Canada - When is it okay to miss Parliament? Independent MP Sana Hassainia on why she was only at 16 of 269 votes

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When is it OK for an MP to miss votes in Parliament? Former NDP and now-Independent MP Sana Hassainia had the worst voting record in the House of Commons in 2014, showing up for 16 of the 269 votes last year. She spoke to the Ottawa Citizen.

Q: Why did you miss almost every vote during the year?

A: In 2013, I had my second child. The party I worked for (the NDP) didn’t help me at all with my work-family balance. I decided even if that bothered the party at the time, (I would) not be as present for votes. I had two kids – and for me it’s important to be with them – and the vast majority of votes are at the end of the day or the evening, so I didn’t show up for that reason.

Q: Is that a problem you’ve heard of from your colleagues?

A: It’s certain that it’s a personal question with some of my colleagues who have given birth, and I think it’s a personal question of how a mother wants to live and how much personal time they need.

It’s not the same for everyone. Me, I have to be there for my kids, I feel it’s important to be there to put them to bed, to pick them up at the nursery, to be there when they wake up. There are some mothers who will do this and, without judging, some mothers who won’t. And that’s OK by me. It’s really a personal decision to make.

Q: You discussed this with the party and they were OK with that?

A: No, not at all. But seeing that we are the Official Opposition with a government that is in majority, there’s not much we can do. So in a way, my absence did not change the results of the votes.

Q: Do you think you’re properly doing your job as an MP if you’re almost never in the Commons to vote?

A: Yes. I wasn’t there for votes but I was quite often in my riding. If I ask my constituents, I am really appreciated in my riding, I do a good job, I am there when one must be, and I ask questions quite often in the House. So my voting absence doesn’t mean I’m not working. There’s a lot you can do otherwise and I do it. It doesn’t reflect a lack of work, it’s most of all a personal decision because I am a mother.

Many who are much more advanced in parliamentary life also really think that we must face the future. I put forward a bill in 2012 concerning, among other things, work-life balance, and the bill fell because the Conservative government wasn’t interested in it.

I think it’s important to allow females – certainly among them mothers who want to spend time with their children – the possibility to either bring them in to their seats, as we see in the European Parliament, or find a way to allow (voting) for people who can’t be there when they have a family responsibility.

Q: Have your constituents ever asked you why your were almost never in the Commons to vote in 2014?

A: No, not at all. People tend to congratulate me for my work in Parliament, they say I do a very good job. They know that I’m not always there for votes and that I’m not always there for evening events, that I go home because I have young kids. And they know that no matter who would be in my situation, that maternity leave isn’t something MPs can have.

Q: If that happened, what would you say to people?

A: It hasn’t happened but if it did I’d say the same thing I told you: that I have kids that are young and would they accept to leave their very young children to make a vote that would not – because we have a majority government – make a big difference.

Q: Have you indicated you’re not running again in the 2015 federal election?

A: I haven’t made my decision. There’s certainly a chance I won’t run because as an Independent MP today you’d have a very small chance (to) be chosen by citizens. It’s likely either I join a party before the next election or I don’t run at all, but the decision hasn’t been made.

Q: There are still votes this session. Will you vote in 2015?

A: The votes at the end of the day and the evening, I cannot be there. Votes that take place over the course of the day, I’ll be there.

Q: Your office was closed from Dec. 22 to Jan. 9. Why was it closed for so long? Many other MPs went back to work a week earlier.

A: It’s a possibility I give to my staff to let them recover because they have an enormous amount of activities and, you know, I have 11 municipalities in my riding, which means a lot, a lot, a lot of activities. And so it gives my staff a chance to (rest) a little while, and me as well to have an extra week.

– This interview has been translated from French and edited for length and clarity.

SOURCE: National Post, January 15th, 2015,