Thursday, November 12, 2015

BS on the gender-equity cabinet in the new Canadian government.

I have heard a lot of people complaining about the artificiality of the 50-50 split in the membership of the new Canadian Cabinet – it’s half men half women. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau promised this during the campaign and he delivered on his promise immediately. His action became controversial and a whole bunch of people seem to still be talking about if it were some great crime against democracy and good government. Trudeau is guilty of the crime of arbitrarily appointing people who might not be the best candidates for the job. Even people I generally respect, like a columnist in the Globe and Mail, have said similar things. Both men and women are upset.

I have to say I think the whole fuss is ridiculous. Exactly when was this golden age when the best people in the country or even in parliament or even in the ruling party got their positions purely on the basis of objective criteria, of fitness for the job? For a long time there were no women at all in parliament and thus none in the cabinet either. Since women got the right to vote and the right to sit in parliament, they have been a distinct minority in parliament. Was this based on objective criteria?

Let’s look at how the sausage is made when picking a cabinet. Objective criteria? Anybody knows anything about Canadian politics knows and that if there is one and only one member of the victorious party elected from Saskatchewan or New Brunswick, that person will be in the cabinet. The winning party needs a representative in that province, it needs to convince people in that province that the federal government takes them seriously. If the government neglects to include people from that area, they can kiss goodbye the possibility of winning seats there next time around. Would anybody seriously put forward the idea that the single MP from Saskatchewan miraculously is one of the 20 or 30 most capable people in parliament or even in the ruling party as a whole? That this person deserves their seat at the cabinet table because they fulfil certain objective criteria?

No, cabinets are chosen by looking at what candidates you have and deciding, yes, some of them are more talented than others, but also by deciding some of them will appeal to one constituency or another. Cabinets are chosen to put together a political coalition, but also to advertise the party to the public and give people an indication of what and who the ruling party thinks is important.

The Liberals are saying to the Canadian public that they think women have been undervalued in the past, and they will not be undervalued now. How sincere the Liberals are and how they will actually act is another matter entirely. The promise Justin Trudeau made and the actions that he took in choosing his parliament were advertising. If you are not impressed, well, that’s perfectly all right, but let’s not pretend this is some horrendous deviation from good government.


  1. As someone who was told more than once that I was only hired because I was a woman (with the clear implication that more meritorious men were thus deprived), these kind of complaints really tick me off. Looking at the qualifications of all of these cabinet ministers,

    I find it hard to believe that anyone could suggest that a single woman in the new cabinet is somehow lacking in merit and yet the complaints continue to pour in that because there was a quota, unqualified women bumped qualified men. Bah!