Guess where women were fined $300 a day for taking maternity leave

photo by Ryan McGuire

photo by Ryan McGuire

Canada. Yes, Canada, land of one-year maternity leaves, and a prime minister who calls himself a feminist, and a massive uptick in Google searches on how to move there that followed last week's Republican presidential debate. Even Canada didn't have its act together about parental leave just 25 short years ago.

I will go ahead and plead completely ignorant about Canadian politics, but....There's a Member of the Legislative Assembly, Linda Reid, who just celebrated her 25th anniversary in the B.C. legislature. The Richmond News, in British Columbia, did a fantastic interview  with Reid in which she recalled her dogged infiltration of a boys' club as Richmond's first elected woman. Her request for a ladies' restroom was just the beginning. When she had her daughter, she realized there was not only no maternity leave offered, but that she'd be fined $300 per day that she was out. "It was just bizarre," Reid told Richmond News reporter Matthew Hoekstra. "I said to Gordon Campbell, who was then leader of the Opposition [and later went on to become the Premier of British Columbia], 'If we ever get to government that's one of the first things we're changing.' I think he decided you shouldn't argue with a postpartum woman." True that.

Canada actually had had some form of maternity leave since 1921 but it took until 2001 for the Employment Insurance system (maternity leave) to resemble the plan in place today. Along the way, parental leave expanded to include fathers and adoptive mothers. It took time.

I suspect that paid parental leave will also take time in the United States, as much as I would love for the FAMILY Act to catapult us into the modern age in one swift beat. But we'll get there. If every baby step is a victory, then every woman who speaks up, who points out inequities, is like a mother leaning over that baby, holding his hands as he toddles.