OTTAWA—Often considered to be the season of change and rebirth, spring has finally arrived in the capital and that is evident for no party more than the Liberals, for whom the comings and goings reveal their true regard for the women in their ranks.
Last week, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott announced their candidacy for re-election as Independents after having been tossed out of the Liberal caucus by Justin Trudeau last month. They, along with Celina Caesar-Chavannes were recruited by the Liberal Party to, in part, support a multicultural agenda which played a significant role in Trudeau’s 2015 election campaign. Seeking an unmistakable shift from the reign of Stephen Harper, a Trudeau government would demonstrate the party’s commitment to communities oft-marginalized by the political process: women, Indigenous peoples, people of colour, and youth, all of whom were a huge part of the “real change” marketing.
Only, it was just that—marketing. Women, and particularly women of colour, are the first in, and the first out. They were part of a “Because it’s 2015” catchphrase and political zeitgeist, and promptly set aside when they actively exercised a modicum of independence in carrying out their duties. A gender and racially diverse cabinet was a nice dalliance, like Miley Cyrus’ hip-hop phase, but the Liberals are returning to their respectable girlfriend, the typical white male of the Old Boys’ Club.
Now Liberal insiders, would-be king-makers, are looking to tap Bank of England governor Mark Carney to lead the Liberal Party after Trudeau’s presumably inevitable failure in the fall federal election. Though it is unclear who these “insiders” are and what power they yield, it should concern everyone that Carney is the political future envisaged.
As Chantal Hébert, who broke the story in the Toronto Star, writes: “The eternal quest for the next bright shining leadership object is in the political DNA of the Liberal party. In the past, it has sent some of its best and brightest on a quest for what turned out to be fool’s gold.” From Martin, to Ignatieff, to Trudeau, Liberals are drawn to these elite white male saviours in a crisp suit and polished leather shoes, not sullied by sidewalks or subways—all of whom came to power through forces beyond the ballot.
Ironically, the SNC-Lavalin scandal was about a loss of public trust in public institutions. Trust in public institutions is waning globally, and in part it is directly related to the dissonance between citizens and their elected officials—they neither look like us, live like us, nor are they connected to us. And news items like the Carney rumours undermine whatever trust remains, because they are a brutal reminder that our democratic systems are not really ours.
In this context, when women tend to be the first in and the first out, why would any woman of substance, conviction, and integrity run for office, let alone leadership? Although there are campaigns to increase the participation of female candidates, many of them have the effect of infantilizing women, much like Catherine McKenna’s (Ottawa Centre) infamous “Run Like a Girl” campaign. In an op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen McKenna wrote, “Many people told me to worry about the old boys’ club in politics. And if you don’t feel like you’re part of it, you can feel like an imposter. But the good news is there’s a new girls’ club.”
While the Liberal Party continues to put lipstick on a pig, nothing has been done to change the structure of politics to encourage a greater range of women to participate. And when women do enter politics, there is very little opportunity for those women to exercise their agency in representing the constituents who voted for them in the first place, lest they be “ungrateful.”
The Liberal Party is the only federal party never to be led by a woman, (and certainly never by a person of colour). Is a woman’s name ever top of mind when these kingmakers gather? If there is, she is most likely a woman who invests more in the status quo than in change. And then we must ask, when will the Liberal Party cease being beholden to backroom dealings that place members of the Old Boys’ Club in positions of power?
Erica Ifill and Amy Kishek are co-hosts of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.
As appeared in the The Hill Times.