House Of Commons Babies
February 18, 2012 by staff
House Of Commons Babies, House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer ruled Thursday that MPs with infants should be able to sort out child care arrangements in advance of a vote so they don’t have to bring their children into the chamber, but he acknowledged it could be acceptable in emergencies.
The ruling followed an incident last week involving an NDP MP from Quebec, who was asked to take her newborn out of the chamber just before a key vote.
Other MPs had surrounded Sana Hassainia to take photographs of her 3-month-old son Skander-Jack, named after the late Jack Layton. Cameras are not allowed in the chamber, and the Speaker’s Office later clarified that Scheer directed the page to inform Hassainia, along with the baby – and the MPs surrounding her and snapping pictures – to return to their seats.
After the apparent miscommunication, a debate erupted out about how well the institution of Parliament accommodates new moms, given the growing number of younger women in Parliament and the lack of maternity benefits.
Bloc MP Maria Mourani raised the Hassainia case as a point of privilege in Parliament, saying she missed votes after the birth of her son in 2007 because she understood there was an informal rule against bringing babies into the House of Commons for votes.
Scheer said Thursday he did not see the issue as a matter of privilege, but laid down his position “in this admittedly nebulous area” of babies in the chamber.
“When considering what kind of guidelines should be followed on an ongoing basis, it struck me that there are few times when members might actually be unable to make alternative arrangements. It is really only during unexpected votes that members could face difficulties. Fortunately, most recorded divisions are scheduled far enough in advance that members should be able to plan accordingly,” Scheer said.
“However, the chair appreciates that plans sometimes fail. When that happens, members may find themselves in a difficult position. In such cases, provided there is no other type of disruption or disturbance, the Speaker’s attention will likely not be drawn to the situation and the work of the House can proceed as usual,” Scheer said.
In Hassainia’s case, the breastfeeding mother didn’t plan to bring her baby into the chamber with her. But when she couldn’t locate her husband after a feed to hand off the baby, Hassainia brought the baby with her to vote.
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