Maternity leave furor could give birth to new legislation

Vancouver Island politicians urge province to close loophole that leaves elected officials without parental rights

Sooke Mayor Maja Tait and her son Ewan. Tait returned to work April 1 to find she had been removed as the community's Capital Regional District representative.

Sooke Mayor Maja Tait and her son Ewan. Tait returned to work April 1 to find she had been removed as the community's Capital Regional District representative.

When Canada Revenue Agency webmaster Michelle Kirby took maternity leave from her job to have kids, there was no question her position would be waiting for her when she was ready to return to work.

When Maja Tait returned to her role April 1 as the mayor of Sooke after spending four months off to be with her newborn son, Ewan, she was expecting the same kind of treatment.

It didn’t happen.

Instead, Tait discovered her duties as Capital Regional District director had been handed off to one of her councillors on a permanent basis.

But what had potential to be a messy battle over parental and women’s rights has, she said, turned into something positive less than two weeks later.

Her CRD position has been restored, a potential rift with her council has been healed, she’s received an outpouring of support from her peers across Vancouver Island and the provincial government says it is open to changing the law to prevent similar situations from occurring in the future.

“In hindsight, it was kind of a unique situation,” she said. “It was a good thing because it showed the gap in the legislation.”

As far as Tait has been able to determine, she is the first sitting mayor in B.C. history to take maternity leave.

Unlike a regular job, elected local government officials are not covered under the Employment Standards Act.

Instead, they are creatures of the Community Charter and Local Government Act, where the issue of maternity benefits is not addressed. Tait voluntarily gave up her $20,000 stipend as mayor and her $17,000 CRD stipend during her leave, the terms of which she had arranged with her council prior to booking off.

More significantly, elected officials can be disqualified from office for missing 60 consecutive days of duty. Without the cooperation of her council, Tait’s maternity leave could have led to her being dismissed.

Kirby called that an injustice that must be corrected.

In addition to her CRA job, Kirby is also a sitting councillor for the Town of Oak Bay.

Upon hearing of Tait’s situation on the eve of the April 8-10 Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities conference, she rallied delegates to pass a unanimous resolution supporting parental leave for elected officials that is consistent with employment standards. That same resolution also asks for guarantees that those affected can return to work under the same terms that they left.

“It was pretty infuriating,” Kirby said. “First of all, it’s a fairness and equality issue, but (it goes) beyond that.”

The resolution has no power on its own, other than signalling the province of a desire to change the legislation.

According to the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, the message has been informally received and will be considered when it formally arrives.

“If there are recommendations that come forward to make things as fair as they can be, then government will take a look at that,” the ministry said in a statement released to Black Press Wednesday.

The statement also pointed out how, absent of any change, individual councils and regional districts have the power to address these situations through internal policy.

“Local governments in B.C. have the authority to adopt and amend procedure bylaws to address how council/board appointments are made…(including how to address changes to appointments to accommodate various types of leave).”

Sooke council had originally resisted returning Tait’s CRD duties, causing some friction. But it reversed that position Monday, in the wake of the AVICC resolution.

At her own suggestion, Tait will slowly transition back into her CRD role before returning to it full-time in September. She couldn’t be happier with the way the AVICC responded to the situation and hopes the government will follow through with the necessary legislative changes.

“What I saw at the AVICC was quite beautiful and quite moving,” she said. “ They offered me nothing but support and encouragement. This is something worth showcasing.

Both Tait and Kirby said the best thing about the AVICC resolution is the message it sent to young women considering entering local government.

“There were several young women — and men — there who were extremely moved. It signals to them that we want them to stay,” Kirby said. “It makes space and sends a message to encourage young people to the table.”

 

The full AVICC resolution

“Whereas the BC Employment Standards Act guarantees the rights of parents to maternity and parental leave;

And whereas the Local Government Act and Community Charter fail to protect parental rights of local government elected officials, requiring council or regional district board approval of leave for elected officials who become parents;

Therefore be it resolved that AVICC and UBCM request that the provincial government amend the Local Government Act and the Community Charter to guarantee maternity and parental leave for elected officials to be consistent with the Employment Standards Act provisions following the birth or adoption of a child;

And be it further resolved that the legislation be amended to permit the elected official to return to work on the same terms that were in place at the start of their leave, and that any changes in the elected official’s appointments to committee, boards, or commissions will not be made as a result of the maternity or parental leave”

Follow me on Twitter @JohnMcKinleyBP

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Getting enough Vitamin D can be challenging for Canadians, especially during winter months. (CONTRIBUTED)
ACTIVE LIVING: The ‘sunshine vitamin’ plays a vital role in our health

Port Alberni registered dietitian Sandra Gentleman writes about health issues

Courtenay-Alberni NDP MP Gord Johns gives a thumbs up to active transportation during a presentation of the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce's Bike SEAT program at McLean Mill National Historic site in Port Alberni on April 16, 2021. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
QUINN’S QUIPS: MP Gord Johns takes victory ride for cycling strategy

Johns gained a reputation as the bicycle-riding MP during his first year

A B.C. Centre for Disease Control map showing new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 25-May 1. (BCCDC image)
Vancouver Island’s COVID-19 case counts continue to trend down

Fewer than 200 active cases on the Island, down from highs of 500-plus earlier this spring

Volunteers from the Alberni Valley Enhancement Society release a bucket filled with 5,000 coho fry into Kitsuksis Creek on the bridge at Batty Road, Saturday, April 24, 2021. (PHOTO COURTESY DAVID HOOPER)
Volunteers release thousands of coho fry into Port Alberni creeks

Fry come from small hatchery on McLean Mill National Historic Site

In the five years since the Dry Creek flood abatement project was completed, the pathway built behind commercial buildings on Third Avenue has become overgrown with Scotch broom and other weeds. (PHOTO COURTESY RANDY FRASER)
‘New’ Dry Creek path falls into disrepair in Port Alberni

City’s land access contracts lapse as condition of pathway beside creek deteriorates

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start releasing neighbourhood-specific COVID numbers after data leak

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Ladysmith RCMP safely escorted the black bear to the woods near Ladysmith Cemetary. (Town of Ladysmith/Facebook photo)
Black bear tranquillized, relocated after wandering around residential Ladysmith

A juvenile black bear was spotted near 2nd Avenue earlier Friday morning

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix update B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count creeps up, seven more deaths

445 people in hospital, 157 in intensive care

Summerland’s positive test rate is much higher than surrounding local health areas, according to internal BC CDC documents. (BC CDC)
Summerland 3rd behind Surrey, Abbotsford in daily per capita COVID-19 cases

Interior Health is rolling out additional vaccine availability to the community

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The event was postponed to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

Ally Thomas, 12, seen in an undated family handout photo, died on April 14 from a suspected overdose. Her family says they are frustrated more public supports weren't available when they tried to get her help. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Minister says suspected overdose death of 12-year-old pushing B.C. to ‘do better’

Minister Sheila Malcolmson of Mental Health and Addictions says the government is working ‘as hard as we can’ to build a system of care for youths

At this Highway 3 check point, police officers will be asking for identification from drivers, documentation regarding the driver’s name and address, and the purpose for the driver’s travel. (RCMP)
No fines handed out at 1st COVID-19 roadblock as checks move across B.C.

Cpl. Chris Manseau says a total of 127 vehicles were stopped at a roadblock in the Manning Park area

Most Read