Federal Leaders Take Part in Historic Discussion of Women’s Issues

by | September 23, 2015
filed under Can-Con, Politics

Federal party leaders - Duceppe, Mulcair, Trudeau, May

(left to right) Duceppe, Mulcair, Trudeau, May

On Monday evening, we saw the first national debate on women’s issues between party leaders in Canada since 1984. The original event, which would have had all of the leaders appearing in person, was cancelled after Prime Minister Stephen Harper (and subsequently NDP Leader Tom Mulcair) declined to attend. Instead, Monday’s event featured interviews from Mulcair, Justin Trudeau, Elizabeth May, and Gilles Duceppe, interspersed with conversation from women’s issues experts. The audience saw two sets of clips, one on violence against women, and the second showing highlights from the full interviews.

Writer and comedian Jess Beaulieu hosted the debate, and Francine Pelletier, founder of feminist newspaper La Vie En Rose, conducted the interviews with leaders. The panelists for the first portion of the debate were Katherine Hensel (Hensel Barristers), Kate McInturff (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives), Angela Robertson (Toronto Community Health Centres), and Alejandra Bravo (Maytree Foundation), and the media panelists were Althia Raj (Huffington Post) and Laurie Monsabraaten (Toronto Star). Laura Payton moderated the event(Maclean’s).

What We Learned About Where the Parties Stand:

NDP: Mulcair’s focus was on his $15/day child care plan. He also mentioned his previously announced plans to launch an inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women within 100 hundred days of forming government, if elected. He also spoke about a plan to mandate that 50% of people on federal boards will be women. On representation of women in politics, he noted the NDP currently has the highest percentage of female MPs (43%). He called himself a feminist without hesitation.

Liberal: Trudeau, like Mulcair, placed a strong focus on child care. He spoke about using money from his infrastructure plan to help create affordable child care on a provincial and municipal level. He also mentioned plans for deficit spending to be used to create more women’s shelter spaces. On the issue of women in politics, Trudeau has vowed that at least 50% of his cabinet ministers will be female.

Trudeau was criticized by panelists for strange comments in which he placed some blame on rap music and pornography for causing violence against women, but also spoke about a strong commitment to protecting women who are members of religious minority groups. He, like Mulcair, called himself a feminist.

Green: That Elizabeth May considers herself a feminist goes without saying. As a women, she had the most acute ideas about gender inequality. She spoke of her work as the head of the Women’s Caucus in Parliament, which includes all female MPs and which reported to the larger council on sexual harassment in parliament. Like the NDP and the LPC, the Green Party has a strong vision for child care, as well as having a plan to launch an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. She took a strong, “zero tolerance” stand on violence against women and had a proposal for a national plan to end it.

BLOC Québécois: Gilles Duceppe seemed utterly out of his depth when attempting to discuss women’s issues. When questioned about a Bloc election slogan based on a sexist proverb (“Qui prend mari prend pays” became “Qui prend pays prend parti.”), Gilles Duceppe denied that the two sayings were related and attributed any backlash against the slogan to people being too politically correct. He then used most of the rest of his time (at least in the two highlight reels shown at the event) to expound on why the niqab should be banned and how he feels that the other parties’ support of religious minority groups is harmful to women… Yikes.

Conservative: I almost forgot to mention them, since they didn’t find this interview series worthy of their time, but perhaps that says enough about how they value women’s issues in and of itself.

Overall Impressions:

The interview responses themselves were, like much of the content of political campaigns, quite vague, and offered few actual solutions for the issues women face – other than child care programs. Mulcair was the only candidate who detailed a plan for the inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, and other than that, precise plans of action were not discussed.

There were several issues that were not touched on, or were touched on very little, which was disappointing. While affordable child care is an important issue for women, I would argue that income inequality is equally important to women across the country, and it was barely mentioned. Trans rights and issues around discrimination based on sexuality didn’t enter into the discussion at all. Even access to abortion, a classic “women’s issue,” was only brought up by the panelists.

As well as the interviews being vague, the organization of the event didn’t come anywhere near the standard for political debates. The filming was erratic and the entire event was plagued by sound issues. I was less than impressed by Jess Beaulieu’s hosting skills; while she got in a couple good jokes about Harper’s hair, her excessive discussion of periods was both stale and cisnormative.

And while the panelists, in particular Angela Robertson and Althia Raj, had lots of interesting and insightful things to say about women’s issues, the event fell short of what a real debate amongst the party leaders could have been.

Overall, the fact that this interview series even happened is great, but I would have loved to have seen a more in-depth debate between the party leaders instead of mostly a panel of experts. I would also have loved to see the leaders have a stronger understanding of more women’s issues than just child care and violence against women, and to have more concrete plans to make changes going forward.

If you missed #UpforDebate, you can watch it online at the Toronto Star. Full interviews will also be available at the link over the next few days.

Photo of Gilles Duceppe by Louperivois (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Thomas Mulcair by Jonathan Allard (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Justin Trudeau 2014-1” by Alex Guibord – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo of “Elizabeth May” by Green Party of Canada – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

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