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Pardon My French: Why A Gender-equal Cabinet Is Important

It is another exciting day in the Canadian political landscape, and if that isn’t the most exciting opening sentence I have ever written, I don’t know what is. Today is the day that our new (and yes, handsome) Prime Minister is sworn in to office along with his chosen Cabinet. I am trying to decide why I have been particularly excited about this over the past few days. I don’t get to go vote or set up a fun, kid-friendly voting booth at home or watch in anticipation to see what our country will decide. That’s some proper exciting drama right there. But swearing in day?

Maybe I am excited because I have been quite impressed with our Prime Minister-designate since election night. I know most of what I’ve seen has been optics, but the optics have been good (and I don’t mean all those boxing pictures floating around). I admit that I wasn’t expecting much from Trudeau, noting that even a little change would be a welcome change from the previous administration. But so far, I’m seeing lots of things that impress me. Still, I don’t think my newfound appreciation of Justin Trudeau is what is making me excited for today.

The truth is, I’m really excited to see who will be in Cabinet. (Yup, another riveting sentence right there).

Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau has promised gender parity in his Cabinet. That means he will be appointing just as many women as men to these prime positions of power in our government.

Let that sink in for a minute.

If that doesn’t get your heart fluttering, then maybe you need to consider your privilege. I don’t mean that offensively. I just mean that maybe you are so far rooted within an disproportionate society that prefers one type of person over others that you are blind to it.

Despite my elation over this gender parity that I will be able to watch unfold in an hour from when I write this (and immediately upon publication), I have been so disheartened about the narrative that has developed as our country discusses gender equality in Cabinet. I first noticed it on Saturday as I was listening to CBC Radio’s The House. They were predicting and discussing issues that Justin Trudeau would be considering while choosing his Cabinet and one of the talking heads mentioned that gender parity was well and good but Trudeau needs to make sure he picks competent people for each file.

Hold up. What did he just say?

Since hearing that, I have noticed other prominent media personalities broadcasting the same sentiment and people – friends even – sharing it.

Pardon my French, but we are a bilingual country: WTF?!

I know. On the surface it sounds quite reasonable. We really need competent people in the most powerful positions in our government. Sure. That makes sense.

Except, you realize that this language has never been used before, right? We have never questioned the competency of potential Cabinet choices before, not until more women began to fill those roles. But here’s the crazy part. If you really listen carefully you’ll notice that no one is expecting competency from the men that Trudeau will be choosing. Only the women.

Here are the key points that I keep hearing from almost every political discussion concerning the upcoming Cabinet in our media:

  • Trudeau is creating a smaller Cabinet. There are only approximately 28 expected Cabinet positions.
  • Trudeau has a lot of good people to choose from, including long-time loyal Liberals. (Notice how in this case we would be choosing Cabinet ministers based on loyalty and time of service, not meritocracy.)
  • Trudeau will also want new faces because of his brand (again, the discussion is not mentioning competency)
  • Trudeau wants to achieve gender parity. And BAM. Here is where we start discussing competency and needing to choose the right person for the job.

Do you see the institutionalized sexism yet? It is in our government. It is in the media (even the liberal media). It is in your Facebook feeds.

There are so many things wrong with talking about competency and meritocracy in the same breath as discussing gender parity. Once you scratch the surface you realize that what we’re really doing is questioning the abilities not of all our members of parliament, but just the women. We are making the false assumption that there is only one person right for any job, when the reality is that there are likely many incredible individual people who would fit the requirements and succeed.

What we fail to realize is that it isn’t necessarily the right man who makes it to political office but the one who is the most connected and who has the most money. It is the man with the right name (Trudeau). When women make it to this point, they have often faced many more personal and institutional barriers and they have surpassed them all. I would argue that in many cases, a woman has actually proven herself incredibly competent by the time she has been voted in to our federal government.

The entire system that our federal government was built on was created to make it easier for rich white men to be successful, and yet it is so entirely normal to it us now that we are completely blind to it. Fixing it requires women and men who can see the problems within the government to change the system and this is why I am so excited that this Cabinet will have an equal number of men and women. It is a step, and an incredibly important one, to increase diversity in our government. Without diversity, our government cannot properly represent an incredibly diverse society because experiences and realities are different. People who are marginalized understand that those who aren’t cannot possibly understand their issues like they do.

Half of twenty-eight is 14. If you honestly think that Trudeau cannot find 14 competent people within the 50 Liberal women elected then you might want to move, because you must not trust your neighbours enough to vote for competent people and you might want to find somewhere that has less female representation in government since likely the idea of a women in a leadership role is upsetting to you. That will be hard though, because Canada actually ranks 50th out of 190 countries on proportion of national-level female politicians. I realize this sounds harsh and blunt, but this is what is underneath those calls for a meritocracy and the questions of competency. Consider the power in your words and your social shares.

And let’s celebrate this gender-equal Cabinet.

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About Laura O'Rourke

I’m Laura. Wife to Dan. Mama to Cameron and Gavin. Blogger. Photographer. I’ve been declared “baby crazy” by my husband. I’ve been blogging since 2003 when I was a teenager. My first blog post ever begged forgiveness for all the future blog posts that would follow. Consider that still in effect. I met my husband through blogging, I planned a wedding while blogging, and we tweeted the births of both of our sons. Consider this my memoir, my legacy, my letter to my children and my hand reaching out to other Moms. I love being a wife. I love being a Mom. I love blogging. And I can’t wait to meet you.


The views and opinions expressed in this content are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of haligonia.ca.


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