Stephen Harper has woman troubles.
Canadian women just dont like him that much. Polls continue to point towards a growing gender gap for the Conservative prime minister.
According to recent polls, 71 per cent or more of Canadian women say they do not support Harper, and in Quebec it is even worse if youre the prime minister of a minority government looking for a majority. As few as 14 per cent of Quebec women say they would vote for Harper.
These are tough numbers. Despite 20 months in office and a nearly free ride from the Liberals, Harper is no more popular today than when he was in opposition.
Last weeks cabinet shuffle was all about changing that. He is clearly hoping a few pretty faces will help him overcome his many deficits. Once again, Harper has underestimated the women of Canada.
Peter McKay may be easier on the eyes than Gordon OConner and quicker with the political spin, but that does not mean women will be any more likely to support the war in Afghanistan.
The same goes for Josee Verner, the photogenic Quebec MP who just took over the Status of Women portfolio from Bev Oda.
Oda failed miserably to convince Canadian women they have equality, and she was demoted for her botched efforts.
Harper doesnt like it when his flunkies fail at their assigned tasks. Its why OConnor is counting pennies at National Revenue instead of rubbing shoulders with Rick Hillier.
Harper tried his best to spin his way out of OConnors setdown by saying the former Defence minister was a success in that job. Of course, people dont usually get demoted when they are successful.
In Odas case, she wasnt able to get women to like her boss. Oda was unable to convince Canadian women that because we have rights under the Charter, this somehow translates into equality. And that the truth is merely some big lie being perpetrated by angry feminists.
At one point, Oda told the standing committee on the Status of Women that we have to understand that if women are continually told they are not equal, they will continue to believe that. We say in Canada that everyone is equal.
Easily said, but far too many Canadians know the difference. They are living it.
She was also unable to sell Canadian women on the governments decision to cancel $3.7 billion in child-care funding to the provinces. This probably has something to do with the reality of womens lives. Only 15 per cent of Canadian kids have access to regulated child care, which means their moms and dads spend a lot of time every day at work wondering how their children are doing.
Verner has a tough job ahead of her. She must persuade Canadian women that they ought to like and trust the prime minister.
The voting gender gap and Afghanistan are the two biggest problems facing Canadas new government. And they are intrinsically linked. Women tend not to support war.
And why would Canadian women support Harper, when he doesnt support them?
His caucus has a dismal 11 per cent female members, and he refuses to support measures that would increase female participation in his own party and in the political system. He took away child care. He told women advocating for equality that his government would no longer fund their work.
He eliminated political equality from the Status of Womens mandate. He is good pals with U.S. President George W. Bush another world leader whod like to set womens equality back a decade or two. He has promoted a different role for Canadas military one that most of us are uncomfortable with. He told literacy organizations to stop advocating for literacy or theyd lose their funding, too.
Not such a great record if youre a woman shopping around for a place to park your vote.
Certainly, one politician who has this figured out is our own premier. Danny Williams is paying a good bit of attention to Steves women troubles and doing his best to add to them.
In an address to Canadian Auto Workers delegates last weekend, the premier astutely criticized the federal governments cuts to womens programs.
This is not the first time the premier has reminded people that the Harper government cut funding to womens groups.
Williams recognizes weakness when he sees it. He also is quick to capitalize on that weakness a good thing when the subject involves taking Harper down a peg or two.
Canadian women have good reason not to trust, like or vote for Harper. And all the pretty faces and spin doctoring in the world arent likely to change their opinion of a guy who doesnt have their best interests at heart.
What is as obvious as the reasons behind the cabinet shuffle is that the only interests Harper is interested in promoting are his own.
Lana Payne is a former journalist who is active in the labour movement.
Her column returns Sept. 2.
Stephen Harper has woman troubles.