Family status: is that a fair question?

by Mike Bryant - September 27, 2018

 

Family status – what does it mean and why do we ask for it?

It’s election season and once again reporters and editors at Yellowknifer and other Northern News Services publications are facing the odd headwind when posing this question to candidates seeking your vote to serve as mayor, city councillor or school trustee.

Readers may have noticed the initial term we used to extract this biographical piece of information was “marital status,” which I admit is archaic and doesn’t do a very good job of honing the information we’re after.

We don’t care if a candidate is single or a divorcee. What we really want to know from the candidates is: do you have children?

Why is that important? Why does the public – and the media – have the right to ask that question?

During the 2009 municipal election I wrote a column titled, “Probing questions part of the job.” It points out that people seeking public office have fewer rights to privacy. That’s because they are asking us to vote for them so they can make decisions that will have a direct impact on our lives.

Debating the issues and providing the public with policy planks is not enough. We need to know who these people are.

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Does not having children disqualify people from public office? Of course not. We’ve been asking candidates in various elections for years about their family status and as far as I can tell, people still get elected whether they have children or otherwise. Of the eight city councillors and one mayor on the current council, four of them do not have any children as far as I know.

Council makeup is more or less like this after every election.

But I still think it is an important question to ask. I didn’t have children when I wrote that column in 2009 but I do now.

I am still only at the elementary school and paying $1,100 a month for day care phase of my parental career. I have yet to experience the cost of putting kids through hockey camp or shelling out for their own smartphones or sending them to university – from Yellowknife.

From my own personal experience, and from speaking to friends, neighbours and colleagues with children of their own there is no better way to understand the issues facing families in this city than to be a parent.

I’ll note none of the four candidates running for mayor have children. Two of them, Coun. Adrian Bell and Jerald Sibbeston, are both on the record questioning the existence of our city’s municipal enforcement division.

Leadership problems at bylaw aside, I imagine most parents appreciate having municipal enforcement officers patrolling school zones for speeders, and would question whether the RCMP would be as vigilant should municipal enforcement be disbanded.

Mayoral candidate Bob Stewart wants to scrap plans for a new pool and put the money toward some sort of homelessness centre near the airport.

I don’t think he would be making this proposal if, like me, he had a five-year-old daughter and going to the pool meant dragging her through a crowd of naked boys and men in a cramped, single-gendered change room. Both myself and sports editor James McCarthy, who has two young daughters of his own, are very uncomfortable with that.

On Rebecca Alty’s website the word “families” appears once – in reference to her support for a residential schools monument. Bell’s website doesn’t mention families at all.

Letting voters know whether candidates have families of their own is just as important as asking them about their job experience in my opinion.

People are busy. They don’t have time or the opportunity to ask these questions. Family status included.

Is it it sexist? As far I can tell all adults may be parents, either biologically or via adoption.

Is it relevant? For some people, certainly.

Is it fair? Life, and especially politics, never is.

I it intrusive? Yes, but you’re running for public office, right?