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June 14, 2022, 4:13 pm

Coquitlam Adopts New Council Leave to Support Greater Candidate Diversity

City of Coquitlam
COQUITLAM, BC  In the lead up to this fall’s general municipal election, Coquitlam has introduced new Council leave procedures to take effect following the election as a step toward removing barriers for future candidates.

Adopted at last night’s Regular Council Meeting, the procedure will provide future Council members up to 16 weeks of paid personal leave for maternity, parental, compassionate care or caregiver purposes. Coquitlam is among the first communities in B.C. to provide this type of Council leave, which is currently not guaranteed in the Community Charter, the legislation that governs B.C.’s local governments. 

Research shows diversity at the Council table is lacking; a 2020 survey of Canadian municipal politicians by the Samara Centre for Democracy found 91 per cent to be white, 67 per cent male, 70 per cent age 50 and older, and most from “white collar” backgrounds. 

The lack of a paid leave recognizing family commitments disproportionately affects people from racialized communities and women, and may play a role in discouraging these individuals from pursuing a four-year term in local government office. 

Based on the Community Charter, local government elected officials in B.C. may be disqualified from office if they are absent from Council meetings for either 60 consecutive days or for four consecutive regular Council meetings, whichever is longer. To obtain a leave for any reason other than illness or injury, individuals must seek permission from Council.

To address this gap, Coquitlam has been working with other municipalities through the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) to urge the provincial government to expand personal leave options for elected officials. While this continues, the City has adopted its own paid personal leave for Council to encourage a greater range of candidates to run for office this fall, with the aim of removing systemic barriers for people from equity-deserving groups – that is, those that are traditionally underserved, underrepresented and affected by injustices and biases. Council also approved a new pension benefit for future Council members to further reduce potential financial barriers for those running for office.

The new measures reflect Coquitlam’s focus on promoting equity, diversity and inclusion in the City’s work and community. A top-level priority in the 2022 Business Plan, this work includes actively identifying and dismantling policies, procedures and practices that prevent some individuals or groups from accessing and participating in civic life, services and opportunities. 

The new leave provisions only apply to City of Coquitlam Council members in office following the October 2022 election and will not be provided retroactively. The City will provide Council members with up to 16 weeks of paid leave (or the remainder of the term, whichever occurs first) for the following:
 
  • Maternity and/or parental leave for any elected official, regardless of family status or gender, who is pregnant or has given birth (including miscarriage, termination or stillbirth) or following the birth or adoption of a child.
  • Leave for any elected official to provide compassionate care or caregiving support to someone considered to be family who is critically ill or needing end-of-life care.

The City recognizes that other Council member leaves may be still required based on personal circumstance. These will be considered on a case-by-case basis. 
The pension provision will also take effect after the October election, and will be calculated based on years of service at a rate guided by the Municipal Pension Plan. The start date for all Council members, including those re-elected, will be the beginning of the next term.

Coquitlam’s Council leave procedure will need to be approved at the start of each new Council term or if there is a change in the composition of Council. 

In step with the evolving understanding taking place in Canada and around the world, Coquitlam has strengthened its focus on promoting equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the City’s work and in the community at large. EDI initiatives seek to build an equitable and inclusive society for all by addressing the inherent injustices and biases that hinder and harm some people while benefiting others. Council has ranked EDI among the top priorities for the City’s work. Preliminary EDI initiatives have included a workshop led by the City’s Universal Access-Ability Advisory Committee, a focus on accessible recreation programs, consultation with EDI experts and training for staff at all levels. The City will continue to provide updates as Coquitlam makes progress on this important initiative. Learn more at www.coquitlam.ca/edi.

Coquitlam voters will go to the polls on Saturday, Oct. 15 to elect a new Mayor, eight City councillors and four trustees for School District #43. The City holds elections every four years in accordance with provincial legislation. Visit www.coquitlam.ca/election for information about voting and running for office. For details about the new personal paid leave available to Council members, visit www.coquitlam.ca/edi

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