In November 2015, I was ecstatic to learn that then newly-elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau created a gender-balanced Cabinet. A few years later, I have learned that this is a false narrative that needs to be smashed.
In the same election where Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister in 2015, women made up only 26% of elected Members of Parliament, who vote in the House of Commons, which is sadly a record. There are currently no Members of Parliament who openly identify as non-binary or Two-Spirit. Two-Spirit is a term used by Canadian indigenous communities as a third gender for people who do not identify as male or female. Gender parity in the Canadian Senate is better, at forty percent. However, it is important to note that Canadian Senators are appointed by the Prime Minister for their accomplishments, similar to the Cabinet, not by registered voters.
Fortunately, there are efforts currently in place to work on increasing female participation in Canadian government. Member of Parliament Niki Ashton launched an online, free campaign school, titled Our Movement, for women and femme people who want tools to successfully get involved in Canadian government. This program started in mid-July and ended August 8, although the webinars are archived and available for viewing. Niki clarified to the National Post that this program aimed to increase female participation in electoral politics: “You see a lot of women involved in grassroots campaigns, grassroots politics. And that’s excellent, that’s really important…but we also need to see that translated into electoral politics.”
These online seminars covered the topics of political organizing, fundraising, campaign management, candidacy, media training, youth issues and issue-based advocacy. I am also pleased to see that these seminars were free. More traditional routes to politics, like law school or connections, have significant financial barriers or continue establishment politics. Hopefully this program, and similar programs, will allow a more diverse group of people to get involved in politics.
While this program was definitely a step in the right direction, there are issues that the Canadian government must address in order to create a safer culture and address the needs of current and future female government representatives. In a survey published this year, 38 female Members of Parliament voluntarily answered questions about their experience with sexual misconduct while in office. Of the 38, 58% reported that they faced some level of sexual misconduct while in office. Four female Members of Parliament said they were sexually assaulted while in office, while 47% of respondents said that they received inappropriate comments on social media.
Maternity leave in the House of Commons is also a disaster, which should be reformed to encourage mothers and women who may become pregnant during their term to run for a Member of Parliament position. Currently, new mothers who are Members of Parliament are only permitted to have twenty-one days of medical leave and no way to vote from outside the House of Commons. Additionally, the daycare on Parliament does not take any children under eighteen months. Niki herself gave birth to twins in fall 2017 and brought them to work because she had no other option, and she wanted to show women that mothers can be successful politicians.
It’s time that Canadian government representatives start to reflect the diverse population that lives in Canada, and this includes increasing female representation. The next Canadian Federal Election is in 2019, and I hope to see more female government representatives voted in and play their role in making Canada a better place.