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The time is now to make politics more sustainable

Nov 09, 2015

 

 

 

 

As published in the Hill Times on Monday November 9th 2015 by Nancy Peckford, EV National Spokesperson

 

OTTAWA—So, gender parity in our federal cabinet has arrived. “It’s 2015,” wisely noted our new Prime Minister after last week’s swearing-in of his new Cabinet. What’s the big deal? Seasoned, capable and promising women have been given an equal voice in governing this country.  Canada is only one of five countries to have done it. Next.

 

Not quite. It’s worth saying that many women in Canada were relieved that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn’t blink in the face of several male and female columnists signalling the alarm bells. These folks opined that merit would take a hit in the face of such a commitment, even with 50 very talented and dynamic women in the governing caucus, a record.   

 

It seemed a bit much. Cabinet making is always an exercise is compromise, pragmatism and trade-offs. Region, background, ethnicity, heritage, experience, and loyalty to the leader figure large in terms of who makes it in. Putting an emphasis on gender would not overshadow these other considerations, but would simply ensure that women played an equal role.

 

In fact, the current Liberal female crop represents an embarrassment of riches, including groundbreakers, trailblazers, former ministers, lawyers, physicians, professors, indigenous leaders, scientists, businesswomen, and United Nations diplomats. What possibly could be missing from this list?

 

But such qualifications are only part of the equation. Many of these well-respected women led smart, hard-fought campaigns in which they shored up the Liberal Party’s campaign across the country when the party was flailing at third in the polls. They won their ridings because of the respect they earned as impressive leaders who had built important and substantive relationships in their community. That alone would make them worthy of the post.

 

These newly minted federal ministers, both male and female, have their work cut out for them. Expectations are high. They will, at times, stumble and even fall. That’s life. That’s politics. But more importantly, the presence of these women sends a powerful signal to future generations about what we can expect from the institutions they represent and that govern us.

 

The fact that it’s taken this long to attain gender equality at the federal Cabinet, nearly 100 years since women secured the vote, is woeful. Now that women have achieved it, the real test is not how they perform in their portfolios, but what room there will be to do politics differently.

 

With only 26 per cent of MPs being women, up just one point from the previous Parliament, some of the democratic reforms that Prime Minister Trudeau has promised could be aimed at modernizing many outdated conventions. 

 

The House of Commons sits for the most days of any legislature in Canada, despite the fact that MPs are coming from every corner of this country.  The travel burden alone has proven to be unsustainable for many, given family responsibilities and the enormous roles MPs play in their ridings.  Surely, we can find ways to use technology more effectively so MPs aren’t required to be in the House for every vote and every Commons committee meeting.  

 

How about tackling sitting hours? Under the leadership of PC MPP Lisa MacLeod, the Ontario McGuinty government eliminated most evening sittings. They recognized that in starting the day earlier, they could use MPPs’ time more effectively, get Question Period out of the way by noon and free MPPs up in the evenings for important constituency events and/or time with family. 

 

Better provisions for caregiving are also necessary. There must be flexibility around MPs playing a caregiving role for a child or older parent. Improved childcare options on the Hill for elected Members would also serve as an important signal to younger MPs who become new parents during this mandate that it is, in fact, possible to do both.

 

Finally, politics must become more human. Let’s hope that this new crop are given the latitude to embody different leadership styles, demonstrate innovative thinking, change their minds—at least on occasion, and are able to remain connected to the rest of their lives. And to their reasons for running in the first place:  to make this country better—for everyone. To give all of Canada’s children, and those families in desperate need of a new country, the best opportunities possible in a rapidly changing world.

 

There’s a ton of talent around that Cabinet table, and a lot of goodwill. Women have an equal voice. So, let’s get started.

 

Nancy Peckford is national spokesperson for Equal Voice, a national multi-partisan organization dedicated to electing more women in Canada.

 

news@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

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