05/16/2016 09:56 EDT | Updated 05/17/2017 05:12 EDT

A Real Feminist Wouldn't Oppose Gender Equity In Parliament

Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images
OTTAWA, Nov. 4, 2015-- Newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, front, delivers a statement after his swearing in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Canada, Nov. 4, 2015. Justin Trudeau was sworn in as Canada's 23rd prime minister and named a 31-member cabinet here Wednesday. (Xinhua/Chris Roussakis via Getty Images)

Last week was a rough one for gender equity in Canada and showed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau might not actually give a fuddle duddle when it comes to promoting a feminist agenda.

All feminists, including the prime minister apparently, know efforts to achieve equality for women only move backward when political leaders wrap themselves in the symbols of feminism, but then fail to use their power to make real change. This is what is happening in Canada right now and Trudeau's gender-balanced cabinet needs to push back before things get worse.

Last Tuesday evening I had the first hour of debate on my private member's bill -- C-237, the Candidate Gender Equity Act. The bill is about as mild a proposal as you can get when it comes to increasing the percentage of women MPs in the House of Commons.

C-237 is necessary because Canada ranks 61st in the world when it comes to electing women to our national legislature.

Under the new law, the amount of public subsidy given to political parties for their election spending would be slightly reduced if a party fails to put forward a gender-balanced candidate list. Similar incentive-based laws have been used elsewhere to great effect, do not interfere with the internal workings of political parties and work with any type of electoral system. The House of Commons Law Clerk also says the bill is Charter compliant.

C-237 is necessary because Canada ranks 61st in the world when it comes to electing women to our national legislature. The 26 per cent of women MPs we have in the house now is our highest ever. Even Iraq and Afghanistan have more women MPs, for goodness sake.

The reason why Canada has so few women MPs is because our political parties put forward so few women candidates. In 2015, women held only 19 per cent of Conservative Party candidacies, 31 per cent of Liberal Party candidacies and 43 per cent of NDP candidacies.

Throughout the lead up to Tuesday's debate I had hoped my bill might at least proceed to committee where I had made it clear to the Liberals I would be willing to adopt whatever changes were needed to make a new law work for all parties. My hopes were raised when in the Question Period prior to the debate on my bill Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef said she appreciated my effort and would "study it on its merits when it is debated in the House."

The conversation about the bill later that day was relatively calm, although Parliamentary Secretary Mark Holland brought up some strange concerns and was non-committal in his support. However, many other colleagues, including some Liberals, were very supportive.

The real intrigue started the following day when CTV reported receiving a leaked cabinet briefing memo from minister Monsef's office advising all Liberal MPs to oppose my bill. What is outrageous is that this memo was written a week prior to my bill being debated and prior to minister Monsef's question period comments. In chronological order then, the minister of democratic institutions tells cabinet to oppose my bill, then just days later tells the House of Commons she is still considering it. Duplicitous stuff indeed.

It gets worse.

The only way to move toward gender parity in parliament is to enact laws to prompt parties into action.

When I confronted the minister in the House of Commons about the leaked memo she then finally admitted cabinet feels my initiative is "not the best way forward." So while many Liberal backbenchers might break with cabinet and vote for my bill, it will probably fail due to Trudeau and his cabinet voting against gender equity -- although it took a leaked cabinet document to force the truth out of the Liberal back rooms.

I am going to continue fighting to get my bill passed because one-off symbolic gestures such as appointing gender-balanced cabinets are not enough. Like the dozens of other countries ahead of us on the international gender equality league tables have discovered, the only way to move toward gender parity in Parliament is to enact laws to prompt parties into action.

Lots of folks don't like to hear this, but it is the truth. If rhetoric and voluntary measures worked, then we wouldn't be having this debate. If political parties took gender equity seriously, then at least one major party would have managed to put forward a gender-balanced candidate list -- but this has never happened.

If the prime minister is serious about political gender equity he will tell his cabinet to support my bill when it comes up for a vote in the fall and show he has the guts to be a real feminist.

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