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Legislatures no longer rattled by the presence of babies

The newest "member" of the B.C. Legislature is prone to crying fits.

But politicos happily anticipate the arrival of Hamish Michael Marissen-Clark, the newborn son of Deputy Premier Christy Clark.

Ms. Clark, a 35-year-old Port Moody MLA, gave birth to her firstborn Saturday night.

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"Mother and son are doing well, and according to his father, he's beautiful," said Ms. Clark's assistant, Tera Nelson, yesterday.

Ms. Clark, along with Hamish, will return to the Deputy Premier's office next month. A nursery is being set up across from her office.

"We're all looking forward to it," Ms. Nelson said. "It's going to be exciting and a challenge."

In the final weeks of her much-publicized pregnancy, Ms. Clark introduced an education bill and launched spirited attacks on the opposition NDP, reduced to two seats in the May election. She worked until four days before her delivery date. The baby was born in Vancouver 11 days overdue.

Ms. Clark's husband, Mark Marissen, a consultant and federal Liberal Party fund-raiser, will spend the baby's first six months travelling back and forth to Victoria with Ms. Clark from the couple's Lower Mainland home.

Attitudes are changing now that there are more female politicians of childbearing age, Ms. Clark said. But the change has been slow.

In 1987, Liberal Sheila Copps became the first Canadian to give birth while an MP, even though women had been members of the House of Commons since 1921. Ms. Copps was well known for keeping her daughter, Danelle, at her side until the child was about six months old.

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In the late 1980s, Judy Wasylycia-Leis, then a NDP member of the Manitoba Legislature, took her infant son to work and breast-fed him during a committee hearing. Questions were raised as to whether the government was providing high-priced babysitting services by allowing Ms. Wasylycia-Leis to keep a crib in her office.

In May, Massachusetts acting governor Jane Swift did her job via conference call from a hospital bed after giving birth to twin girls.

Last year, there was a minor furor in the British Parliament over a breast-feeding ban. Labour MP Julia Drown sparked the debate when she was prevented from breast-feeding her son at committee meetings.

Ms. Clark will be the first MLA in B.C. to benefit from a change to the law that until last year had penalized MLAs for being absent for more than 10 days, except for business or illness.

Ms. Clark said she is grateful for the support of her boss, Premier Gordon Campbell.

Ms. Clark credits colleague Linda Reid, Richmond MLA and Minister of State for Early Childhood Development, for making the legislature more baby friendly. Ms. Reid, who gave birth to daughter Olivia 18 months ago, fought to change the penalizing legislation.

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Ms. Reid, 41, was shocked to learn that maternity leave was not considered an illness.

She returned to the job after 10 days with Olivia and began her fight for change. The baby was a hit among staff and members on both sides of the house.

The maternity-leave issue hadn't been raised before because so few MLAs had become mothers while in office. There are 19 female MLAs and 60 male MLAs in the B.C. Legislature.

In 1992, former MLA Judi Tyabji, a Liberal, faced a backlash when she took her baby daughter to work.

Ms. Reid, then a newly elected MLA, fought for weeks to get a diaper-changing table installed for Ms. Tyabji's baby. "I'm darned proud of that change table," Ms. Reid said. Another, closer to Ms. Reid's office, was installed for Olivia.

Ms. Reid won her battle last year against the 10-day maximum absence and ensuing fines. An amendment to Bill 24 forgoes the penalties if new mothers are "unable to attend by reason of sickness or another reason approved by the Speaker."

"All I wanted, by virtue of the amendment, was to give women a choice," Ms. Reid said.

Ms. Reid said Hamish will be an important figure to future MLAs who become parents while elected to office.

Pictures of Ms. Reid's daughter line her bookshelves and a stroller occupies a corner of the office. "This place is baby-acclimatized now," she said.

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