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Gender Block: election time

As Canada's federal election approaches, which party leaders are paying attention to women's issues?

Hillary Di Menna

Election day is October 19 and women’s issues are being discussed, sort of. Like, one of the discussions is about how major party leaders aren’t actually into the idea of having these discussions.

Here’s a glimpse so far:

Up for Debate

Wouldn’t it be handy if there were a debate specifically about women’s issues? There hasn’t been one since 1984. That means there has not been a debate focused on women’s issues in my lifetime. Up for Debate, an alliance of over 175 national women’s organizations, invited Stephen Harper, Tom Mulcair, Justin Trudeau, and Elizabeth May to debate such issues. Mulcair was proud of the fact that he was the first to accept the invitation. Trudeau and May also accepted, and Harper did not. When the time came, Mulcair backed out. If Harper wasn’t doing it, neither would he. As a result, because two men didn’t want to play, organizers canceled the event. Up for Debate went ahead with Plan B, where one-on-one interviews with the politicians were arranged. Mulcair—the guy who backed out of the debate last second—took this opportunity to identify as a feminist. Trudeau also says that he is a proud feminist. Harper did not participate in the interviews.

I was looking forward to this debate. Very disappointed it had to be cancelled.

—    Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) August 24, 2015


Where did our debate go, @ThomasMulcair? And @pmharper? #women #GPC

— Green Party Canada (@CanadianGreens) August 24, 2015

Transcripts of full interviews:




Munk debate

The Munk debate is a charitable initiative of the Aurea Foundation, a right-wing organization founded by Peter and Melanie Munk of Barrick Gold. The September debate was on Canada’s foreign policy. Unlike the women’s issues debate, RSVPs to to the invitation of right-wing millionaires were quickly accepted, disheartening to say the least. May was not allowed to attend. The Munk Debates reasoning is the Green Party does not have party status. However, as a charity they are not legally allowed to support or oppose a political party. So the reason is official, not because of the boys-only nature of the Munk Debates. In the end, May used Twitter to participate in the debate. Trudeau said May should have been able to attend. Yet, he still attended, as did Mulcair and Harper.

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

Harper has said there really isn’t an issue around the fact that Indigenous women are over-represented among Canada’s missing and murdered women. For him, it is a non-issue that does not rank high on the Conservative radar. Not all candidates agree with him. “”Do you think that if 1,200 women who had been murdered or had gone missing in Ottawa, we’d need the United Nations to tell us to have an inquiry?” Mulcair asked at an August rally. “It would have happened a long time ago. This is about racism, that’s what this is about.” The NDP leader says he will launch a national inquiry into Canada’s missing and murdered indigenous women. May has said the same and Trudeau has committed to support indigenous advocacy groups.


Women today can work! Just for less money. Oh, and often only within daycare hours—which usually do not reflect the precarious shift work so many women undertake. Currently, Harper maintains he will slash all benefits for low-income earners, including childcare. Trudeau says he will end this trend and help families with lower incomes. Mulcair promises affordable childcare, saying, like healthcare, childcare is worth the money. May agrees that childcare is kind of a big deal.

Sex Work and Bill C-36

Harper passed Bill C-36 into law, further endangering the lives of women in sex work. But actually, he is saving them, because these women need to be saved by the morals of rich white men, as do we all. (Sarcasm intended.) May says the Green Party will repeal C-36, and Trudeau said, last year, that his party would be looking at the Nordic Model. More information about parties’ positions on sex work can be found here.

Domestic Violence

Those who participated in the Up for Debate interviews touched on this subject. Prior to the debate, the only thing the Green Party addressed in terms of domestic violence, according to a Toronto Metro article published August 26, was that “false allegations” were common. OK. At least, by the time the interviews were done May, a self-described feminist changed her tune, saying Canada needs a national strategy to confront domestic violence against women. Both Mulcair and Trudeau spoke about Parliament being a boys’ club and that they will lead by example there to make it less so.And money for shelters is a good idea, says Trudeau, but it isn’t up to the federal government to create them because municipalities, he believes, should do it. So, someone is going to do something, don’t worry about it.


Pro-choice, anti-choice, reproductive rights. Light stuff, right? Harper doesn’t actually come out and say he is anti-abortion rights. Instead he says that abortion should not be discussed within politics because it is a matter of faith and morals. And although his own faith condemns these rights, he isn’t in the good books of anti-abortion group Campaign Life Coalition (CPL). The Conservative party is, though. At least there is someone out there ready to police women’s bodies. Phew. The CPL hates Trudeau, so that’s a good sign for the Liberals. Mulcair’s NDP is also pro-abortion rights: “A New Democrat government will increase funding for women’s organizations, particularly women’s rights organizations. Family planning, reproductive and sexual health, including access to abortion services, must be included in Canada’s approach to maternal and child health.” May is also on Team Abortion Rights.

The Niqab

Conservatives were getting attention for doing things like peeing in people’s mugs, and that was weird. So, a distraction—I mean, very important issue—was created by the Harper government. The niqab is a veil that covers part of the face and a sign of faith worn by some Muslim women. It is also being attacked for being anti-Canadian—as decided after settler colonialism. The argument goes something like this: “My white grandparents knew what it was to be Canadian (after white folk made what it is to be Canadian tailored to said grandparents) why can’t everyone else?!”

While fostering xenophobia the Conservative party is saving women by oppressing women. Anti-Muslim propaganda is being circulated on social media and women are being attacked because of this federally accepted hatred of the “Other.”

Mulcair says this is wrong. Like, no one likes the niqab, he says, but we need to trust the authority of tribunal decisions. Trudeau is also opposed to Harper’s stance. At a Maclean’s sponsored debate the Liberal leader said:  “You can dislike the niqab. You can hold it up it is a symbol of oppression. You can try to convince your fellow citizens that it is a choice they ought not to make. This is a free country. Those are your rights. But those who would use the state’s power to restrict women’s religious freedom and freedom of expression indulge the very same repressive impulse that they profess to condemn. It is a cruel joke to claim you are liberating people from oppression by dictating in law what they can and cannot wear.” As for May, at a televised French debate she said, “It’s a false debate . . . What is the impact of the niqab on the economy, what is the impact of the niqab on climate change, what is the impact of the niqab on the unemployed?”

Fun Facts

A former This intern, Hillary Di Menna is in her second year of the gender and women’s studies program at York University. She also maintains an online feminist resource directory, FIRE- Feminist Internet Resource Exchange.

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