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NDP MLA Stephanie McLean’s pregnancy has highlighted shortcomings in the legislature's rules. (for The Globe and Mail)
NDP MLA Stephanie McLean’s pregnancy has highlighted shortcomings in the legislature's rules. (for The Globe and Mail)

Alberta MLA Stephanie McLean on her unprecedented pregnancy in office Add to ...

Swept into office as a part of Premier Rachel Notley’s orange wave, Stephanie McLean will become Alberta’s first sitting MLA to deliver a baby. Her pregnancy has revealed a number of deficiencies in the rules governing the legislature.

The 28-year-old MLA for Calgary-Varsity, who is due in February, isn’t covered by parental leave and could see her pay reduced by $100 daily if she misses more than 10 days of work. Pregnancy doesn’t appear in the legislature’s rules as a valid reason to be absent from work.

Ms. McLean is only one of a handful of twentysomethings elected earlier this year and her pregnancy has coincided with a move by the New Democrats to make the legislature more family-friendly. She spoke with Justin Giovannetti about what changes might be coming.

It’s 2015. How is it that you are the first sitting Alberta MLA to be pregnant in office?

It’s just a matter of it being a typical old boys’ club. When you look down from the galleries at the House, our half of the House has substantially more women than in the past. It took Alberta some time to change and we had a substantial change in government.

What are the rules surrounding the legislature and the amount of time you are allowed to take off?

Under the [Legislative Assembly Act], there are certain specific reasons that an MLA may take leave after missing the 10 days allowed and it’s at the Speaker’s discretion whether those reasons fit under illness, bereavement or public duty. Outside of those specific reasons, there’s a punitive measure to dock pay for missing a session.

It makes sense to dock pay in certain circumstances if you miss a session, if you’re just out and gallivanting about, but pregnancy and parenthood are not that.

Both the Government House Leader and the Premier have said that they will do whatever it takes to make sure your pay isn’t docked. How have you felt about the legislature’s response to the gaps you’ve highlighted?

I’m really encouraged by the support of our Premier and her support for new families in the 21st century, as well as her drive to move forward with changes coming. The comments that she’s made have already gone a long way and I don’t know if you would have seen those kinds of comments from any premiers in the past. I think working together with the Minister for the Status of Women and a joint effort with the caucus and legislature staff will see everyone come together and make some positive changes for the future where parents can take some parental leave.

You’re the deputy Government Whip and there’s been a debate over the past week to move start times in the legislature to 9 a.m. What would you like to see make the job more family-friendly?

This job has just been the kind of thing where there has notoriously not been any work-life balance and, going forward, it’s the kind of the thing that we’re trying to find ways to fix, like mitigating night sittings to give people a better quality of life and let them serve their constituents at their highest capacity. I’ll be looking for ways to ensure that parents, including myself, have the ability to find that balance of serving their families and constituents.

Is a baby allowed inside the House?

To my knowledge, it has never been done in Alberta. But I am confident from the comments of our Premier and House Leader, as well as knowing the Speaker of the assembly, that it won’t be a problem and we will make it happen. I know my fellow caucus members are excited and there have been jokes about not being allowed to talk unless you’re holding the baby. Some opposition members have offered rounds of babysitting. People have been very supportive across the floor.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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