The return of Mayor Maja Tait to the council table isn’t going smoothly and it’s gearing up for a battle that could force groundbreaking legislation on the rights of a politician when they take parental leave.
Tait’s chair wasn’t even cold when council made a series of interim appointments back in November to help run the district smoothly in her absence. Likely the most important one was who would fill her spot on the Capital Regional District.
Council decided that Coun. Rick Kasper should get the job; after all, Kasper was the alternate director.
Fast forward to today and Tait’s return to work and her expectation that she would still have her CRD gig. Not so fast, council says. We like the way things are right now.
There’s only one problem: Tait is entitled to everything she left behind when she went on parental leave, according to the B.C. Employment Standards Act.
There’s another glitch, though. The Employment Standards Act wasn’t written for politicians. There’s no precedent for mayors taking parental or maternity leave.
Tait believes council must reinstate her back onto the CRD and return any duties she had prior to taking leave. She’s forcing a debate at the next city council meeting.
It brings up serious questions.
Do female politicians of childbearing years have the same rights as other women when it comes to maternity leave?
If a male politician took parental or medical leave could he expect his duties to be stripped from him on his return?
Does this encourage or discourage women from getting involved in politics?
Traditionally the mayor is the CRD director, unless delegated otherwise.
“I was elected to represent this municipality to all levels of government that includes the CRD,” Tait said.
It wasn’t like all this was a surprise to council. Tait announced in July she was pregnant, and council had more than enough time to bring any concerns forward before she took leave.
“In all that time we couldn’t have a conversation about it, and now it’s not just an automatic reversal?” asked a frustrated Tait.
If council decides to keep things the way they are, Tait will consider taking the issue to the Human Rights Commission, because it’s an issue that needs to be settled, she says.
The legislation is old and was written at a time when most mayors were either retired men or women beyond childbearing years.
“It’s ground-setting in a sense for other women that are going to come after me,” Tait said.
Kevin Laird can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.