Blackfalds is poised to become one of only a handful of Alberta municipalities to introduce parental leave for council members.
Recent changes to the Municipal Government Act (MGA) opened the door to municipal councils passing bylaws for parental leave before and after the birth or adoption of a child.
Town of Sylvan Lake was one of the first to jump on board, passing a bylaw in February that allows council members to take 16 weeks off. Edmonton and Calgary have also passed similar bylaws, with Edmonton allowing 26 weeks of leave.
Blackfalds is looking at a 20-week leave, which can be extended with council approval. Since elected officials are not eligible for Employment Insurance, it is proposed those on leave be paid 55 per cent of their honorarium and continue to receive benefits.
Parental leave has been seen as a way to widen the field of potential council candidates.
“The new requirement under the MGA will assist in removing barriers to citizens wanting to be involved in municipal politics, while allowing to attract a more diverse range of candidates to run for town council,” says Blackfalds chief administrative officer Myron Thompson in a report to council.
Mayor Richard Poole agrees.
“The advantage is it encourages all persons to become involved in council regardless of what their future plans are,” says Poole.
To be eligible, council members must have served at least six months. Only one parental leave will be allowed each councillor in a four-year term.
Poole said he’s not heard anyone say specifically that they are not running for council because of future family plans.
However, it is part of a larger conversation happening nation-wide about injecting more youth into politics.
“In the whole discussion that’s been going on across Alberta and Canada we realize that we want to do everything we can to encourage younger persons to become involved in politics. This is seen as something that might be a really positive step.”
Sylvan Lake —where half the population is under the age of 35 — saw the same potential benefits when it passed its bylaw.
“We’ve got a young population,” said town communications officer Joanne Gaudet at the time.
“If we can’t accommodate them on council, then we’re kind of shutting the door on a lot of opportunities and the potential skills and the potential talent out there.”