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'Times are changing': B.C. minister addresses online criticism over bringing baby to legislature

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When Bowinn Ma, B.C.’s minister of emergency management and climate readiness, posted a photo of her three-month-old daughter Azalea in a makeshift nursery in her legislature office, most people were supportive of her decision to bring her baby to work.

But she got her share of hate, including several online comments saying she should stay home and be a mother, or that babies have no place in the legislature.

When she posted a photo of her breastfeeding Azalea under a blanket in a cabinet event, Ma got even more criticism.

“The vast majority of people have been supportive, but of course there are still some, I guess, less supportive attitudes out there,” said Ma, who clapped back at the online comments, defending her decision to return to the legislature with Azalea in tow and feed her when she’s hungry.

“I have the support of colleagues who recognize the value of making the legislature accessible to women, including mothers with young children, and I have a community who recognizes the value of having my voice in the legislature,” said Ma.

Former premier Christy Clark, who was the first cabinet minister to bring her baby to the legislature in 2001, can relate to the backlash. “So I got a lot of that, too. A lot of people who would say, ‘Look, you should be home looking after your child.’ It happened all the time,” said Clark, who returned to work only four weeks after having her son Hamish.

Since then, social media has given people a new, anonymous way to level criticism.

“I think Twitter has changed things a lot. I think also, though, society has come a long way in accepting women in politics for sure, and accepting women with babies in politics as well. I was really glad to part of that in a small way, in normalizing that for women in our legislature,” said Clark.

In 2019, procedural changes allowed MLAs to being their infants inside chambers.

“I don’t bring her in there all of the time, but in pinch if she needs to be fed and they’re calling for a vote, I am able to bring her in, and that’s been extremely helpful,” said Ma.

“I’m proud of Bowinn, she’s amazing, I wish I had the energy and stamina she does to not only raise a little one, but also taking the important responsibility as a minster head on on a very challenging file,” said Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon. “We want to encourage more people to actually participate in politics, get involved, run for politics. And we have to create an environment so that people can do that.”

Finance Minister Katrine Conroy says when she had children, she and her husband decided he would run for office because babies were not allowed at the legislature. She didn’t enter politics until her children were grown, and she’s glad there are options for young parents now.

“We should provide supports so that women can work in the legislature,” said Conroy. “Part of being a mom is working, and she’s chosen to do that.”

And Ma’s message for the online haters?

“You know, times are changing, and women deserve to have a choice about how they lead their lives and how they raise their families,” she said, adding she knows not everyone would return to work with a three-month-old, and she’s grateful she’s been afforded the chance. “I know I will likely show up to more than one meeting with spit up in my hair and maybe a little saliva stain on my shirt, but I think it’s important to try.”

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