Trudeau's Davos Talk On Gender Parity Raises Hopes Of Group Seeking Balance In Senate

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's remarks to the World Economic Forum on the need for more women in power have raised the hopes of a group pushing him to achieve gender balance in the Senate.

Trudeau took part in a panel in Davos, Switzerland Friday on the progress made towards gender parity in the workplace. Appearing alongside Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Melinda Gates, the prime minister discussed how naming an equal number of women and men to his cabinet has improved government.

Trudeau told the panel that while his insistence on a 50/50 gender split in cabinet sparked opposition in some circles, those concerns faded after his team was unveiled.

justin trudeau
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg looks on as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a panel on gender parity in the workplace on Jan. 22, 2015. (Photo: The Canadian Press)

"Nobody talked about merit anymore because the people in our cabinet — men and women — are extraordinarily high-qualified," he said.

Gender balance and diversity was also a key consideration for filling thousands of government jobs, Trudeau said.

"You're getting better decision-making," he said. "You're getting governance that reflects the reality of the broad population that you're supposed to serve."

"Let's start rewarding companies and politicians who aren't driven by a macho, ego approach."

Later, Trudeau said more women in government and on corporate boards can mean less conflict and "aggressive, ego-driven" tactics.

"We want politics to be less like that," Trudeau said. "Let's start rewarding companies and politicians who aren't driven by a macho, ego approach and support people who take a much more respectful, conciliatory, open, and inclusive approach."

Group behind 'equal Senate' optimistic

The prime minister's observations were music to the ears of Donna Dasko, co-founder of Equal Voice. The organization promotes the election of more women in Canadian politics, at all levels.

Dasko helped launch the "Campaign for an Equal Senate for Canada" last month by releasing a letter urging Trudeau to fill all 22 vacant Senate seats with women in order to achieve gender equality in the upper chamber.

The letter was signed by 80 prominent Canadian women, including former prime minister Kim Campbell, current Tory senator Nancy Ruth, and former Liberal cabinet minister Sheila Copps.

Dasko told The Huffington Post Canada Friday that Trudeau is not "shying away" from the principle of equality.

"He's made some comments about how important it is for governing and so that's really where we come in because we are talking about one of our most important institutions of government when we are talking about the Senate," she said.

"I find it almost unfathomable to imagine that people can't imagine that there are 22 qualified women in this country."

When asked if her group would be particularly disappointed if Trudeau does not heed its advice, given the global attention he's received for hitting parity in cabinet, Dasko spoke only in optimistic terms.

"I'm not looking at any disappointment yet," she said. "I'm just hopeful that we're really going to make progress on it."

Dasko said it was a good sign the independent advisory board tasked with advising Trudeau on Senate appointments includes a number of respected women.

Thirty of Canada's 83 sitting senators are women, comprising 36 per cent of the chamber. Women would make up just shy of half of the 105-seat Senate if Trudeau fills each of the 22 vacant seats with women.

"I find it almost unfathomable to imagine that people can't imagine that there are 22 qualified women in this country," she said.

Women currently make up 26 per cent of the MPs in the House of Commons.

Don't be 'afraid' of the word feminist: PM

The prime minister also sparked applause at one point during the panel when he said people "shouldn't be afraid of the word 'feminist.'"

"Men and women should use it to describe themselves anytime they want," he said, later adding that men play a key role in supporting and demanding a shift to equality.

U.S. non-profit organization Catalyst, which promotes the progress of women in the workforce, announced Friday it will honour Trudeau in New York City this March.

"Prime Minister Trudeau, through his intentional leadership and commitment to inclusion, sets an example that shows leaders throughout the world what is possible when they deliberately build diverse teams that reflect the marketplace and the communities they serve," Catalysist president Deborah Gillis said in a release.

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