How to make Canada a safer and better place for women?
Start with the “testosterone-flooded” House of Commons, says Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.
At Up for Debate Monday night, May along with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe offered their solutions for problems facing women in Canada, from a lack of political representation to violence.
In a series of pre-taped interviews, many of the leaders spoke about fixing women’s inequality from inside Parliament Hill first.
Both May and Trudeau argued that getting rid of first-past-the-post would lead to more favourable representation, while Mulcair promised to introduce a 50 per cent female quota for the boards of directors of federal organizations.
“My party president is a woman, the national director is a woman, our caucus chair is a woman. And if you look at the NDP’s front bench in the House of Commons... of the 20 places there, 10 are women, because that’s a fundamental value,” he said.
May was especially harsh about the Parliament Hill “boys club,” scoffing that “because two men decide they don’t want to participate, the debate doesn’t happen.”
May said women’s issues, along with the environment, are too often shoved to the back burner because the political discourse in this country caters to men.
“What are the issues that appeal to the alpha males? We still live in a patriarchal society, we still live in a society where men don’t want to admit they’re sexist, but there is pervasive sexism,” she said. “I’ve never worked in a workplace as male dominated and testosterone-flooded as the House of Commons.”
But there are signs that women’s issues are coming to the fore of the national debate.
Francine Pelletier, the journalist who interviewed the leaders, said during a panel after the interviews were aired that she was amazed at how both Trudeau and Mulcair are duking it out over whose child care strategy is better.
“It does my heart glad to see two leaders trying to outcompete each other on childcare,” said Kate McInturff, a member of the panel and an organizer of the event.
The leaders were also held accountable for some of their failings. Although May, Mulcair and Trudeau spoke of the need for an inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Katherine Hensel, an indigenous lawyer, said these promises were too vague, and neglect to place the blame on governments who consistently deny public services to indigenous women.
The panel also called out leaders for being out of touch with the cause of sexism. Trudeau railed against sexist music lyrics and pornography, while Duceppe brought up the issue of the niqab, slamming party leaders who support women’s right to wear them during citizenship ceremonies.
“I am tired of men in power trying to relieve me of my clothing,” McInturff scoffed.