OTTAWA — Liberal MP Peter Schiefke checks his schedule carefully each week, as one would expect from anyone with a busy job, asking himself one question in particular.
Will the timing of a vote in the House of Commons let him make the hour-and-a-half drive to his riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Que. in time to give his two-year-old son Anderson a bath and then put him in bed?
Or, will it mean that he gets home too late for that, but can maybe wake up early, enjoy a couple of hours with his wife, Paula Ruttle and newborn daughter, Noelle, before dropping Anderson off at daycare and heading back to the House of Commons?
"You don't want to miss the first walk and the first words and the first everything,'' said Schiefke, parliamentary secretary for youth to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Vaudreuil-Soulanges MP Peter Schiefke poses with his family, wife, Paula, two-year-old son Anderson and two month old Noelle at their home in Vaudreuil-sur-le-lac, Quebec. (Photo: Graham Hughes/CP)
There has been much recent talk about managing the balance between work and life on Parliament Hill, especially as part of efforts to promote the participation of women in politics, but as modern fathers tend to take a more active role in the daily lives of their children the young dads on the Hill are also looking for ways to manage.
"I think that's a reflection of a change in mindset that is occurring all across the board,'' said Schiefke.
"I think that it's a priority for all members of the House of Commons now to try and make the life of a member of Parliament something that is more appealing to all Canadians, whether they be men, women, young, older,'' he said. "We have to make it something that is appealing to them, that they want to do and that this service to the community and to the country doesn't take that huge toll on your family.
"Because you're just going to be missing out on really good people who want to present as candidates, but they look at it and say 'This is just not going to work'.''
"You don't want to miss the first walk and the first words and the first everything."
The Commons committee on procedure and House affairs began studying ways to make Parliament more family-friendly earlier this year, issuing an interim report in June that made some relatively minor recommendations, such as continuing an informal practice that began soon after the election last year of holding votes immediately after question period instead of in the evenings, and an on-call, flexible childcare service that MPs pay for out of their own pockets.
More complicated ideas, such as eliminating Friday sittings, allowing electronic voting and letting MPs take parental leave were left to be considered again sometime down the road.
Conservative MP Chris Warkentin said there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Extending the length of sitting days in order to spend fewer days in Ottawa, for example, might help people like him, whose family lives in his Alberta riding of Grande Prairie-Mackenzie, but would have a negative impact on MPs whose families live nearby because it could mean never making it home until after the kids are asleep.
Schiefke with his two-year-old son Anderson. (Photo: Graham Hughes/CP)
"Every MP has to set limits for themselves and carve out time for their family and it has to be done in an intentional way,'' said Warkentin, who noted this is something that holds true for countless other kinds of jobs across the country.
For him, that means making the 10-hour trek home at least every other weekend to spend time with his wife, Michelle, daughters Abigail, 10 and Cobi, 8, and son Kyler, 5.
If he stays away any longer than that, Warkentin said he notices his kids are more likely to keep turning to their mother for things instead of to him.
"It's not only important to be involved in kids' big events in their lives, but also the day-to-day,'' he said.
"Every MP has to set limits for themselves and carve out time for their family."
New Democrat MP Daniel Blaikie knows all too well what it is like to be the child of a politician.
His father, Bill Blaikie, was an NDP MP from 1979 — before Daniel was even born — until 2008.
He remembers one thing that made it work was that instead of it just being a job his dad did, it was something the whole family believed in.
"It really is a decision that you have to make as a family,'' said Blaikie, who has two sons, three-year-old Robert and infant Noah, with his wife, Janelle, who live in his Manitoba riding of Elmwood-Transcona.
New Democrat MP Daniel Blaikie's father, Bill, also worked in the House of Commons. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)
To anyone who makes the choice without really thinking about how it will work, Blaikie would say: "I think you're gambling with your marriage, frankly, and your relationship with your kids.''
Blaikie agrees that more and more fathers are considering the impact on family life when it comes to deciding whether or not to run for office, but he also thinks it makes sense that work-life balance on Parliament Hill is still often framed as a matter of improving the lives of female politicians.
"That really is a barrier for women getting into politics,'' he said. "As much as I am a young father and I want to contribute to the parenting, I'm not a breastfeeding mom.''
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