After the unveiling of the new Liberal cabinet ministers on Wednesday, November 4th, 2015, it is evident that representation by all standards depicts the new cabinet. Justin Trudeau’s cabinet can simply be defined by diversity. The cabinet portrays regional representation, which has not been featured in previous parliaments and consists of ministers with extremely diverse backgrounds, each with his/her own unique experiences and credentials. Among the characteristics that can describe the new cabinet, the most remarkable feature seems to be the equal ratio of men to women ministers. At the unveiling, a reporter asked the new Prime Minister why choosing a gender-balanced cabinet was such an important priority in the appointment process. With what seemed to be an obvious reply, Trudeau simply stated, “because it’s 2015”. Making international headlines and being commended for his frank explanation, Trudeau, as a self-proclaimed feminist PM, is changing the culture of politics with gender equality as a core principle.
This is the first time in Canadian history that there are an equal number of men and women in the cabinet. It is also the first time in Canadian history that the gender of the cabinet ministers has become a topic of debate across Canada. With a number of articles circulating the internet entailing the argument that the appointment of ministers should be based on a meritocracy, where ministers are chosen based on merit, not gender, the argument assumes that the female MPs appointed lack the qualifications and ability to effectively handle their position. As the merit of MPs has never been an issue in the past, at least not before actual appointments, it is interesting that all of a sudden people care about merit when it is females being appointed. Looking at each of the MPs appointed, regardless of gender, each minister has unique experiences and credentials that make them more than capable of fulfilling their duties. We cannot yet question the abilities of our new ministers before they have even been given a chance to prove themselves through their role in each of their respective ministries. The meritocracy argument does nothing but undermine the abilities of female MPs and females in a wider context. It sets a negative tone in the unveiling of the new cabinet and raises a bigger issue of gender equality in Canadian society.
In terms of the new cabinet appointments, it is rather unfortunate that gender is an issue even being discussed. If Canada were really a gender equal society, a 50/50 cabinet would not be celebrated the way it has been since the unveiling, because isn’t that the way it should be? The astonishment of a gender-balanced cabinet assumes that gender equality is this new ambiguous concept that Canada has just come to grasp. While a gender-balanced cabinet is indeed worthy of applause, it is important to acknowledge that Trudeau only appointed three more women to cabinet than Stephen Harper did under his Conservative government. It begs the question, should Trudeau really be hailed as this feminist hero? There have been a number of past MPs and other women in government who have had extraordinary credentials and who have been extremely successful in their position and we cannot discount their role. These women have played a role in advancing women in politics and shifting the political power that was once held entirely by men.
Ultimately, it is important to recognize that while gender equality and equal representation is certainty an important feature of the new cabinet, it is not these issues that we should be focusing our attention. Instead, we should be discussing the future of these ministers and their critical role in the decision-making process. With a new cabinet that looks like Canada, this is a monumental time in Canadian history and rather than looking at the gender, ethnicity, or experiences of our new MPs, we should be looking ahead to the future of Canada and the role that each of these ministers will have in shaping it.