Coquitlam is the first municipality in B.C. to let its elected officials go on compassionate care or caregiver leave.
The policy, which was adopted last June in a bid to attract a greater diversity of candidates to run in the fall general election, was renewed by council on Monday (Jan. 16).
Under the policy, local politicians can have up to 16 weeks of paid leave to help a family member who is critically ill or injured, or in need end-of-life care.
That's key for the current sandwich generation — Gen X, said Coun. Steve Kim.
In addition, mayor and councillors can claim up to 16 weeks for maternity and/or parental leave.
That absence is allowed for elected officials who are pregnant or have given birth (including miscarriage, termination or stillbirth after 20 weeks of gestation), or following the birth or adoption of a child.
Like compassionate/caregiver relief, remuneration is paid in full.
Under the terms, a council member excusing themselves must give two weeks' notice — in writing — before the leave is due to start.
However, civic officials can return to any council or committee meeting to participate temporarily.
Council is required to rubber-stamp the personal leave policy at the start of each term or if there’s a change in council composition.
Currently, under the Community Charter, the provincial legislation that governs B.C. municipalities, an elected official is disqualified from holding office if they are away for 60 consecutive days or absent for four consecutive regularly scheduled council meetings — unless they are sick, injured or “with the leave of the council.”
Nikki Caulfield, Coquitlam's general manager of corporate services, said the city's personal leave policy is intended to reduce and remove barriers to participants in local office.
Mayor Richard Stewart said the provincial government needs to get with the times for politicians' workplaces.
Many organizations are trying to increase diversity on city councils but aren't succeeding, Coun. Trish Mandewo said.
However, with Coquitlam's new personal leave policy, she believes the change is "putting the weight behind" the city's words to draw different people to the civic horseshoe.
"This is a fantastic policy," Coun. Matt Djonlic added.
"Historically, there have been so many barriers for individuals to be getting seats at this table. Historically, it's been a very homogenous group, so it’s great to see that we’re taking steps to reduce barriers for more women, people of colour and people with lower incomes to have a more diverse council and a group of candidates."
"I think we’re moving in the right direction," Djonlic said. "There's still a lot of work to do."
Meanwhile, Coun. Brent Asmundson said he'd like to see the policy extended with more incentives to get a broader representation.
Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) was one of Coquitlam’s four themes in the 2022 Business Plan, which charts priorities for city hall.