11/03/2015 12:53 EST | Updated 11/03/2016 05:12 EDT

Why Cabinet Quotas Are Good For Canada

"There are meritorious MPs of all shades, genders and orientations."


The past couple days have seen plenty of punditsdeclaring the merits of "meritocracy" in the face of Justin Trudeau's dastardly plan for "politically correct" cabinet quotas that call for gender parity and more minority inclusion.

These meritocrats have, not coincidentally, been white and mostly male. I am also a white male, by the way, but I just don't understand their pushback. Or rather, I get it in the same way I get other white male-led movements against diversity, like GamerGate or the Tea Party.

On the surface, a call for qualified candidates chosen exclusively on merit makes total sense. This is our government and we want it run well. The subtext, though, is that looking beyond the traditional white male demo will somehow result in subpar candidates. This is absurd. There are meritorious MPs of all shades, genders and orientations.

But before we even get to that, let's dismantle the argument that the cabinet has ever been based exclusively on merit. In actual fact, the cabinet is built with regional representation in mind. As it should be.

Imagine if all the most meritorious MPs were from Ontario and so the entire cabinet was from there. Do we think that would be the best way to run a diverse confederation of provinces? British Columbians, Quebecers and everyone else would be justifiable pissed because the cabinet would be lacking people with the knowledge and life experience required to really understand their unique needs.

So it's disingenuous to argue that regional and linguistic representation is cool, but somehow population representation is not. Guess what? This is not a country made up solely of white males so we also need people who truly understand the needs of our diverse population, yes, including women, minorities, aboriginals, LGBT, the physically challenged, etc.

But let's get back to that whole merit thing. What Trudeau is actually saying is that he's going to pick meritorious candidates from a diversity of backgrounds. (Do you think a Rwandan genocide prosecutor who fled Idi Amin's Uganda as a child can't handle Question Period?) While that may have proven a challenge in Harper's era, given the complexion of the Conservative caucus, the Liberals have an impressively diverse field of potential cabinet members to chose from.

So let's go through a few options recently laid out by our Ottawa bureau chief Althia Raj.

Are meritocrats really arguing the country wouldn't benefit from the knowledge and life experience of:

- regional First Nations chief, prosecutor and treaty negotiator, Jody Wilson-Raybould (Vancouver)

- decorated lieutenant-colonel and detective-constable Harjit Sajjan (Vancouver)

- Afghan refugee, community activist and founder of Red Pashmina Campaign, Maryam Monsef (Peterborough)

- homeless shelter executive director, and mental health and addiction expert, Patty Hajdu (Thunder Bay)

- family doctor, hospital chief and university professor who spent years practising medicine and training doctors in Niger and Ethiopia, Jane Philpott (Markham)

- Ugandan Asian refugee, assistant prosecutor at the UN Rwandan Genocide tribunal, Canadian Human Rights Commission analyst, and legal aid clinic founder, Arif Virani (Parkdale).

- Democracy, human rights, and development expert for the United Nations and Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal-winner, Anita Vandenbeld (Ottawa West-Nepean)

- quadriplegic lawyer and former MLA, Kent Hehr (Calgary)

- former political prisoner, city councillor and transit advocate Amarjeet Sohi (Edmonton)

- geoscientist and provincial minister of industry, trade and mines and minister of intergovernmental affairs MaryAnn Mihychuk (Winnipeg)

- Rhodes scholar, author, and journalist Chrystia Freeland (Toronto)

- Minister of State for Public Health and aboriginal affairs critic Carolyn Bennett (Toronto)

- management accountant, university professor and parliamentary secretary to the prime minister Navdeep Bains (Mississauga)

- legal adviser for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in East Timor, founder of global justice charity Level, Catherine McKenna (Ottawa)

- legislative assembly speaker and cabinet minister, Hunter Tootoo (Nunavut)

- visually impaired medal-winning paralympian and human rights lawyer, Carla Qualtrough.

- Rhodes scholar, founder of Literacy Without Borders and Alberta's first openly gay MP, Randy Boissonnault (Edmonton-Centre)

This is not to argue that we shouldn't of course also have straight, white, male cabinet ministers like maybe Marc Garneau, an astronaut, navy engineer and president of the Canadian Space Agency. Or former Liberal cabinet ministers like Ralph Goodale and Stephane Dion. But maybe by also casting the net wider we won't have to deal with people like former Toronto police chief and carding supporter Bill "G20" Blair in another position of power.

The point Trudeau was trying to make, and which meritocrats are refusing to acknowledge, is that there are incredible candidates from not only across Canada but who also look like Canada.

And a cabinet that actually reflects our country would be real change.


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