In the last Assembly, when I travelled to 10 communities throughout the NWT as Chair of the Special Committee to Increase the Representation of Women in the Legislative Assembly, we heard that access to child care and the funds to pay for it were a significant barrier to women running for public office. This is an issue your editorial acknowledges (News/North Jan. 27), but there’s some confusion about what the Legislative Assembly now covers.
Members pay for their own child care expenses on a day to day basis, just like other working parents who are lucky enough to have children in licensed child care. But effective in the 19th Assembly, Members can be reimbursed for child care costs incurred outside of normal working hours. These include when a Member’s child (or children) is required to travel with them for constituency or Legislative Assembly business; when a Member has to travel and incurs extraordinary child care expenses as a result or when a Member is required to attend constituency as well as Legislative Assembly business that occurs outside regular business hours.
For example, Regular Members had early morning meetings twice in January, so those who needed child care in order to attend can be reimbursed for their out of pocket expenses. Likewise, if Members attend evening hearings or travel around the territory for work, they can claim additional child care costs. The point of this change is to level the playing field for people caring for children who want to serve the residents of the NWT in the Legislative Assembly. It also recognizes that the job of an MLA is not 8:30am to 5:00pm Monday to Friday, and the hours are often unpredictable.
The GNWT provides similar benefits to its employees who are required to travel for work. Under the terms of the collective agreement between GNWT and the Union of Northern Workers, employees may be reimbursed a maximum of $50 per day if they are required to travel for work and incur additional child care expenses. Receipts are required.
The City of Yellowknife also makes child care available to the Mayor and Councillors. A bylaw entitles each of them to “reasonable childcare expenses, to a maximum of $2,000 per annum per Member, for childcare expenses incurred while in attendance at meetings or conferences that are duly authorized by a resolution of Council.”
Regardless of whether you are an MLA, a unionized GNWT employee, a City Councillor, or a working parent, finding licensed child care and paying for it remains a challenge. Waiting lists in Yellowknife are years long and the cost rivals a mortgage or rent payment. In 11 NWT communities, there is no licensed child care available at all. That’s the rationale for making universal child care a priority of the 19th Assembly, as it was of the 18th Assembly. It’s a move that would benefit everyone caring for children in the NWT, not just politicians. With more people with young children elected in October, it is my hope that this time the Assembly will make real progress towards achieving this priority.
MLA Yellowknife Centre