OTTAWA—Gender parity, once on-trend in 2015, is now merely a passing thought just four years later. Cabinet announcements will be made today and not since in the days immediately following the election in October has gender parity in cabinet been discussed.
What’s that we hear? Oh, crickets.
In 2015, the nascent Trudeau government formed a cabinet known for seating an equal number of women and men, and so the tagline, “Because it’s 2015” was born. Well it’s 2019, and our discussion of the potential new cabinet has regressed from the representation of women to appeasing a vocal—and angry—regional base. Nary a discussion of women shall be found, which is disappointing in a country that has no federal female political leadership. Elizabeth May turned out to be one of the last female party leaders (Andrea Horwath is still the leader of the Ontario NDP) to posit a perspective that isn’t predominantly male; in her position, she pushed climate change to the top of the list of most important federal election issues. And she did so relentlessly.
However, it may not matter if there is parity or not, because even when there is, women are still given arguably fluffy portfolios (Chrystia Freeland is an exception) instead of high-impact, high-profile ones. Have we ever had a federal female finance minister? What seems to be true is that the distribution of cabinet positions still puts women at the bottom of the portfolio food chain while mostly white men continue to occupy the highly coveted and highly important positions.
What we ended up with in 2015 was traditional portfolios chopped up into bite-sized pieces to make sure that everyone (read: women) had “a seat at the table,” and thus we ended up with the virtually meaningless minister of democratic institutions, who, when democratic reform was shelved, should have been given the opportunity to study and understand foreign election interference in Canada with meaningful staff and funding. But of course, that went to the big boys of Public Safety, Defence, Heritage, and Innovation, Science, and Economic Development, who got to dig into the meat of the issue, leaving Karina Gould as the announcement-making figurehead.
This is not what gender parity is supposed to look like, and in actuality, it renders it meaningless. Women in the Liberal caucus should not just be happy to be included, they should demand more. But, we all know what happens when you speak truth to power in the Liberal caucus—just ask Jody Wilson-Raybould.
But here’s the thing: gender parity in cabinet, on its face, is reasonable. There’s nothing wrong with it in practice, and future governments should try to achieve this as much as possible. However, the application and result of it, as we’ve seen so far with Trudeau, will continue to emphasize the Liberals’ true weakness as feminists. Handing out titles to women who are there only to parrot back meaningless talking points written by bureaucrats is not feminist.
Nor is it feminist to use your gender-parity cabinet as a crutch to lean on whenever someone criticizes the practical feminism of the Liberal Party. Feminism is more than just dressing something old up to make it look new, it’s seeking substantive, lasting structural change to oppressive patriarchal systems.
It’s no wonder that the Liberal Party is consistently being criticized by feminists as not being feminist enough. Feminists are basically “OK, Boomer”-ing the Liberals when they say they’re being feminists, because the truth of the matter is that the Liberals don’t really have any idea of what it means to be a feminist in 2019; they’re still living on the feminist values from when Pierre Trudeau was prime minister.