Last month, Saanich became one of the few municipalities in B.C. to adopt a formal policy to allow members of council to go on maternity or parental leave during their term.
Council unanimously approved the policy for elected officials after staff highlighted the fact that there is no provision under the B.C. Community Charter for new parents to take time off without being disqualified from serving on council.
The lack of a parental leave policy came to staff’s attention after the province updated the Employment Standards Act (ESA) legislation on parental leave in 2019, explained Laura Ciarniello, director of corporate services.
The Community Charter controls municipal councils but doesn’t include provisions for maternal or parental leave, she said. Per the charter, if a councillor is absent for 60 days in a row or misses four consecutive meetings, they would be disqualified from holding office – unless they’re ill, injured or have council’s permission.
While so far no Saanich councillor has ever asked to go on leave for a new child, staff felt there should be a specific policy to guide council in the future, she said.
After consulting with some 20 other B.C. municipalities, staff found only four others had a formal parental leave policy.
In the name of reducing barriers to participation in Saanich governance, staff drafted a policy to allow councillors to provide written notice six weeks before going on leave for up to 78 weeks – whether they or their partner are giving birth or adopting. Per the policy, the leave would be automatically approved without a council vote and there is a provision for councillors to specify if they would like to continue with some of their duties while on leave.
Saanich’s council maternal and parental leave policy is in line with the ESA and is worded to ensure all families are included. Ciarniello hopes the implementation will encourage young people to get involved in municipal politics without worrying about the impact of potential family plans.