Sooke Mayor Maja Tait got her Capital Regional District seat back Monday after returning from maternity leave, and the province vowed to review its laws regarding parental leave for local government politicians.
Tait, who gave birth to son Ewan on Nov. 27, was granted leave in November and returned to her duties on April 1. While she was away, Sooke council handed her role as CRD director to Coun. Rick Kasper. When there was no indication she was getting the CRDjob back, the matter landed on the province’s doorstep.
On the weekend, delegates at the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities convention in Nanaimo voted unanimously in favour of a resolution asking the province to update its legislation to guarantee parental and maternity leave for local government elected politicians — following the birth or adoption of a child — consistent with employment standards in B.C.
As it stands, the B.C. Employment Standards Act guarantees the rights of parents to maternity and parental leave, but the Local Government Act and Community Charter does not.
The charter establishes a framework for municipal powers, duties and functions with some flexibility for individual needs. It does not, however, address maternity leave, unlike illness or injury, which result in an automatically granted leave. A council member can be disqualified if he or she is absent 60 days or four consecutive council meetings, whichever is longer.
The resolution also recommends that legislation be amended to permit the elected official to return to work on the same terms in place at the start of the leave, and that any changes in the elected official’s appointments to committees, boards or commissions will not be made as a result of maternity or parental leave.
Peter Fassbender, minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, said he was at the conference Friday and no one brought the matter to his attention.
“If there are recommendations that come forward for any kind of consideration to change that would make it as fair as we can be, of course we’ll take a look at that.”
Fassbender said he believes in equal treatment no matter the position, “especially when it comes to cases of maternity leave.”
For her part, Tait said “this should be a non-issue.” Asking a woman how she can handle both motherhood and the responsibilities of the mayor’s chair and a CRD seat is “an insult to all mothers who have employment and responsibilities,” she said.
Oak Bay Coun. Michelle Kirby presented the late resolution from the floor of the AVICC convention, asking members to protect the rights of women and elected officials. “Because it’s 2016,” Kirby said, to a standing ovation.
The unanimous vote in favour — which included Kasper — was moving, Kirby said. “We didn’t need to debate it,” she said. “I’ve never been more proud of our mayors and councillors of this Island and coastal communities. They all saw it as an important signal to the Sooke council and the larger community.”
Tait had planned to address council Monday night to clarify what happened during her four-month maternity leave. But before that could happen, Kasper told the Times Colonist he would recommend reinstating Tait as CRD director.
Tait had been appointed the CRD director and Kasper as her alternate at Sooke council’s inaugural meeting in December of 2014. The mayor is traditionally the CRD representative.
The plan was that Kasper would serve as alternate during Tait’s leave. However, on Nov. 30, at a special council meeting, acting mayor Kevin Pearson suggested that new CRD appointments be made.
Kasper was appointed as director and Coun. Bev Berger as alternate. If the appointments were interim, there was nothing to indicate that. No one has broached changing the arrangement since, Kasper said.
The CRD representative post has an annual stipend of $17,000. On Monday night, Sooke council voted unanimously to reinstate Tait as CRD director and Kasper as the alternate as of September.
In 2001, Christy Clark became the first B.C. politician to have a baby while serving in cabinet.