One of the stupidest things Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has ever done is brag about “gender parity” and proclaim that at least 50 per cent of his cabinet ministers will be women.
Well-intentioned as he usually is, this “hey, look at me” position on cabinet making has won him international attention but has questionable benefits for the government or advancing the cause of women.
There, I said it. Let the abuse begin.
This comes from someone who served for 18 months as head of the Ontario Council on the Status of Women in the 1980s and has the scars to prove it.
It was a thankless task. Conservatives accused me of radical views and those on the left saw me as a government toady with no loyalty to the feminist movement. Both sides were wrong but that’s beside the point. It was time and effort well spent.
I’m proud of whatever contribution I was able to make to a good cause during that time but I’m embarrassed that after more than three decades there is still so much to do to ensure that girls and women have equal opportunities and equal treatment in this country.
Recently, I watched a discussion among three high profile women who have personally experienced the dark side of politics and life in Ottawa.
It was shocking to hear their stories but it’s laundry that needs to be aired.
Jody Wilson Raybould (JWR) and Celina Caesar Chavannes are two Liberal MPs who resigned last year because of maltreatment by the prime minister. JWR resigned as Attorney General and quit politics after her high profile falling out with Trudeau over the SNC Lavalin scandal. Lisa Rait was a Tory MP for 12 years, held several cabinet portfolios, was deputy leader of the Official Opposition and defeated in the 2019 election.
JWT says she was treated as an outsider at cabinet meetings. Rait said that women cabinet ministers were not taken seriously—unless something was said or proposed by a man, “it didn’t happen.”
All three former MPs described a toxic environment on Parliament Hill where women—elected and staff—are treated without respect or considered “menopausal freaks,” and where rife partisanship prevents women of rival parties from supporting each other as they do in other workplaces.
All three agreed it will be hard to change this culture. Rait called for more accountability of and pushback against party leaders and JWT criticized blind loyalty to leaders and the “cult of personality.”
So here we are after an unwanted, unnecessary and costly election that changed little in Ottawa.
Prime Minister Trudeau insisted the election was an emergency and critical to provide his government with a majority to preside over recovery from the pandemic and the mountain of debt and tragedy it has already left in its wake.
At no time during the election did the Liberals spell out what their majority would do. Now, they have unveiled a multi billion dollar spending program with no details and we have to wait another month for the new Parliament to meet.
One of the big challenges facing Trudeau is putting together a new cabinet and giving them time to get ready to face the music in their new responsibilities.
Part of that challenge is fulfilling his promise of gender parity. There are now 37 members of cabinet. Some predicted more will be added to recruit the talent he needs as well as addressing gender, regional and other considerations.
Trudeau is already down four women cabinet members---three were defeated and one chose not to seek re-election.
Overall, the Liberals elected three more women on Sept.20 for a total of 57 out their total 160-member caucus. In a 40-member cabinet, and under the parity provision, that would mean women Liberal MPs have about a one in three chance of making it to cabinet. What part of the country they represent plus cultural and religious considerations could make the odds even sweeter.
The prime minister is lucky to have Chrystia Freeland on the team (and possibly the next leader depending on how long Trudeau either decides to stay around or has his party make that decision on his behalf.) As Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Freeland is the jewel in his crown as a feminist prime minister.
It is only fair to comment that gender parity does not guarantee parity of responsibility. In his last cabinet several of the female members held junior portfolios and critics will be watching closely to see if that happens again this time with possibly an even larger cabinet.
While I celebrate the trend to increasing the number of women in important and influential roles in all sectors of society, I remain quota hesitant.
Cabinet membership requires particular skills not necessarily needed by stars in other fields widely ranging from health care to finance, corporate governance and academia.
Over the years we’ve had some highly successful people try their hand at politics only to discover their political skills were sorely lacking.
The numbers would suggest that Trudeau will have to welcome several newcomers to his third cabinet.
Hopefully they will not suffer the fate of Maryam Monsef who was elected in 2015 and was almost immediately appointed to Trudeau’s cabinet.
Fresh out of the gate, with very limited political experience, she was sworn in as the Minister of Democratic Institutions with a mandate to front Trudeau’s election promise to reform our voting process. The problem was that Trudeau reneged on changing the process that had worked rather well for him and the young and fairly naive Monsef was thrown to the political wolves.
Monsef was demoted to the less grandiose portfolios of rural development and minister of women and gender equality.
She was relatively low profile until she made the politically stupid mistake of referring to the militant Taliban as her “brothers” during the recent fall of Afghanistan and the good burgers of Peterborough-Kawartha sent her packing in the Sept.20 election.
Hopefully the Prime Minister will have learned from the Monsef example.
And hopefully he listened to former PM Jean Chretien tell interviewers on the weekend how Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau arranged to have him as a newly elected MP mentored by the wise Liberal veteran cabinet minister Mitchell Sharp.
If Justin really cares about the emancipation of women, he will ensure his party enables more women to contest winnable ridings and that his women MPs are heard, mentored, respected and supported so they can carry out the senior roles they deserve.
This process won’t win him any photo ops but it would put more women in high places where they belong and are needed.