by Tristan Turner
Morinville News Correspondent
Council will be voting on whether future councillors should have childcare costs reimbursed for them following a close vote and a lively discussion. Following a Notice of Motion by Councillor Brennan FitzGerald a few weeks ago, the topic was moved to Committee of the Whole to gather further information and clarity. After that discussion, a motion to return it to a regular Council meeting for a final vote narrowly passed 4-3.
The new legislation would, if passed, allow any councillor to claim childcare expenses while conducting official town business (primarily council meetings), up to an annual limit of $4,000. Other communities in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada have similar programs in place, including Canmore, Banff, and Okotoks.
The topic lead to many responses from the public to councillors individually, on social media, and in the comment section of the story on MorinvilleNews.com. Councillors seemed agreed that, while there were some positive responses to the initiative, overwhelmingly the public disapproved of the reimbursements.
FitzGerald moved the original motion to discuss the initiative, saying then that it was intended to remove barriers for people considering a run for Council, particularly single mothers.
The rest of Council was not as supportive of the initiative, with all of them commenting that they did not think the passage of the legislation was likely if it were to come back after such public outcry.
Councillor Barry Turner commented saying, “The feedback I’ve received is that Council should not receive things [remuneration like childcare] that the public don’t get” and argued that Council receives a per diem for attending each meeting that could supplement childcare costs. Turner also commented that one potentially larger barrier that is already being dealt with is parental leave (something currently not officially provided) is being looked at under revisions to the provincial Municipal Government Act (MGA).
Mayor Lisa Holmes commented saying, “I am concerned that there are barriers in our community for parents of children younger than eight years old.” However, Holmes thought that the primary barriers were not child care costs, but childcare access, clearer scheduling to fit with a parent’s schedule, and the behaviour of councils to women or aggressive comments that can be left by some members of the public to intimidate potential female candidates.
Holmes estimated her own childcare cost while serving as mayor were approximately $3,500 per year, and provided her calculations to Administration ahead of this discussion.
Council did seem unanimous in their disappointment with some of the hostile comments left by a minority of members of the public directed at FitzGerald and other members of Council (including Mayor Holmes) who offered some comments of support for the idea at the last Council meeting.
FitzGerald shared a comment from the Deputy Minister of the Alberta Status of Women Ministry that felt that initiatives to mitigate childcare costs may eliminate barriers for women, particularly single mothers, in seeking public office.
FitzGerald also noted: “I think it’s clear that most members of Council would not access this fund, even if it was in place, so it would be there… to remove the barrier only for people who do have that barrier [not being able to afford childcare for council duties]. And it has made a difference for the women I have talked to who have said, this is a barrier for me [to run for Council], so it is those people that I am thinking about.”
While the initiative itself was universally denounced by Council (aside from FitzGerald), the motion to bring the matter to next Council meeting to face an official vote was more contentious. The motion, made by FitzGerald, passed 4-3, with Councillors Dafoe, Turner, Putnam and Fitzgerald in favour.
Dafoe said that Council should not be setting a precedent for letting motions die after Committee of the Whole discussions. Dafoe praised FitzGerald’s passion in bringing this motion forward and said it deserved to face a final vote at an actual Council meeting.
Following this motion, Council will vote one way or another on implementing this amendment to their reimbursement policy at their next meeting on April 25.