In the 1980s, Sheila Copps broke new ground simply by bringing her baby daughter into the members’ lobby, behind the curtains of the House of Commons. By the late 1990s, Michelle Dockrill had actually brought her young son into the Chamber, holding him as she stood to vote.
However, Parliament seemed to take a step back on Tuesday when rookie NDP MP Sana Hassainia felt pressed into leaving her seat just ahead of a vote, because she was accompanied by her three-month-old boy, Skander-Jack. By Wednesday, Ms. Hassainia said the matter was related to a misunderstanding and that she could now return to the chamber with her son.
The clarification by the Speaker’s Office will help ensure that current and future MPs can take care of their babies and handle their parliamentary duties simultaneously. The matter is particularly relevant now as the NDP caucus is full of MPs in their twenties and thirties.
Speaking to reporters, Ms. Hassainia said she was asked by a page on Tuesday to leave at the instruction of House Speaker Andrew Scheer, ahead of a vote related to the abolition of the long-gun registry.
“I was told that MPs had noticed the presence of my baby in the House, that it was proscribed and that I had to leave,” Ms. Hassainia said.
However, the Speaker’s Office said the page simply told Ms. Hassainia and other MPs taking pictures of the pair to take their seats for the vote, given there are strict rules about using a camera in the House.
On Wednesday, Ms. Hassainia said she had received guarantees that she could bring her son to the House again if ever her husband was not there to take care of him.
“It might happen again,” she said, shortly before passing her baby to his father as she spoke to reporters.
Ms. Hassainia noted that MPs don’t benefit from maternity leaves and that she must be able to continue her work representing her constituents.
“We don’t want privileges, we want to be able to work and take care of our families,” she said.
Other parliamentarians said the incident serves as a reminder that the House must ensure that mothers have the ability to balance their work and familial duties.
“I have no problem, as a member of Parliament, having a baby in the House of Commons,” said Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, adding she frequently brought her children to work before she was elected as an MP.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said she has nursed her daughter in the White House and on the Royal Yacht Britannia, and that the House of Commons should be at the forefront of these issues.
“If we’re going to fully integrate women in the House of Commons, that includes babies,” Ms. May said. “If you’re going to be a working mom, then you need to have the institutions prepared to accommodate. The House of Commons should be in the lead, not the last into the modern age.”
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who has a four-year-old son, said common sense calls for additional flexibility when it comes to young ones following their parents around in Ottawa.
“There are always concessions that we can make in that respect. The House has got to be open and be a leader,” he said.