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Opinion

Monsef, Gould fell off the glass cliff

By Jenn Jefferys      

It sees women get promoted, but then their careers take a dive in the interest of protecting the men at the top.

Former democratic reform minister Maryam Monsef and her successor, Karina Gould. The Hill Times photographs by Jake Wright
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OTTAWA—The electoral reform fiasco has been met by furious criticism, and rightly so.

Millions of Canadians cast their ballots in 2015 expecting democratic reform to happen sometime before 2019. With one swift and cynical move, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke that promise, enraging electors of all political stripes.

Sadly, in that decision, more was lost than the future of Canadian democracy. Two careers were lost also. Two dynamic young women were instantly rendered political casualties as they found themselves tossed under the PMO bus: former democratic reform minister Maryam Monsef and her successor, Karina Gould.

Twenty-nine-year-old Gould, the unfortunate young MP to hold the now useless democratic reform portfolio, is forever doomed to stand before the House of Commons, day after day, defending the idiotic decision of her superiors. Gould is a brilliant young woman with a master’s degree who just so happens to be the youngest female cabinet minister in Canadian history. Unfortunately, she’ll wear Trudeau’s broken promises for the rest of her life.

Some feminists have come to know this phenomenon as the glass cliff. Similar to the glass ceiling, which prevents women from advancing in their career completely, the glass cliff sees women actually get promoted, but then their careers take an irreversible dive in the interest of protecting the men at the top.

One of Trudeau’s defences for his lack of gender-based analysis in governance is the fact that he appointed a gender-balanced cabinet. Most of the women in his cabinet have found themselves in extremely impressive and high-profile roles, like Catherine McKenna (Environment and Climate Change) and Jody Wilson-Raybould (Justice and Attorney General) for example. But some women have not been so lucky; Monsef and Gould, to be specific.

Beyond the realm of glass cliffs and getting thrown under the bus, women in politics are no strangers to bullying and sexual harassment. Don’t believe me? Just ask NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, or even the current leader of the official opposition, Rona Ambrose. It was just a few years back when two Liberal MPs were kicked out of caucus after claims surfaced that they had both separately pursued non-consensual sexual activity with two female NDP MPs. Both maintained they did nothing wrong.

From committees to press conferences to panels on the evening news, female MPs are regularly excluded, silenced, or made completely invisible to the general public. Some evidence proves that these exclusions are seldom intentional, but they still continue to happen on a regular basis.

It seems that men regularly feel entitled to speak on women’s behalf in Canadian politics. Not long ago, one fellow by the name of Stephen Woodworth (then a Conservative MP) attempted to reopen the abortion debate. And recently, a man introduced a private member’s bill to increase the number of women in federal politics. That’s a great initiative, of course, but is it really that difficult to find a female legislator to speak for herself?

Women only make up 26 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons—but those who’ve made it, against all odds, are worth their weight in gold. Perhaps their male colleagues should take a lesson from them—rather than tossing them off glass cliffs.

Jenn Jefferys is a strategic communications consultant based in Ottawa. She has worked with the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the Assembly of First Nations, and Equal Voice. She is a former war-room staffer for the federal NDP. Reach Jenn by email at jenn.jefferys@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter @JennJefferys.

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