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Karina Gould hopes becoming Canada’s first federal cabinet minister to give birth while in office will set precedent

Minister for Democratic Institutions Karina Gould, seen in Ottawa on Nov. 23, 2017, is due to give birth to her first child in March.

Blair Gable/The Globe and Mail

A thought recently dawned on Karina Gould as she entered her third trimester: She is going to need four of everything.

The 30-year-old Democratic Institutions Minister is expecting her first child on March 3. That means she'll need to outfit both of her homes – in her riding of Burlington, Ont., west of Toronto, and in Ottawa, where she keeps an apartment – with baby gear, as well as her ministerial and Parliament Hill offices.

"This office will look slightly different," Ms. Gould said recently, as she glanced around her neatly kept quarters in the Justice Building, beside the Supreme Court of Canada.

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"I'll probably have at least a bassinet. And a change table."

Ms. Gould, a mild-mannered political neophyte who quickly rose the ranks in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's caucus to become the youngest-ever female federal cabinet minister, is set to become the first to have a baby while in office. In doing so, she is following the path forged by Liberal MP Sheila Copps, who made history as the first Member of Parliament to give birth in 1987 – the same year Ms. Gould was born.

Three decades on, Ms. Gould says women still face duelling pressures of having children and continuing their careers. But as more women enter politics, she said, the discussion is starting to shift.

"I want to be ambitious and have a successful career, but I also want to have a family," Ms. Gould said. "I don't see those things as being mutually exclusive."

Babies have become more ubiquitous on Parliament Hill. NDP MP Christine Moore regularly brings her infant daughter into the Commons. NDP MP Niki Ashton ran for leadership of her party while pregnant with twins. And Bloc Québécois MPs Xavier Barsalou-Duval and Marilène Gill recently became the first pair of sitting MPs to have a child together.

Members of Parliament don't qualify for parental leave in the traditional sense, but they do have flexibility – and generous salaries (Ms. Gould takes in $255,300 as a cabinet minister). Ms. Gould has the option of working from home, appearing at committees by video link and attending votes on as-needed basis.

There is an ongoing discussion in Ottawa about making Parliament Hill more family-friendly.

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A Parliamentary committee recently recommended formally allowing babies inside the Commons – although it has become more common, it's not written into the rules – as well as exempting MPs from financial punishment if they miss sitting days for pregnancy or parental leave. The committee also recommended asking the on-site Parliament Hill daycare to accept babies under 18 months and for more flexible hours.

Ms. Moore, the NDP MP for the western Quebec riding of Abitibi-Témiscamingue, took only five days off when she had her first daughter during the 2015 election. She took another three weeks when her second daughter, Laurence, was born in the spring.

"It's a little bit difficult," said Ms. Moore, whose husband stays in the riding during the week. "It's like [being] a single mom, trying to juggle the life of an MP."

Ms. Gould, who has three younger brothers, said she and her husband of seven years, Alberto Gerones, have always wanted a family. A few months after she was elected, she sought advice from long-time Liberal MP Judy Sgro, who advised her not to wait until the 2019 election to have kids.

"I guess I was pretty blunt and said there's no way I would wait four years and then see what happens in this political environment," Ms. Sgro recalls telling Ms. Gould. "Don't let politics interfere with something that you'll have forever, which is the biggest thrill in the world."

But Ms. Gould's plans were derailed somewhat in January, 2017, when she was appointed to cabinet – "which I wasn't anticipating" – to take over the troubled Democratic Institutions file from Maryam Monsef.

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"You have to decide, am I going to put my life on hold or not? This is something that's important for me, it's important for my husband as well," Ms. Gould said. "We wanted to do it in between elections. But you know, not everyone has a choice of when it happens."

Part of Ms. Gould's challenge was to repair her file after the Trudeau government announced it was abandoning its electoral reform pledge. Ms. Gould's responsibilities now include protecting Canada's electoral process from cyberthreats and creating an independent commissioner for leaders' debates. She regularly tours across Canada to meet with stakeholders, and did so during her first trimester this summer – even as she was suffering through morning sickness.

She is also responsible for the government's Bill C-33, which reverses many changes from the Harper government's Fair Elections Act, including restoring vouching for identification. The legislation, introduced in November, hasn't progressed beyond the first reading stage in Parliament. Ms. Gould said she's eager to get it through in time for the 2019 election.

Ms. Gould said she plans to return to the Commons for three weeks after Parliament's winter break ends at the end of January. Then she intends to stay in Burlington for March and April, and return to the House in May. But, she said, "I understand that babies don't always follow time frames."

Ms. Gould said she hopes to set a precedent for future politicians: that "having it all" is possible, even if it's not perfect.

"I don't want it to be 30 years before the next cabinet minister has a baby because what I did is not tenable," she said.

For her part, Ms. Copps said it's easier, in a sense, to have a baby as a minister than as an MP. She said there is a better staff support system for ministers, and more flexibility in scheduling.

Her advice to Ms. Gould?

"Don't expect that you're going to be the perfect mom and the perfect Parliamentarian because you won't. Sometimes you'll screw up. And forgive yourself," she said.

Plus, Ms. Copps said Ms. Gould is lucky she'll have an infant. Ms. Copps was a minister when her daughter, Danielle, became a teenager.

"And that," she said, "was hell on wheels."

Editor’s Note: Karina Gould has been married for seven years, not 12.
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