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North Vancouver MLA Bowinn Ma welcomes newborn daughter

Ma says she’s up for the challenge of balancing motherhood and elected office
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North Vancouver MLA Bowinn Ma and daughter Azalea, born Nov. 15. Bowinn Ma and Baby photo Paul McGrath MLA Bowinn Ma with her baby girl Azalea born November 15th.

If her entrance into the world is any indication, baby Azalea may have inherited a dose of her cabinet minister mother’s approach to getting things done.

Azalea, the newborn daughter of North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA and Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Bowinn Ma, made her entrance as a new constituent punctually at 9 a.m. on her due date Wednesday morning at Lions Gate Hospital.

Ma and her husband arrived at the hospital just seven hours earlier and “we weren’t a moment too soon or too late,” she said. “Things escalated pretty quickly for me. Thank goodness for epidurals.”

Ma added she has nothing but praise for the staff at Lions Gate Hospital.

Mother and baby are now back home recovering and getting to know each other while Ma takes a six-week break from her duties as a cabinet minister and MLA.

Ma acknowledged that having a baby while in elected office has presented some unique circumstances – in addition to those that most working mothers face.

While most couples would likely tell family and close friends first about their pregnancy news, in Ma’s case, B.C. Premier David Eby was the first to know, because as a minister “we needed to be transparent about what the next several months would be for me,” said Ma. “There’s a lot that can happen with a pregnancy that can’t be planned for.”

Ma said she did make up a plan for how she would handle both the summer wildfire season and debate on legislation while also being mindful of her own pregnancy milestones.

Political colleagues were amused, she said, warning her that babies tend to follow their own calendars. For the most part, her pregnancy was straightforward, said Ma – until the last six weeks when walking became difficult. During committee stage debates in Victoria, it would take her an entire 15-minute break to walk to the washroom and back, she said.

After that, she was able to continue participating in debates online – something that only became possible after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ma said along with a very supportive husband, she’s been fortunate to have support from colleagues of all political stripes in recognizing “the democratic value of having elected representatives from all walks of life and different family circumstances.”

Ma said there was only one instance when a community leader suggested she should resign her cabinet post early, ahead of the summer’s wildfire season. “They said everyone would be more comfortable if I gave up my post early on.”

Ma said she rejected that.

She added she’s also faced criticism from people on social media over her plan to go back to work in the new year.

Timing a pregnancy is difficult for working women at the best of times, said Ma, 38.

The nature of a four-year term means “there’s no real way for an MLA to tap in someone else to represent your community” during an extended absence, she said. “You have a few options, and they all come with their share of criticisms. It’s a challenging thing to balance.”

Ma is the third sitting B.C. cabinet minister to give birth while in office, and the 14th to do so in Canada, according to research done by the legislature library staff.

Other women who’ve had children while holding elected office in B.C. in the past include Linda Reid, Jenny Kwan, Judy Tyabji, Christy Clark and Michelle Mungall.

“I’m able to benefit from a lot of the changes” their experiences brought about, said Ma – like being able to bring her baby into the chamber in a pinch.

“The attitudes in the legislature about having children have drastically changed,” she said. Having said that, “There’s still a lot of room for improvement.”

Ma said she recognizes how fortunate she is to have the kind of support she does in her work.

She added it’s important for the legislature to accommodate politicians of all family circumstances to better reflect all British Columbians. Ma said she hopes that will continue to extend to all sorts of life circumstances and backgrounds.

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