There was a lot of excitement in 2015. After newly appointed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau boldly declared that he was creating a gender-equal cabinet “because it’s 2015,” a new hope ascended for feminist voters. It was a stark contrast to the American political landscape, a place that a dear friend of mine described quite bleakly as a “feminist wasteland.”
A fellow feminist, and a newly minted American citizen, she was concerned about the candidates in her homeland, and what the upcoming U.S. election would mean for feminist voters. “At least your country isn’t opening up discussion on abortion laws,” she said half-heartedly of our upcoming federal election. “Still, if that’s the only reason to stay optimistic, it’s pretty sad.”
One SNC Lavalin-sized scandal and three brown and blackface photos later, it appears our bar for a leader who also cares about feminist policies has been set pretty low. This is only made more distressing in that Trudeau is set against Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, who has actively refused to apologize for remarks he made about same-sex marriage in 2005, and two political leaders who, despite their great ideas, have almost less hope of winning this election than I do. The hope that Trudeau once inspired in feminist voters is rapidly fading, but the real letdown is that my other choices seem so much worse.
With all of the recent news, and dirt pile after dirt pile accumulating on each candidate like debris upon a freshly dug grave, I find myself wondering if any of the political candidates will even approach the feminist ideal that Trudeau once represented — or even the one that we naively built around him. I even find myself wondering if that ideal matters anymore. In the wake of a seemingly endless list of political scandals, “feminism” seems as irrelevant as a politician’s apology.
Each of the federal leaders have let the feminist voter down in their own special way. As irrelevant as this may seem to some Canadian citizens, pledges to aid gender equality have been a platform of each of the parties in the past, and this year won’t be an exception. But each of the major parties has made some grievous errors that feminist voters are unlikely to forget or forgive any time soon.
“As a voter, I’d like to see the day when I don’t have to vote for the least bad of the bunch.”
Take Andrew Scheer, for example. As much as he loves to tell everyone how much Trudeau is a letdown in the feminist department, Harper II is no prize, either. He has been accused of a lot of mixed messaging in regards to re-opening legislation on abortion, should the Conservatives regain a majority government in October. To paraphrase, he would never, ever re-open the debate about legal abortion — but also, hey, maybe that’s important to some Conservatives, and he’d support backbench MPs bringing it forth as a valid discussion topic. (Spoiler: it’s really not.) In addition, his platform on immigration has been heralded by some critics as “anti-refugee,” a thing that could have an overwhelming impact on women looking to make Canada their home.
Of course, Trudeau is no saint. Although the Liberals pledged a $300-million-dollar boost to reproductive aid for women by 2023 (just in time for another election, how fun), Trudeau’s conduct with women has come into question more than once. Aside from the woman who accused Trudeau of groping her at a concert venue, Trudeau was also called into question for being just a little bit too creepy with Bianca Andreescu during her rally. In both cases, Trudeau’s reputation, especially with women, has understandably been called into question.
And let’s not forget about how the sordid blackface incident has tarnished Trudeau’s reputation with women of colour. As a man who appeared to be something of a champion for diversity, the message to women of colour is at best an indication of emptiness on his word, and at worst an indication that he considers other cultures as entertainment. I can only imagine how these recently exhumed photos and videos made some women of colour feel, and how little confidence it may inspire for them in the wake of the coming election.
Jagmeet Singh and Elizabeth May appear to be the lesser of the four evils — and in fact, may be the best candidates for feminist voters. The NDP’s pledge to allot at least 15 per cent of international aid to the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, and the Green Party’s pledge to implement greater recommendations toward the Inquiry on Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, are both very inspiring. Despite these pledges, I’m not entirely convinced that the reason there’s so little dirt on Singh and May is because they are spotless candidates, but rather because they don’t stand a chance.
Yes, Singh appears to be a true champion for the safety of women and, yes, it would be incredible to have equality in high places by appointing an environmentally conscious, strong-willed woman like May to a position that has only appointed one woman before, but it doesn’t appear to be in the cards for this round. The NDP currently trail the Conservatives and Liberals with a measly 13.5 per cent in the polls, while the Green Party sits at 10.1 per cent. That leaves us with (possibly) the most disappointing prime minister in Canada’s history, and the guy who actively opposes gay marriage.
Does feminism still matter in a complete mess of an election that offers very little many Canadians, let alone feminist Canadians, want to vote for? I guess that depends.
As a voter, I’d like to see the day when I don’t have to vote for the least bad of the bunch. As a feminist, I’d love to see some greater transparency among the leaders when it comes to their true stance on gender equality.
It may be too much to ask for this election.
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