OTTAWA – The House of Commons has just unanimously agreed to pass a first-ever parental leave program for members of Parliament that allows them to be absent from the chamber for up to a year after giving birth or welcoming home a new child without penalty.

The program allows for pregnant MPs to take leave starting four weeks before their due date, and then for up to 12 months after the day their child was born to be away from their House duties, with the understanding that an MP’s work in their riding continues. It also applies to MPs who are caring for a newborn or newly-adopted child, meaning male MPs can claim this time as well.

This move comes on the recommendation of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC).

Government House Leader Bardish Chagger asked the House to approve the committee’s recommendation after question period on Wednesday. It passed unanimously and given that it was a recommendation from this somewhat unique House committee, it does not need to go through any further legislative steps to be implemented.

With a slowly growing contingent of female MPs of childbearing age and MPs with young families, there has been an increasing push to think seriously about revamping the rules to reflect the changing demographics.

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould, who made history as the first federal cabinet minister to give birth while in office, has been pushing for this policy for years, after she personally experienced administrative issues as the result of not having the Liberal-promised policy in place.

“I think it’s really important that we have a parental leave policy for members of Parliament. I think that in the absence of having a parental leave policy, it doesn’t give people permission to think that they can take leave,” Gould told reporters on Tuesday. She said that while she’s not sure how many elected officials would want to be absent from the House for the full year, having the option provides some flexibility.

“As many new parents can attest, you don’t always know what going to happen,” Gould said.

As the parental leave rules currently stand, MPs are not provided parental leave, because they don’t pay into Employment Insurance. They are allowed 21 days of medical leave before being docked $120 pay per day they are absent. Under the current rules MPs have no formal way to report with the House of Commons that their absence is because of a maternity or paternity leave, leaving it up to the MP to work out case-by-case leave scenarios with their parties.

The new policy will be effective as soon as it passes, meaning that any MP or candidate running to win a seat will know that should they get elected, they will have new support should they want to start or grow their family during the next Parliament.

This program remains different than the EI parental benefit program available to Canadians, in that MPs who take this parental leave time still maintain their full pay and benefits, because they are technically not leaving their jobs during this time.

The creation of an MP parental leave policy has been in the works for years.

PROC first studied the matter in 2017 and recommended that Canada take steps to catch up to other Parliaments. Then, in the 2018 federal budget, the Liberals promised to pursue a parental leave program for parliamentarians as part of a bigger promise to take steps to make Parliament more family friendly.

Following the budget, the government amended the Parliament of Canada Act to allow the House and Senate to create new regulations for maternity and parental leave, though the legislation didn't actually create any new rules and several months passed with no action.

Then this spring Chagger—the minister responsible for the change—took the issue to the Board of Internal Economy Committee and asked for a policy to be drafted and proposed.

The Board is a historically secretive panel of MPs that oversees the workings of the House of Commons. On May 30, House of Commons Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel Philippe Dufresne presented the proposed plan and the Board recommended PROC look it over. It did on June 6 and then reported back to the House earlier this week.

“There's no mythical MP who doesn't do work in the constituency, because somebody who doesn't do work in their constituency doesn't get re-elected. Members of Parliament are still working during this period. These parental obligations have to be balanced with that constituency work. All that's being suggested by this policy is that we stop penalizing them in the second workplace. The first workplace continues,” said NDP House Leader Peter Julian at the May meeting.