June 3, 2016
Check Against Delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with the Government of Canada’s communications policy.
I am thrilled to be here for this workshop to discuss some of the issues women face when they consider entering public life as a career option. I’d like to begin by recognizing that we are gathering on Treaty One territory.
I must say, I have great admiration for the work you all do. Governing at the municipal level can be very challenging, especially as the demands on municipalities grow, often without a correlating growth in revenue. I may be more acutely aware of this than the average citizen, as I was often in front of my own community’s City Council advocating for increases for the not-for-profit homeless shelter I ran in my prior job.
In fact it was that debating experience that I think gave me the experience and skill set I need for debating in the House!
And now, as the Minister of Status of Women, I reflect on that experience and note that my community in Thunder Bay has has had many female municipal political leaders, and even a number of female mayors, notably Dusty Miller and Lynne Peterson. But even with that, today women on my community’s municipal council rests at three out of 11 or 27%.
As we approach our country’s 150th anniversary next year, women have made gains in nearly every aspect of Canadian life be it social, cultural, economic, or political. Today, women are Mayors and Councillors across the country. A number of provinces are led by women Premiers, and the federal Cabinet is 50% women for the first time in history.
Yet for all of these achievements, gender parity remains elusive in our democratic institutions. At the municipal level, 26 per cent of Councillors and 16 per cent of Mayors are women1. And despite a record 88 women MPs succeeding in the last federal election, this represents just 26 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons2. Clearly we have more work to do at all levels of government.
Ensuring that women have an equal say in how we govern ourselves has to be the goal. Only by achieving gender parity in elected positions at every level of government will we build the inclusive society we want to leave as a legacy to our children and grandchildren.
But the journey into politics remains challenging for women. Patriarchy forms the foundation of ‘how things are done’ in many aspects of our society and in many institutions. Equality will remain elusive without a deep acknowledgement of just how powerful and pervasive patriarchy still is.
That’s why we need to be bold when it comes to examining how our democratic institutions work – indeed, as they are a reflection of our societal gaze on women in general. The questions we must ask as a society include those we have heard before, such as how to improve the balance between work and family, and do women face more barriers than men besides time and money? But we must ask the uncomfortable and less asked questions as well, such as and what is the dominative narrative of the workplace, and how are women and men conceptualized as leaders? And of course these questions must be asked, of ourselves and others on a continual basis as our society and political structures evolve.
We are having a conversation about gender in this country that has been elevated by concrete, definitive actions of our Prime Minister and government. And like many of the values underpinning the mandate letters delivered to Ministers last fall, gender equality is woven into the work we plan to do in both obvious and subtle ways.
Many of the actions we are taking will improve how our country ensures gender equality for generations to come. Our new merit-based, open, and transparent approach to selecting high-quality candidates for some 4,000 Governor in Council and Ministerial appointments on commissions, boards, Crown corporations, agencies, and tribunals across the country is one such example. This is what I refer to as a legacy piece: something that will change the way we do business ensure that our country reflects its diversity for generations to come.
And what of family friendly workplaces? Like other jobs that demand high amounts of travel and long hours, Parliament itself is not a family-friendly place. If you are a person with young children or aging parents, it is not likely possible to do the job of parliamentarian without some degree of guilt. We must find ways that will increase our ability to stay connected to our families, and facilitate the engagement of people, particularly women, who carry the majority of the caregiving load.
And as my colleague, Maryam Monsef, the Minister of Democratic Institutions works to reform our democratic processes, I will work with her to ensure that gender parity is a key consideration.
And finally let’s talk about the money. One of the most valuable diversities that I see in Cabinet is that of socioeconomic background. When we can see how our decisions affect both those with a lot of money, and those who grew up with very little, our policies are much stronger and effective. And given that more women often face the burden of raising children alone and experience lower wages, we must not forget the need to examine how we ensure women have the financial ability to be politically active.
Governments and non-governmental organizations can also play helpful roles advancing women in Canada’s political life. FCM is helping at the municipal level. You have led a number of important program initiatives over the years to engage more women in politics.
Equal Voice is dedicated to increasing women’s political participation at all levels particularly through the equal representation of women in Canada’s Parliament, provincial/territorial legislatures, and on municipal and band councils. And Status of Women Canada recently launched a Call for Proposals seeking projects that will help reduce systemic barriers that prevent women from seeking elected positions.
Finally, as I reflect on my own experiences entering the public arena, I certainly can pinpoint the many challenges I faced or doubts I had. But the driving force that motivated me to persevere was the opportunity to be elected and have a greater ability to improve the lives of people in my riding and indeed my country. And I can say that my experience so far has exceeded even my most ardent hopes to do just that.
And so I am here today, a single mother, a woman who faced odds but through the support of others has been enabled to dream big, to encourage each of you in this room to support the women you know who would be great at this job. Ask her to run. Give her the mentorship and tools you have and contribute to her confidence in her ability to win an election and shape our country.
Only by having a more diverse set of voices around decision-making tables can we build the healthy, inclusive society that serves all Canadians well for the next 150 years.
1FCM, Women in Local Government