POLITICS

Up For Debate Highlights: Federal Leaders Defend Their Promises Through Lens Of Women's Rights

09/21/2015 07:11 EDT | Updated 09/22/2015 07:59 EDT

After Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair failed to commit to a debate about women’s issues during this federal election campaign, five one-on-one interviews were released instead.

“Here we were on the verge of a debate on women’s issues for the first time since 1984 and the woman party leader who wants to debate these issues is me,” said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May in her Up for Debate segment published Monday.

“And because two men decide they don’t want to participate the debate doesn’t happen."

A coalition of 175 organizations, buoyed by the support of 50,000 signatures on a petition, had pushed political leaders to discuss and defend their election promises through a lens of women’s and gender rights in a live debate format.

In August, debate organizers were forced to cancel after a change in NDP campaign policy prompted Mulcair to withdraw his initial pledge in November to participate in principle.

The interviews spotlight issues including violence against women, economic inequality, and leadership opportunities — topics that organizers say have not been prioritized during this election campaign.

A panel of analysts, including The Huffington Post Canada’s Ottawa bureau chief Althia Raj, were invited to weigh in on what party leaders had to say.

Harper did not agree to an Up for Debate interview.

Here are five highlights from the interviews with May, Mulcair, Justin Trudeau, and Gilles Duceppe:

Mulcair sows confusion about daycare plan

During his interview with journalist Francine Pelletier, Mulcair said the decision to adopt differentiated pricing models with daycare rests with provinces.

"We want to work with the provinces.... It’s not one size fits all. For example, the province of Ontario has two full years of kindergarten. We’ll take that into account," he said.

"I’ve said that every step of the way. And provinces are different one from the other, some of them might want to have a differentiated gradated pricing… that’s going to be up to them."

The comment muddies a central piece of the party's election platform: a promise to implement a national affordable daycare strategy.

Trudeau wants P.E.I. Liberal government to reverse abortion policy stance

“I will have a conversation with any jurisdiction that isn’t living up to its responsibilities under the Canada Health Act, on a wide range of issues, that include reproductive rights,” Trudeau said.

P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan has previously said his government will not prioritize making abortions available in the province, but said he will be open to revisiting the issue in the future.

May: Ottawa 'celebrates' bullying

“I have never worked in a workplace as male-dominated and as testosterone-flooded as the House of Commons,” said May.

“Even though we have the high-water mark of women MPs in the last Parliament with about 25 per cent women members, we are still quite overwhelmed by a culture that celebrates bullying and that prioritizes a certain class of issues, which tend to think, well, we care about women’s issues and we’ll get to them sometime. Well, sometime is now.”

Duceppe: There aren’t enough women in the Bloc

After calling the NDP’s social policies “fake,” Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe said:

Well, I’m coming in late. I would have fought to have more women. I grant you that. But plenty of policies, apart from hiring women, when you preach austerity you’re attacking women directly. When you’re in favour of covering your face, you’re asking women to become invisible. When you’re against health care transfer payments, you’re also attacking women. So that's the sad reality of the NDP’s policies. I’m attacking them, because they’re fake.

Duceppe has no issues with one of the Bloc’s slogans

Interviewer: Do you think it’s a good idea to base one of your party slogans on a sexist saying like “Qui prend mari prend pays”? (It translates to "She who takes a husband adopts his country.")

Duceppe: No, but, come on…

Interviewer: It’s a totally sexist saying.

Duceppe: Yes but... In that case, we can’t say anything. Let’s not get into... Honestly! By saying “Qui prend pays prend parti” are we mentioning women? We’re saying “country,” we’re saying “party” — it’s nothing to do with women.

Interviewer: No, but it’s the inspiration — it’s a sexist saying. Do you agree?

Duceppe: Yes, but we’re not even referring to that. You can read whatever you like into words and some people are pretty good at that.

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In Photos: Canada Election 2015