When women are given opportunities to succeed in the workplace, we know that there is something unspoken in that opportunity: Should we fail to live up to the unreasonable expectations set for us, we will be punished and likely won’t be given a similar opportunity for some time.
But when Justin Trudeau was elected prime minister, women across Canada felt a glimmer of hope. For a little while, we felt emboldened to be audacious in our ambition and goals for ourselves. We thought that we would be treated with equity. We felt that Justin Trudeau and the Liberal party had our backs.
And yet, Trudeau’s treatment of former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould has shown us that we were wrong and that loyalty is a one-way street.
But let’s start at the beginning.
When Trudeau was elected in 2015, he introduced Canada’s first gender parity cabinet. “Because it’s 2015” was the refrain heard around the world. We hoped that this would mean concrete actions on gender equity and the closing of the pay gap.
How excited we were to see Jody Wilson-Raybould elevated to one of cabinet’s most senior positions. Women in Canada not only saw a competent, successful, professional woman of integrity, we saw the future of Canada – and it looked like us. Imagine the impact her appointment had on Indigenous women and girls across the country and how it changed what they thought was possible for themselves.
And while she may no longer be attorney general, Wilson-Raybould is still having an impact on women. We were right to believe in her integrity, because it was more or less what led to her demotion and eventual resignation from cabinet. She had so much integrity that she was effectively punished for it.
We were right to believe in her integrity … She had so much integrity that she was effectively punished for it.
The intimidation tactics— “veiled threats,” if you will — used by Trudeau and his officials will resonate with any woman who works for any organization in Canada. These threats try to cut women down and put their credibility and competence into question. It means that their words are not taken seriously, and opens them up to being subjected to a barrage of men asserting that they know better than the female subject-matter expert. Often the stress of fending off such interactions leads to adverse mental health effects; Wilson-Raybould commented more than once on the anxiety she felt in response to the harassment.
This is what happens every day of every month in offices and boardrooms across the country. Including on Parliament Hill.
Wilson-Raybould earned her seat at the table. And for nearly four years, she proved to be a reliable asset to The Team, delivering on policy issues such as assisted dying and cannabis legalization, and serving as a diverse face in a fairly homogeneous House of Commons. But, these opportunities come with strings.
Gender parity is a shallow promise when the cultural norms upheld are still those of patriarchy and crony capitalism. In hindsight, this window-dressing has done nothing more than to create cynicism in politics with a segment of the population that is starving for female candidates.
The relationship of trust that once existed between the Trudeau Liberals and Canadian women is broken.
The SNC-Lavalin affair is about putting party above the law, and protecting the jobs, not of workers, but of top male executives, ultimately so the “Member from Papineau” can remain in power. The boys’ club runs deep across all public institutions from former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci advising SNC-Lavalin, to the Clerk of the Privy Council serving at the prime minister’s beck and call.
For many women, the SNC-Lavalin affair has stood for women choosing not to quietly accept the subordinate position expected of them and that their once-promising careers would be reduced to working the front desk at the Boys’ Club. But then, as many male pundits have pronounced, that’s what she signed up for, wasn’t it?
Erin Gee, Amy Kishek and Erica Ifill are co-hosts of the Ottawa-based Bad + Bitchy Podcast.