New childcare option offered for MPs as Parliament tries to modernize
The Peace Tower is seen through the iron gates of Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, March 19, 2015. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Thursday, June 16, 2016 11:14AM EDT
OTTAWA - MPs with kids can now access on-call childcare through a program set up by the House of Commons as part of a move to make Parliament more family-friendly.
The service is available for MPs with children between three months and 12 years old for just over $14 an hour, according to an email sent Monday by Speaker Geoff Regan. They have to cover the cost personally, as opposed to using their parliamentary budgets. The service is offered in Ottawa through a local daycare.
There's a daycare on Parliament Hill that's open to MPs, Hill staff and journalists in the Parliamentary Press Gallery, but it offers only 34 spots and children must be 18 months old to attend. The hours are also shorter than the working hours for MPs and many of their staff. There's no drop-in option, so anyone using it must be a full-time client.
"The House of Commons administration has put in place several new family-friendly services for members to ensure they are able to fulfill their responsibilities while caring for their families," Regan said in the email. "I am pleased to provide an update regarding the addition of short-term, on-call child care services that are now available to members."
The issue of how to accommodate parliamentarians with young children has really only emerged since 2011, when the NDP caucus in particular saw a number of MPs under 35. At least three MPs gave birth between 2011 and 2015, leading to a discussion on whether breastfeeding mothers could bring their infants into the House. The House ended up adding a family-friendly space where parents can take their children or women can breastfeed, and infants are allowed into the chamber.
The challenges any parent finds tough to manage can be exacerbated by a parliamentary calendar, which can mean weekly travel to and from their riding. MPs are given a certain number of return trips from Ottawa, which they can use to bring their spouses and children to the capital, but a newly released report from the procedure and House affairs committee says many are reluctant to use their travel points for that in case they're scrutinized in the media.
The committee looked at a variety of ways to make it easier for parents in Parliament, including eliminating Friday sittings to allow MPs to travel home, and holding votes right after question period, in the late afternoon, rather than the evenings. The committee decided it wouldn't be fair to lose Friday question period and the hours set aside that day for opposition debate.
"Given the lack of consensus the committee has heard regarding whether the potential benefits of eliminating Friday sittings outweigh the potential drawbacks, the committee does not intend to propose a recommendation regarding this matter," the report says.
Larry Bagnell, the committee chair, says they uncovered a variety of new ideas from other Commonwealth countries, including holding parallel sessions so more MPs have a chance to debate.
"Everyone, all parties were interested in comprehensively improving Parliament and they worked together," he said.