Alison Nicholson, the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s director for Cowichan Station/Sahtlam/Glenora, wants to remove barriers that keep young people from running for office in CVRD elections. (File photo)

Alison Nicholson, the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s director for Cowichan Station/Sahtlam/Glenora, wants to remove barriers that keep young people from running for office in CVRD elections. (File photo)

Vancouver Island official pushing parental leave, child care for local politicians

Cowichan Station’s Alison Nicholson wants district to remove barriers for young politicians

Alison Nicholson wants to encourage young people with small children to run in the municipal elections in October.

Nicholson, the Cowichan Valley Regional District director for Cowichan Station/Sahtlam/Glenora, is requesting that the district institute policies to reduce barriers that many young parents face when considering running for seats in the CVRD.

At this week’s committee of the whole meeting, Nicholson intends to raise the issue and suggest the CVRD formalize parental leave for directors and provide extra financial support for child care.

In a report to the committee, Nicholson said the BC Employment Standards Act guarantees the rights of parents to maternity and parental leave.

However, she said the Local Government Act does not contemplate a situation where an electoral area director would be on leave due to pregnancy or parental issues.

Nicholson said that currently, local governments have the authority to grant leave for a wide variety of reasons to elected officials and to establish policies for such leave.

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“However, in the absence of a specific policy, a board member could be disqualified from holding office if they were to take a maternity or parental leave,” she said.

“Regional district boards also have the authority to establish remuneration and benefits for electoral area directors. The CVRD does not reimburse for child care expenses of elected officials at the present time.”

Nicholson said as representative governing bodies, regional district boards should reflect, as best as possible, the diversity of the communities they serve.

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She said inadequate pay and benefits is a potential barrier to participation for people who are without other sources of income.

“The absence of maternity and/or parental leave and childcare benefits for local elected officials specifically disadvantages younger people who may consider running for office and, hence, is a systemic barrier to attracting more diverse and representative candidates to local government,” Nicholson said.

“Given that the Local Government Act is silent on the matter, it is appropriate that the CVRD establish guiding policy.”

In addition, Nicholson said, current remuneration rates for electoral area directors are inadequate to support parents who require child care to attend CVRD meetings.

She said not having a policy that clearly outlines eligibility, process and principles for an electoral area director to take a maternity or parental leave and receive childcare assistance may be seen as a barrier to becoming an electoral area director.

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