POLITICS

Kara Westerlund Baby: Alberta Councillor Gets Complaints For Bringing Infant To Meeting

03/06/2012 03:20 EST | Updated 05/06/2012 05:12 EDT
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DRAYTON VALLEY, Alta. - A rural county councillor in Alberta says she will continue bringing her new baby to work despite complaints from a fellow female politician.

Kara Westerlund took a week off her duties as a councillor for Brazeau County after her daughter Taylor was born Jan. 8.

She then started taking the baby to day-long council meetings because she is breastfeeding.

The 28-year-old said she had no idea it was an issue until she read an opinion column by Coun. Pat Monteith in the Feb. 22 issue of the Breton Booster newspaper.

"It appears that our new council chambers and meeting room has been turned into a nursery," wrote Monteith. "I am finding it disruptive and distracting.

"More importantly, how do you feel about your tax dollars going to pay someone to care for her own child?"

Westerlund said she was stunned.

"(The baby) has never cried in council. You know that little grunting noise they make when they have gas — that's about it," she said Tuesday while on a break from another council meeting in Drayton Valley.

She said she hopes her resolve will encourage other working mothers.

"There's no reason why we have to sit at home. Just because we've had a baby doesn't mean there's something wrong with us, that we can't be productive out in the community."

Westerlund was first elected 1 1/2 years ago. A former radio host and news reporter, she had spent years covering council meetings and wanted to participate.

"It was something I really wanted to do and I felt the representation of young women was missing."

Westerlund said she discreetly breastfeeds her daughter, under a cape, once or twice during council meetings. The rest of the time the baby sleeps on a blanket on the floor or in her car seat.

She said she won't be bringing the baby to work forever. In a few more months, she'll try to get the baby on a bottle and will leave her at home with a grandmother during council meetings.

Monteith did not return requests for an interview and did not attend Tuesday's council meeting because of bad weather.

Longtime Coun. Wes Tweedle said Monteith, a mother of adult children, is the only councillor who has an issue with the baby.

Before the child was even born, Monteith raised concerns, he said. Monteith had heard suggestions that Westerlund wanted to bring her child to work.

Tweedle said he took an informal poll of the other five councillors and no one had a problem.

"(Monteith) felt it might be disruptive, but we don't feel that's been the case. That's one person's opinion."

He said no other councillor has brought a baby to meetings before, but it's no big deal. He also doesn't mind the breastfeeding.

"I've been around livestock all my life. I know what motherhood and nursing and that stuff is all about. It doesn't bother me."

The topic of politicians bringing their babies to work was raised last month in Ottawa.

New Democrat MP Sana Hassainia took her infant son into the House of Commons before a vote and mistakenly thought she was being told that wasn't allowed.

Speaker Andrew Scheer clarified that he was concerned about MPs taking pictures of the child because cameras aren't allowed in the chamber.

He later ruled that MPs are allowed to bring their infants, as long as they're not disruptive.

— By Chris Purdy in Edmonton

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