OPEN LETTER: MPP Catherine Fife Calls on Government to Legislate Parental Leave for Municipal Councillors

WATERLOO — Catherine Fife, NDP MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo, sent the following letter to the Minister of Municipal Affairs following his inadequate response to her August 5, 2016 letter regarding pregnancy and parental leave for municipal councillors.

Hon. Bill Mauro
Minister of Municipal Affairs
17th Floor, 777 Bay Street
Toronto, ON  M5G 2E5

October 21, 2016

Re: Leave for Municipal Elected Officials

Dear Min. Mauro,

While I thank you for taking the time to reply to my letter dated August 5, 2016, I must register my serious concern with the substance of your response.

Municipal elected officials who have children and seek parental leave should not be forced to seek authorization via a resolution from council or risk vacating their seat, as per Section 259(1)(c) of the Municipal Act, 2001.

I am concerned that a failure to follow the lead of the Quebec National Assembly in establishing a minimum of 18 weeks of parental leave for sitting councillors will continue to represent a barrier for women in politics.

At present, women make up only 16% of mayors in Canada and 24% of municipal councillors. Both of those numbers are well below the 30% estimated by the United Nations to meet the “critical mass” threshold for representation of women to have a visible impact on the style and content of political decisions. They also both remain below the levels at which women are represented in Canada’s House of Commons and right here at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

Forcing women to seek permission from their peers for time off for pregnancy, birth or early infant care effectively perpetuates a sexist perception that women cannot be both mothers and politicians.

In your letter, you wrote that “a municipal council may choose to pass a resolution consenting to the absence of a member for over three consecutive months.” My question, Minister, is what happens if the council chooses not to consent to that absence?

Not only does the current practice of seeking resolutions perpetuate sexism and stereotyped gender roles, it also raises the possibility that a council could prevent a councillor from having necessary leave.

Most provinces do not have exemptions for councillor absence due to pregnancy, birth, or for parental leave. However, employees of those municipalities are covered by parental leave provisions. Because we still do not treat elected officials as people doing jobs but rather as appointees to boards of directors, parental leave provisions do not currently extend to municipally elected officials.

Ontario should follow Quebec’s lead and introduce government legislation to amend Section 259(1)(c) of the Municipal Act, 2001 to provide an exemption for municipally elected officials in Ontario to automatically qualify for  parental or pregnancy leave time.

At present, a sitting City of Kitchener councillor is pregnant and has previously given birth while serving in office. Having met with the Mayor of Kitchener to discuss this issue, I am in agreement that the current law presents a barrier to women, particularly. I must urge you to consider introducing legislation that would ensure Ontario has supportive and fair legislation for women seeking municipal office.

The Province of Ontario has a great deal more to do to ensure the equality of women and their full participation in public life.

Sincerely,

[original signed]

Catherine Fife, MPP
Kitchener-Waterloo

C: Berry Vrbanovic, Mayor of Kitchener
Peggy Sattler, MPP London West, NDP Critic for Women’s Issues
Percy Hatfield, MPP Windsor-Tecumseh, NDP Critic for Municipal Affairs
Tracy MacCharles, Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues
Nancy Peckford, National Spokesperson/Executive Director, Equal Voice