Karina Gould made history five years ago when she became the first federal cabinet minister to give birth while holding office. Now, the newly named House Leader in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet is preparing for her second child, due in January, as she takes on the critical role of co-ordinating the government’s legislative agenda this fall.
But this time, her maternity plans are much different.
Ms. Gould took only 10 weeks off when she had her son, Oliver, in March, 2018, before returning to Parliament Hill from her riding of Burlington, Ont., west of Toronto, that she has represented since 2015.
Her husband travelled with her, and she cared for her baby – breastfeeding him in the House and around the cabinet table – while simultaneously helming the troubled Democratic Institutions file, a year after the Trudeau government’s decision to abandon its electoral reform pledge.
“I’m not going to do it the same way I did the first time. Because that was – it was too much,” Ms. Gould said from her Burlington constituency office.
“It was really hard on me, and it was really hard on my family.”
Prior to last week’s cabinet shuffle, Ms. Gould said she told Mr. Trudeau that she was expecting again, and that her plan this time around was to take six months off.
She said she’ll step away from cabinet, and won’t travel back to Ottawa, during that time. But she still plans on attending votes in the House of Commons remotely – which she’ll be able to do now that Parliament has adopted a hybrid model – and work from her constituency office.
Mr. Trudeau announced during last week’s shuffle that chief government whip, Steve MacKinnon, will take over Ms. Gould’s role as House Leader when she goes on parental leave.
Ms. Gould, 36, said Mr. Trudeau – himself a father of three – has always been incredibly supportive of her plans to have children. But she felt she put too much pressure on herself after her first baby to jump back into work.
“There was no precedent before me. And so I didn’t feel I had the permission,” Ms. Gould said.
“Postpartum is a tough time. It’s just a tough time in general, and I had lost my mom two months before I had my son. So I was dealing with grief as well, and I think part of the reason why I went back so soon was because I didn’t want to have to deal with that part of it.”
Now, she realizes, “I was not okay, right. And so I don’t need to do that to myself again.”
Her new role will be a highly visible one: Ms. Gould will be in charge of spearheading the government’s legislative agenda through the House and taking a more prominent role during Question Period.
She believes she was chosen because she’s an effective communicator and “a bit of a back seat driver in Question Period” under previous House Leader Mark Holland, who became Health Minister.
“I think they want someone who is going to try to set a tone that is calm, that is firm, and change the dynamics a little bit,” she said.
Ms. Gould said she’s already reached out to the opposition House leaders, including Conservative Andrew Scheer and New Democrat Peter Julian, in an attempt at collegiality.
Even though it’s a minority Parliament, the Liberals and NDP have a confidence and supply agreement, in which the opposition party vowed to support the government on confidence motions and budgets until 2025, in exchange for parliamentary co-operation and progress on key NDP policies.
Ms. Gould acknowledges that the tone in Parliament can get “heated,” and hopes the parties will be able to work together.
Previously Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, Ms. Gould points to her success in helping to negotiate $10-a-day child-care agreements with conservative premiers, as well as the unanimous passage of the government’s child-care legislation in the House, as proof she can work effectively with all parties. Rookie Ottawa-area MP Jenna Sudds has taken on the Families ministry and will be in charge of negotiating the next round of child-care agreements with the provinces and territories.
She said she wasn’t surprised by the scope of Mr. Trudeau’s cabinet shuffle, which saw a majority of the front bench reassigned.
“We’re going on eight years in government. … I think it was kind of a natural time to do an assessment of who is the team that the Prime Minister wants to take into the next election. What’s the message? What’s the tone, what’s the vibe, that he wants to put out there to Canadians?” she said.
Ms. Gould said she was never concerned that having a second child would jeopardize her future in cabinet.
“I didn’t want to be in a position where I didn’t have the family that I wanted because I had been in politics,” she said. “And I think it’s really important that even at some of the highest levels of office in this country, that women don’t have to make that choice.”