Pencils down: political lessons hard won in the 2010s

    Dec 11, 2019

    OTTAWA—As the end of the decade approaches, it’s hard not to see the sentimentality of everyone on social media reflecting on what they’ve accomplished over the past 10 years of their lives, lamenting the aging of their bodies and faces, saying how they wished they’d done and seen more. I’m no different, but as someone who has been called a “late bloomer,” I recognize that I’m likely much more pleased with my personal growth than others, as I’ve come into my own and developed strength in my convictions.

    While considering how my podcast co-hosts and I have gotten to where we are today, my mind wandered to thinking about what’s changed over the last decade in the political landscape and what I’ve learned.

    So, here it is, the Top Five things I’ve learned about Canadian politics this decade:

    Women of colour still don’t have a real voice

    The year 2015 was supposed to be the dawn of a new era, where women were considered “equal” in Parliament and given a seat at the table. With a gender-equal cabinet and several women of colour named to this cabinet—including the first Indigenous attorney general—women of colour were supposed to take notice and release that breath they’d been holding onto their whole lives.

    It was barely four years later when Jody Wilson-Raybould was pressured to take actions she wasn’t comfortable with, leading to her ultimate ouster from the Liberal Party caucus and Celina Caesar-Chavannes saying that, as a Black woman, she was tired of the lack of support her party was showing when faced with incessant racist and sexist attacks, leading her to not seek re-election in 2019. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    Politics is still an old boys’ club

    Does the 43rd Parliament have the most women ever? Yes. Is it representative of our population? No. Do female politicians face significantly more online harassment and threats than their male counterparts? Absolutely. I wrote about this recently, that until women are put into meaningful roles in cabinet—or even in other leadership positions in opposition—women will continue to be left out of the conversation.

    Hell, it’s 2019 and we’re still debating whether or not women should have autonomy of their own bodies.

    We’re seeing this play out in the U.S. right now as the field of Democratic presidential nominee candidates narrows and becomes more male (and white). Elizabeth Warren is viewed as “unelectable” because she’s not viewed as “strong” or “competent” since we continue to use adjectives typically used to describe men for women. But Joe Biden, who waffled on whether or not he was going to run in the first place, is definitely pro-women—just not as president, and probably not if it means he doesn’t get to be.

    We still don’t understand how power works

    Most of us don’t know how power works, or what it does, or how it manifests, or where the powerful congregate. Enforcement of spaces is the way power is reinforced; who is allowed in and who is not is a primary way that Canada’s socio-economic structure is taught and upheld. Where power congregates is in back rooms, away from the public, and subsumed underneath layers of gate-keepers. Basically, Canada is one big high school, populated by a whole bunch of clubs with strict registration desks designed to keep you from crossing their threshold. However, once you’re in, you’re in for life.

    That’s how Canada works: barriers to entry are the ways these clubs police their members’ fitness for inclusion, not merit. (Have you noticed that the merit argument only appears when the argument for diversity comes up?) And that is exactly why Canada fails to be inclusive.

    Self-awareness is highly underrated

    This should be self-explanatory, however no one ever said that self-awareness is overrated. You’d think this would be in the Beginner’s Guide to Anything in Life and Politics, but it seems like some people missed the memo. Incredibly, the higher we go in any organizational structure, both common sense and self-awareness are lost, or perhaps it’s a selection bias made by those same organizations.

    Politics is no different. Self-awareness and knowing when your time is up is something that good leaders know—and accept. It is a lesson that could save Andrew Scheer a lot of headache.

    Communications matters

    Communications is treated like the red-headed stepchild of much of politics, yet it is one of the greatest tools in politics. The ability to communicate your message, your ideals, and your values through robust and tailored communications is what every politician needs to learn. The problem is, the crop of politicians we have in this country are bad at it. They bungle their messages and trip over their own tongues.

    Imagine if the communications around the purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline had been, “We bought it to save Alberta jobs.” That would’ve been clear, concise, and direct. Instead, we got competing storylines, confusing communiqués, and a finance minister who couldn’t remember his lines. Had the PMO actually communicated the aforementioned message, we might have had another Notley government in Alberta.

    As the end of the decade nears, I’m proud of the voice we cultivated, the issues we talk about, and the perspective we deliver because they’re still so rare in Canadian politics.

    Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.