The plan was to break ground in these times of heavy partisanship. To prove that the greater good should blur political lines.
It isn’t quite working out that way.
Last week, Senator Paula Simons — an independent — was expected to sponsor a bereavement-leave bill that had been introduced to the House of Commons by Conservative Edmonton Riverbend MP Matt Jeneroux.
The bill itself is not the stuff of controversy. It had the support of all parties in a minority parliament. It would extend bereavement leave for federally regulated workers — about six per cent of the work force — from five to 10 days. What made it unusual was that it was a bill, introduced by a Conservative MP, that wasn’t going to be sponsored in the senate by a Conservative senator. Tradition holds that the MP who introduces the bill finds a senator of the same political stripe to sponsor the legislation if it passes through the House of Commons. Instead, Jeneroux had asked Simons to sponsor the Compassionate Bereavement Bill.
“It’s an important first step,” said Simons of the bill. “Over the last year, we’ve all come face to face with our own mortality. Many of us have lost loved ones. It’s been a year of tears.”
For Jeneroux, asking Simons to sponsor the bill was “really an Edmonton story, how it’s a small town within a big city.”
Before being elected as an MP, Jeneroux was an MLA in the provincial legislature. Simons, at the time, was a columnist with the Edmonton Journal. So they’ve had a longstanding professional relationship, if that’s the best way to describe the relationship between politician and columnist.
Jeneroux said that he hoped the idea of a Tory MP working with an independent would send a message.
“Hopefully this inspires a younger generation that you can look to a career in politics, that you don’t have to be overly partisan in order to be an elected official,” he said.
THE BEST-LAID PLANS…
But, last week, things took a turn. The night before Simons was set to bring the bill to the Senate, the Conservative senators requested that it be a Tory to back the bill. So, Senator Judith Seidman sponsored the legislation.
And things got even more, ahem, curious. Simons was thrust into the role of criticizing the bill. She went from sponsor to critic overnight.
But, her “critique” was that the bill might not be enough.
“Is this a perfect piece of legislation? It is not. And in my sudden and unexpected role of critic, I do have some critiques to offer. Unpaid leave is a start, but some might well advocate for 10 days of paid leave so that people already facing extraordinary stresses would not have to give up some of their income in order to get time off,” she said. “For some people, giving up a week and a half of salary would be an insurmountable obstacle which would render them unable to take advantage of this new entitlement. As the bill stands now, it might be quite useful to people who have well-paid jobs and savings in the bank, and much less useful to those who are living paycheque to paycheque.
“In a perfect world, some would doubtless want to see this kind of bereavement leave extended to all Canadian workers, not just the six per cent of those governed by the Canada Labour Code.”
Why did Jeneroux feel so strongly about bereavement leave? When he was younger, Jeneroux had a choice. Stay with his job as he bucked to get a better position — he had to impress the bosses — or spend precious time with his terminally ill grandmother. He chose to stick with the job.
“It’s a decision I regret to this day,” he said.
The bill should go to the Senate committee this week, and Simons said the hope is to get it squeaked in before the chamber breaks for the summer.