Jen Comer was uniquely suited for taking part in the discussion about parental leave for RDCK directors.
The representative for the Village of Creston was 39.5 weeks pregnant, “expecting the baby anytime now,” she told the RDCK board at its Sept. 23 meeting.
Currently, municipal politicians are not considered employees, so aren’t eligible for parental leave or childcare benefits. And the rules state an RDCK director is disqualified from holding office if they miss 60 days of work, or four consecutive board meetings. That doesn’t count for illness or injury, or absence with the board’s permission – but there is no specific provision for parental leave.
“I would encourage the committee to take a look at the difference between maternity leave and parental leave,” she said. “And frame maternity leave in the same way as essentially major surgery. You are looking at recovery for an extended period of time, and providing allowances for that, for the birthing parent.”
This has been an issue for at least a decade, and the Union of BC Municipalities passed motions supporting the idea as far back as 2016.
“I do find it frustrating that we have to have this conversation at a local government level, because I think ultimately this is a provincial issue,” said Comer.
Proponents say providing benefits for people raising children while engaged in local government will bring new voices and a wider field of possible candidates to local leadership.
But the idea also comes with complications. Would a director on leave be able to keep their board appointments? Should the alternates of rural directors – who are appointed, not elected – be able to represent constituents for extended periods of time, instead of occasionally, as occurs now?
“This could cause concern for the electorate,” notes a report to the board.
The cost of the benefit wouldn’t necessarily come from local taxpayers. The report notes the UBCM has been directed by its members to talk to the province about making local councillors eligible “to qualify for parental leave via government benefits.”
Right now, the idea on the table is a director could take six months off with pay, and six months without pay for parental leave. But that’s just a suggestion, a starting point for debate amongst directors.
And then there’s the extended issues of childcare, or time off for caring for aging parents.
“Childcare expenses are not common in local government in B.C.,” notes the board report. The select committee looking into this wants directors to weigh in on the idea of a $10-$15 per hour subsidy for child care, to some set maximum amount to be determined.
They’ve been asked to offer their comments to the committee in time for its October meeting.
Other remuneration updated
Directors also gave first approval for a series of other changes to their pay.
The proposed changes would increase the stipend for the board’s standing committee chairs. Under the new schedule, the board chair would receive $3,352 monthly, while the vice-chair would receive an extra $670 per month. The chair of the Rural Affairs Committee would receive an extra $795 for the busy and complicated committee, while the West, Central, and East Resource Recovery Committee chairs would receive $397. Chairing any other meetings would mean $191 per event.
The stipends would be inflation-protected, and increased by the Consumer Price Index each Jan. 1.
All stipends would be reviewed in the February of an election year, and the committee recommendations would take effect the January after the vote.
All the proposed changes still have to be debated by the select committee, agreed on by the full board, and a bylaw drawn up and voted on.
The target is to have it take effect Jan. 1, 2022.