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It was a historic day.
Fifteen women named to the first gender-balanced cabinet in Canadian history.
“Because it’s 2015,” explained newly minted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when asked why parity was important to him.
Many Canadians nodded in agreement.
After all, nearly 100 years had passed since women were first granted the right to vote in a federal election. It had been nearly 60 years since the first woman, Ellen Fairclough, was named to the federal Canadian cabinet. And it was more than two decades after, as Prince Edward Island residents will recall, the enlightened era when the top five political roles, including the position of premier (Catherine Callbeck), in that province were filled by women in 1993.
Yes, we had come a long way. Certainly since the day when outspoken Newfoundland and Labrador MP John Crosbie snapped at Liberal MP Sheila Copps to “Just quiet down, baby” in 1985. Which prompted the equally feisty Copps to retort, “I’m nobody’s baby.”
But for women contemplating a plunge into the political arena at any level nowadays, it must still seem like one step forward, two steps back, at times.
Especially for anyone paying attention to some disturbing stories shared by female politicians in just the past two months.
In July, Nova Scotia MP Lenore Zann revealed that she and her office staff started receiving lots of phone calls and Facebook messages from angry men shortly after the Trudeau government introduced a ban on assault-style guns and semi-automatic rifles in the spring.
One person even described her as “a vile creature” and “a worthless piece of s--t” who repeatedly stated that he wanted her “head on a platter.”
More recently, Cape Breton Regional Municipality mayoral candidate Amanda McDougall expressed disappointment upon hearing that some candidates were allegedly using the fact that she is pregnant against her.
“… it’s also quite insulting to be asked questions about whether I will be able to work and be a good mother at the same time,” McDougall told the Cape Breton Post.
This came on the heels of Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton recently writing about the verbal and written abuse she has endured since entering politics four years ago.
Given such vitriol and chauvinism that still exists, maybe It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to learn that the percentage of women in provincial, territorial and national legislatures in 2019 was still only 29 per cent. In Atlantic Canada, only Nova Scotia, at 33.3 per cent, exceeded the national average. Prince Edward Island (26 per cent), Newfoundland & Labrador (22.5 per cent) and New Brunswick (22 per cent) were in the bottom half of the pack.
Yes, women have made plenty of political inroads over the years, but the barriers that are making some hesitant to run for office need to be overcome.
We need their voices. We need their wisdom. We need their passion. Because right now, the optimism of 2015 that surrounded women in politics seems like a long time ago.