A policy aimed at attracting more mothers and fathers to run for MLA has received universal support at the NWT Legislative Assembly.
Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland introduced a bill providing childcare benefits to assembly members that passed unanimously last month. Since then, MLAs have welcomed the step.
The policy emerged from a committee of the previous assembly, with the aim of increasing the representation of women in politics. Among those suggestions was introducing childcare supports for members.
The change includes a capped amount to help cover childcare expenses for various duties that can stretch into the evening. It allows children to travel with their parents in special circumstances.
There’s an approval process through the clerk’s office that considers how many children a member has, how old they are, and reasons for not having childcare otherwise.
“It’s an above-and-beyond kind of fund,” Cleveland said.
Cleveland, who’s also a parent, noted there are now baby change tables and a family room at the assembly building, though they would mainly be useful to members with children in Yellowknife.
“I think it recognizes that there needs to be a place for women and working parents at the table within the legislative assembly,” she said. “If you want a variety of voices at the table, you need to make sure that you’re accommodating those voices.”
For Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler, it’s one less barrier facing women in leadership.
“With any other job in the government, there are things in place for people with children who have to travel for work to be accommodated,” said Semmler. “But as a political leader and an MLA that’s never been the case.”
That said, it doesn’t cover childcare during regular business hours, including session and committee meetings, she said. It rather covers their ability to engage other duties that stretch into the evenings.
She added it has to be pre-approved for situation for out of normal hours.
For her and other women coming from outside of Yellowknife, it gives the opportunity to hire childcare if both her and her husband are travelling for work. She could also cover the costs of bringing her daughter with her, if she had no school.
“This helps us be able to accommodate our family together. And they’ll be engaged in all aspects of our work because all of us don’t live in Yellowknife,” she said.
These circumstances were in the back of her mind when she chose to run, said Semmler, noting her daughter is a teenager and capable of handling long stretches away.
If her daughter was younger, Semmler believes she couldn’t have run for her position.
“In my house, there’s two of us parenting. But I’m the mom. I do most of the children stuff. I couldn’t run. Just living in a small community and having to travel, I couldn’t run,” she said, acknowledging this could apply to other families and circumstances.
“If you’re having to pay for childcare all day, and then you’re paying for childcare all night to go to every event or every function, it costs a lot for childcare.”
It’s difficult to be away for long periods — and that can particularly apply to ministers who have to be away from home for longer while overseeing their portfolio, she said.
If a member does choose to move to Yellowknife, that’s also a political choice.
“Sometimes people feel that you take a position and you move to Yellowknife out of your community, how do you represent your community? … Then you throw kids on top of that, that’s going to be a hard one,” she said.