Babes in arms

Posted on February 23, 2012 | Atlantic Business Magazine | 0 Comments

I have a lot of empathy for Sana Hassainia.

For those of you who don’t know her, she’s the MP who brought her three-month old into the House of Commons. She reportedly couldn’t find her husband in time to pass off the infant before taking part in a vote on the long-gun registry. So, she took the baby with her.

That’s when the doo-doo hit the diaper. Hassainia says a page told her that the Speaker of the House, Andrew Scheer, had ordered the baby booted. Scheer, in turn, says it was a misunderstanding — that he was prohibiting the picture-taking of said babe-in-the-Chamber, not the child’s actual presence. He has since communicated to Hassainia that her little bundle is welcome any time.

Less easily dismissed is the online social commentary about the incident. Frankly, I was appalled at the volume of Canadians who lambasted Hassainia for bringing her baby to work. Some accused her of being self-indulgent. Others claimed that her actions insulted the integrity of the House. Still more argued for the sanctity and decorum of the workplace.

I agree that there’s a time and a place for everything. Children, quite often, don’t belong in a professional environment, strapped to his or her parental bosom. Meetings can’t run effectively with toddlers underfoot. And a bawling infant does no one’s concentration any favours. That’s not the issue.

The problem I have with the Hassainia situation relates to our national social priorities. Think about it: how archaic are our rules and regulations when MPs don’t qualify for maternity leave? We often hear from political parties that they want to see more women running for office, but what kind of message are we sending when it’s obvious that the rules which women — biologically engineered for childbirth — must play by are rules that virtually yell at them to keep them out?

That’s only child’s play compared to the bigger issue. Yes, I’m talking about the need for a national child care strategy.

If it weren’t for immigrants, the Canadian population might well be in freefall. The gap between rich and poor is ever-widening in this country. Many companies are desperate for workers, particularly in the retail and service sectors. A social system that supported families would address many of these problems.

Think about it: there aren’t enough daycare spaces to keep up with demand. And, if you’re fortunate enough to get a spot, the cost of keeping a child in care is so expensive that it’s often the equivalent of a second mortgage payment. That, combined with the rest of your typical living expenses, requires creative budgeting on an $86,000 a year salary (the average for Canadian families with two income earners). Provide more cost-effective daycare, and more people could actually afford to go to work.

Then there’s maternity leave, which provides up to one year paid leave (at severely compressed benefit levels). A lot of daycares don’t accept kids between 12 and 24 months. So what do you do with your child for a year?

That doesn’t even begin to address the challenges of daycare for shift workers: a quick search of my phone book didn’t turn up one single daycare that was open 12 to 14 hours a day.

There are nations with workable family-friendly national policies (Norway being one of them), so it’s obvious that this is doable. The question is: are we willing to do it?

Let me tell you a story. When I was in university, I was like most students in that I still lived at home with my parents, had a student loan and worked a part-time job. But I was also a mom. One day, when my son was three, I had a dilemma: daycare was closed; university was not — and I had a quiz. Instead of staying home, I brought my son to class. I thought I’d be safe for the measly 10 minutes I needed for the test.

I wasn’t.

He behaved as three-year-olds normally do and I was ordered to leave. I was embarrassed, but eventually went back, finished the course, then my degree and graduated to build a rewarding career. But not everyone does. And that, more than anything else, is why we can’t afford to let this issue go ignored any longer.

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