to coincide with the birth or adoption of a child.

“This policy enables individuals to recover from childbirth, bond with, and care for their newborn or adopted child, without fear of negative impact on the status of their position of office,” states the policy. “The City of New Westminster recognizes the physical, emotional and psychological demands of being a new parent, and considers that a period of leave is important for the wellbeing of both the parent and the child.”

According to a staff report, the Community Charter states that a council member is to be disqualified from holding office if they are absent from council meetings for a period of 60 consecutive days or four consecutive, regularly scheduled council meetings, whichever is the longer time period. (Some exceptions apply, such as illness or injury, but maternity and parental leave are not included.)

The report states the Community Charter includes a mechanism for council to grant a leave to a council member, but it’s discretionary in nature and creates uncertainty. Staff note that municipalities have been calling on the province to change the Local Government Act and Community Charter to provide maternal/parental leave to councillors.

A report to council, prepared by city clerk Jacque Killawee, said the policy takes into consideration the city’s goal of supporting a diverse municipal government that is vibrant and compassionate.

Coun. Nadine Nakagawa thanked staff for bringing this report back to council so promptly.

“This type of policy really dictates who can put their name forward and who can't,” she said. “And so, it's really vital as we're looking towards a new council being elected on Oct. 15.”

Coun. Mary Trentadue said the policy will potentially open the door for a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t have considered doing council work.

“I really wish that this had been around when I had originally run because it was challenging for me as a new mom, single mom,” she said. “It was really difficult to try to do both. So I really appreciate this.”

The staff report included examples of other cities with maternity/ parental plans in place: Whistler and Squamish each provide six months of maternity leave and six months of parental/adoption leave; North Saanich allows 17 weeks of maternity and 61 or 62 weeks of parental/adoption leave; Calgary provides 16 weeks (four months) of maternity and 26 weeks (6.5 months) for parental/adoption leave; and Coquitlam offers 16 weeks of maternity leave and 16 weeks of parental leave.

What’s in the policy?

Here are some of the provisions of the City of New Westminster’s new maternity and parental leave policy:

*A member of council who has given birth is eligible for a paid maternity leave, covering pre and post-natal time for a period of up to 17 consecutive weeks, which must be taken no earlier than 13 weeks before the expected birth date and no later than the actual birth day.

*A member of council who has given birth is eligible for up to 61 consecutive weeks of paid parental leave beginning immediately following the end of maternity leave.

* A member of council who is the parent of a child, but has not given birth to the child, is eligible for up to 62 consecutive weeks of paid parental leave beginning after the child’s birth and within 78 weeks after the birth.

* A member of council who adopts a child is eligible for up to 62 consecutive weeks of paid parental leave beginning within 78 weeks after the child has been placed with the member of council.

* During a maternity or parental leave, the council member will be entitled to their full remuneration.

* A council member who takes maternity or parental leave isn’t required to participate in council meetings, public hearings, committee meetings, etc. or perform other duties of a member of council. Despite being on maternity or parental leave, a council member may attend any meeting of council and exercise all of their rights and privileges – and this will not affect their leave.

According to the report to council, if the mayor requests a leave of absence it’s “of a different nature” because the mayor has a full-time role with the city, and not every councillor may have the capacity or desire to take on that role during the leave. The city proposes that the mayor be replaced by an interested council member, selected by council for the period of the leave, with compensation to reflect the work required.

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus