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Politics triumphs over ideology – The Sunday Guardian

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Three weeks back, a top politician received a call from an industrialist, who wanted to know whether a political storm was brewing in the country. Taken aback by the query, which came amidst a spiralling spike in Covid-19 cases, the leader put forth some counter-questions, after which he was convinced that either Rajasthan or Maharashtra was going to witness a battle royale, amongst those who were in power and those who wanted to upstage them.

The industrialist had mentioned that demands for arranging large sums of money had started pouring in, and therefore, the festive season for MLAs might prematurely commence in a couple of states. The recent attempt in Rajasthan to dislodge the Congress regime, perhaps, is an illustration of how money, and not ideology, has become the principle ingredient of power-play.

In fact, the thesis of the Congress and the BJP being ideologically poles apart no longer holds any water. Needless to say, money-muscle is supreme, and over the past few years, many Congress activists have been enticed to the other side, thereby binning the beliefs, which at one stage, they held very closely to their heart. The BJP, too, is at ease over giving entry to their “Congress foes”, as long as it facilitates them in consolidating the party position. After all, everything is fair in war and politics.

In the 1990s, there was a phase when L.K. Advani, the architect of the saffron brigade’s rise, used to consistently lament that the BJP was not a party of political untouchables, and thus, should not be shunned by parties professing a different doctrine. His grouse persisted, despite the fact that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had, during his five-year tenure, maintained very close and cordial relations with Bhaurao Deoras, a key figure in the Sangh Parivar. In 1989, the BJP increased its tally from merely two members it had in 1984 to a respectable figure, solely because there was a seat-adjustment between the Opposition groups led by Vishwanath Pratap Singh on one side and Jyoti Basu of the CPI(M) on the other end.

It is a matter of record that the V.P. Singh government remained in power primarily on the crutches provided by the Left parties and the BJP—two ideological groups at variance with one another. Power and the common objective of dislodging the Congress, in the wake of the Bofors scandal, had become their converging point. Admittedly, it was not for the first time that the Left and the Right had joined hands to fight against the Centre. In 1977, the CPI(M) had an electoral understanding with the parties opposed to Indira Gandhi and the Emergency. Earlier in 1967, there was also an undeclared pact of sorts.

The fact of the matter is that the talk of tenets is merely to hoodwink the party cadres and the people. The Socialists, led by Ram Manohar Lohia, were the main rivals of the Congress, but for their ideologues, communalism was a greater threat than anti-Congressism. However, Lohia’s favourite disciple, George Fernandes, never hesitated even once to conduct business with the BJP when the situation arose. Presently in Bihar, Nitish Kumar likewise continues to do so.

The Congress is also to be blamed for this dilution of ideological politics. Under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership, it deviated from its secular path, contributing in creating the perception that the Grand Old Party had gravitated towards the minorities; a fact borne out by the findings of its own senior leader, A.K. Antony.

In the 2014 Parliamentary polls, this shift from its centrist path and the perceived affinity for the minorities assisted Narendra Modi to come to power. Modi did not require any ideological fig leaf since his image was cast in stone, with his followers recognising him as an exceptional Hindu leader, who would undo the wrongs done to the majority community.

However, the Prime Minister has relied more on his politics than ideology in taking the BJP to the pinnacle. In the process, he has surpassed his mentors—Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi—and today, without any doubt, is regarded as the tallest leader of India.

Modi, along with his trusted lieutenant, Amit Shah, has one single objective, that being the decimation of the Congress, in pursuance of his “Congress Mukt Bharat” mantra. He is absolutely focused on achieving his goal and is fully aware that leaders nurtured in the RSS tradition may find it difficult to overcome the suave and politically hardened elements who have spent years in the Congress. Thus, his Operation Vibheeshan strategy is aimed at utilising the craft and astuteness of former Congressmen to outwit their colleagues.

In 2014, a large number of activists with Congress background were furnished BJP tickets. In Assam, Modi selected Himanta Biswa Sarma to assist the BJP to open the Northeast gateway. In Haryana, he harnessed Chaudhury Birendra Singh and Rao Inderjit to humble the Congress. Similarly, Vijay Bahuguna, Harak Singh Rawat and Yashpal Arya, amongst others, provided the saffron brigade a firmer foothold in Uttarakhand. In Uttar Pradesh, Jagdambika Pal joined the BJP bandwagon. The same tale was repeated in other regions.

The short point is that belief-driven politics has given way to pragmatic tactics in the pursuit of power. Given this context, money is the foremost component that helps in blurring ideological distances. Besides, Modi’s own towering persona serves well as the stated reason for his opponents to shift to his side. Between us.

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How Trump's fundraising could benefit his post-White House political life – CNN

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All these missives from President Donald Trump’s political operation landed in supporters’ inboxes Monday morning claiming to solicit funds to help Trump fund recounts and legal challenges to overturn the election results.
But the legal fine print on each shows that a new Trump fundraising arm, Save America, actually will get the first cut of any money that comes in. And because spending rules for leadership PACs are so loose, campaign-finance experts warn that Save America could easily become a political slush fund for Trump and those close to him.
Here’s a closer look at the President’s recent fundraising efforts and his new fundraising vehicle Save America:

What’s Save America?

Save America is a leadership PAC that Trump launched less than a week after the election.
In an email to CNN earlier this month, Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said Trump “always planned” to create a leadership PAC “win or lose, so he can support candidates and issues he cares about, such as combating voter fraud.”
Team Trump has been on a fundraising spree in recent weeks, sending more than 330 fundraising emails and 92 text messages to supporters since 11 p.m. ET on Election Night.
The current solicitations direct the first 75% of each contribution up to $5,000 to Save America. Only after that threshold is met does money go into the campaign’s recount account.
Additionally, 25% of the funds go to the Republican National Committee’s operating account.

What’s a leadership PAC?

Leadership PACs are political action committees generally established by current and former politicians to raise money and to curry influence with others.
Political figures use these PACs donate to other candidates, helping maintain their profiles and build leverage within their own party. But they also have become vehicles for a campaigns-in-waiting, funding polling, staff and travel. Save America could become an avenue for Trump to continue funding political operations as he weighs a future presidential bid in 2024.

Are there fundraising limits on leadership PACs?

Yes, but fundraising limits are higher for leadership PACs than candidate committees.
An individual donor can contribute up to $5,000 a year to a leadership PAC — allowing a politician to collect up to $20,000 over a four-year period from a single contributor. By contrast, that same donor could only give a maximum of $2,800 at this point for a 2024 presidential campaign.

Does Trump have to spend the money in the leadership PAC on election challenges?

No. The rules on spending by leadership PACs also are far more relaxed than those for campaign committees and do not restrict politicians from using donors’ funds for personal expenses — a use forbidden in a presidential campaign account.
It’s one reason campaign-finance experts say donors should be leery of what they view as a Trump campaign bait-and-switch tactic: soliciting funds for legal challenges and instead first routing the money to his leadership PAC.
“The typical donor doesn’t read the legal fine print,” Paul Ryan, vice president of vice president of policy and litigation at Common Cause, told CNN.
Ryan said few restrictions apply on the PAC’s spending. Should they choose to do so, Trump and his family members could draw salaries from Save America funds or direct its donors’ money to his businesses by hosting PAC events at a Trump-owned properties.
“This money could easily — and legally — end up in his own pocket in the coming years,” Ryan said. And even after the long-shot legal challenges to the 2020 election end, Trump “could tease a 2024 run for years and continue milking his supporters for contributions to this slush fund,” he added.
Under federal election rules, Save America will have to file its first public report detailing fundraising and spending Dec. 3, but it will only cover the first fews weeks of its operations.

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The fraught politics facing Biden’s foreign policy – Brookings Institution

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For 18 months, Joe Biden was able to contrast his foreign policy with Donald Trump’s by painting in broad brushstrokes. He was in favor of alliances; Trump was opposed to them. He believed in American leadership in the world; Trump thought countries were taking advantage of the United States. Biden championed human rights; Trump sided with the autocrats.

Now that he is president-elect, Biden will need to be more specific about his foreign-policy stance. In many ways, Biden is a known quantity. He has a track record dating back almost five decades. But he will begin his term in a very different world than when he was vice president or a senator. He will face new, substantive challenges, including COVID-19 and a more assertive China. To meet this particularly difficult moment, he will need to master the politics of foreign policy — among different factions within his team, with a potentially obstructionist Republican Senate, and with skeptical American allies.

Biden cannot simply rely on competent technocratic management in foreign policy. His presidency may be the establishment’s last best chance to demonstrate that liberal internationalism is a superior strategy to populist nationalism. He must consider the strategic options generated by an ideologically diverse team, and he has to make big choices that are attuned to the politics of the moment, in the United States and around the world. Such a bold path is not one that a newly elected president with no foreign-policy experience could take. But he can.

To understand how Biden might approach his foreign policy, I spoke with half a dozen Biden advisers and people who worked closely with him in the Obama administration, as well as current and former congressional staff, Trump administration officials, and allied diplomats. I agreed not to identify them by name, to ensure their candor.

Within Biden’s team, an ongoing, but largely overlooked, debate has been brewing among Democratic centrists about the future of U.S. foreign policy. One group, which I call “restorationist,” favors a foreign policy broadly consistent with that of President Barack Obama. They believe in careful management of the post-Cold War order. They are cautious and incrementalist. They will stand up to China but will not want to define their strategy as a great power competition. They maintain high hopes for bilateral cooperation with Beijing on climate change, global public health, and other issues. They support Biden’s idea for a summit of democracies, aimed at repairing democracy and encouraging cooperation, but are wary of an ideological competition between democracy and authoritarianism. They favor a return to the Iran nuclear deal and intend to continue to play America’s traditional role in the Middle East. They generally support free-trade deals and embrace globalization.

A second group, which I call “reformist,” challenges key orthodoxies from the Obama era. Philosophically, these advisers believe that U.S. foreign policy needs to fundamentally change if it is to deal with the underlying forces of Trumpism and nationalist populism. They are more willing than restorationists to take calculated risks and more comfortable tolerating friction with rivals and problematic allies. They see China as the administration’s defining challenge and favor a more competitive approach than Obama’s. They view cooperation with other free societies as a central component of U.S. foreign policy, even if those partnerships result in clashes with authoritarian allies that are not particularly vital. They want less Middle East involvement overall and are more willing to use leverage against Iran and Gulf Arab states in the hopes of securing an agreement to replace the Iran nuclear deal. They favor significant changes to foreign economic policy, focusing on international tax, cybersecurity and data sharing, industrial policy, and technology, rather than traditional free-trade agreements.

Biden’s worldview is broad enough to be compatible with the restorationist and reformist schools of thought. He obviously trusts many of Obama’s senior officials and is proud of the administration’s record. At the same time, he chafed against Obama’s caution and incrementalism — for example, Biden wanted to send lethal assistance to Ukraine, when Obama did not. Biden has spoken more explicitly than Obama about competition with China and Russia, and he favors a foreign policy that works for the middle class. It is important to note that the legitimate and substantive disagreements between restorationists and reformists are between people who get along with each other. Restorationist sounds pejorative in the sense that the term looks backward, but it is not intended to be. Obama’s foreign policy was successful in many respects, and the case for restoring it is reasonable, as is the case for significant departures from it. Some officials are also restorationist on particular issues and reformist on others.

The progressives who staked out new ground on foreign policy during the primary campaign will be a significant force inside the Democratic Party in a Biden administration. Progressives believe foreign policy should primarily serve domestic economic and political goals. They are skeptical of high defense spending and want to demilitarize U.S. foreign policy, but they are also alarmed by the rise of autocracy globally and want to push back against it. Several Biden advisers, in particular Jake Sullivan and Tony Blinken, made a special effort to engage progressives from the Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders campaigns after the primary. Now that the election is over, progressives mainly focused on domestic politics are very much inside the tent shaping Biden’s economic agenda, but some foreign-policy progressives have adopted a more confrontational approach toward the Biden team, hoping to pressure it from the outside on China, Iran, and defense spending.

Biden should see these contrasting perspectives as assets, and proactively create a team that reflects the broader foreign-policy debate and avoids groupthink. But he will need to actively manage the different views. He should start by learning lessons from Obama. In late 2012, Obama chose John Kerry to be his second secretary of state because he was the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was an old political ally, and was widely perceived to be the most logical candidate. Obama’s signature foreign-policy accomplishment in his first term was the pivot to Asia away from the Middle East, but Kerry wanted to pivot back. Obama returned to a Middle East-centric State Department, seemingly without intending to do so. Blinken, then Kerry’s deputy, was left to manage America’s alliances in Asia—something that he did effectively and that might fall to him now.

Similarly, Biden could unintentionally create a uniformly Obamian worldview in his national-security team, unless he purposefully decides to go another route. Biden’s governing goal should be a genuinely intellectually honest process in which fundamental assumptions and policies of restorationist, reformist, and progressive ideas are constantly stress-tested and assessed with an open mind. This process needs to be outcome-oriented and not devolve into the “more meetings” mindset that creates gridlock and trends toward the lowest common denominator. Biden needs a variety of strategic choices. As a seasoned foreign-policy leader, he is ideally positioned to adjudicate this debate and to choose among the options that it will present.

Biden should certainly entrust senior positions to people who tend toward the Obamian worldview, but he should also find roles for people who might advocate for a new direction, including Pete Buttigieg, Senators Chris Coons and Chris Murphy, and former officials Jake Sullivan, Toria Nuland, Kurt Campbell, and others who have written or spoken in favor of major policy changes since 2016. Sullivan is likely to take a domestic-policy job, but given his role in developing reformist ideas over the past four years, it is important that he also remain an influential voice on national security, and he is well positioned to help connect the domestic to the foreign. Given the substantive nature of the debate thus far and that it has generally been amicable, an ideologically diverse Cabinet should bring out the best in all factions, sharpening thinking and policy options.

Biden will need a variety of ideas because he faces significant political challenges at home. By any metric, Biden certainly has a mandate. He won 306 electoral votes and more popular votes than any president in history. However, the election was not the sweeping repudiation of Trump that Democrats craved. Trumpism has not gone away and instead appears to have transformed the Republican Party into a force for populist nationalism, including hostility toward international cooperation and skepticism about alliances.

The Republicans are well positioned to retain control of the Senate following the two runoffs in Georgia in January. If Mitch McConnell reprises the obstructionist role he played in the Obama administration, he could kill Biden’s domestic agenda on arrival. Many Biden Democrats believe that a successful foreign policy requires rejuvenation at home, so McConnell’s tactics may be a big problem. Republicans will likely put Biden’s nominees through intensive hearings, and they may be willing to reject appointees, particularly at the subcabinet level.

All Democrats and many Republicans agree on the need to repair and strengthen America’s alliances and partnerships, but this is more complicated than the campaign rhetoric made it appear. The year 2021 will not be like 2009, when Obama was widely greeted as a conquering hero, winning the Nobel Prize after less than a year in office, simply because of what his election signified. The world is a less cooperative and liberal place today. Just consider the rise of nationalist-populist governments in Brazil and India and the erosion of democracy in Turkey and Hungary.

America’s closest allies will all work with Biden and welcome the end of Trump’s erraticism, but they have lingering doubts about where things are headed. The Australian and Japanese governments, for example, are quietly concerned about Biden’s approach to China and are watching his early appointments very closely. The French worry that Democrats will leave Europe high and dry as they try to withdraw from the Middle East and from the war on terrorism more broadly so that they can pivot to the China challenge. The British are wondering whether Biden will invest in their special relationship, given that he opposed Brexit. Several officials I spoke with from America’s allies in Europe and Asia have reservations about the planned summit of democracies that Biden made a centerpiece of his election. They worry that the meeting could become an end in itself and be too inwardly focused and beset by problems about which countries qualify as democracies.

So how should Biden navigate this complicated landscape? Although he is absolutely right to claim a mandate and to convey optimism about the future, Biden must also be cognizant of the precariousness of his liberal-internationalist worldview. Liberalism is under siege at home and abroad. It will not automatically endure.

In COVID-19, Biden will inherit the greatest international challenge facing the United States since the height of the Cold War. The pandemic is a moment of global reordering — not to deal only with the coronavirus but also the underlying issues it revealed, including an uncooperative China and the vulnerabilities of interdependence. Biden must be ambitious at home and abroad, because these realms are inextricably linked. The tricky part is that he must construct a bold policy within the political constraints of Washington, where Democrats may not carry the Senate.

Biden should use competition with China as a bridge to Senate Republicans. Their instinct may be obstructionist, particularly because Trump is pressuring them not to recognize Biden’s win as legitimate, but many of them also know that the U.S. cannot afford four years of legislative gridlock if it is to compete with China. A number of Republican foreign-policy experts pointed out to me that some senators, including Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz, may be out for scalps, but that others, including Susan Collins, Joni Ernst, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, and Dan Sullivan, are mainly interested in the substance of Biden’s foreign policy, especially toward China. Biden, then, can use competition with the country to gain support for other political measures.

He can create goodwill with some of these Republicans by, in the first few weeks of his term, supporting pending legislation on investments in the semiconductor industry and 5G infrastructure, appointing assistant secretaries for Asia at the State Department and the Pentagon who can easily win bipartisan support, and showing that he is serious about using the Treasury and Commerce Departments to compete with China.

These efforts would lay the groundwork for crucial elements of Biden’s Build Back Better domestic program: targeted infrastructure investments, including clean technology; an industrial policy to compete with China on 5G, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence; a limited and strategic decoupling from China in certain areas; and bolstering the resilience of the U.S. economy to external shocks, which would include making supply chains more secure.

Although some in Biden Land support this bipartisan give-and-take, others, including many of the restorationists, are very skeptical of using competition with China as a framework for U.S. foreign and domestic policy. Some also have substantive reservations about any decoupling from China. They expect China to reach out for a reset early in 2021—probably regarding the pandemic and climate change—and would like to explore opportunities for cooperation. Foreign-policy progressives are also generally opposed to building Biden’s foreign policy around competition with China, believing that the strategy risks creating a Cold War.

These restorationist and progressive fears are overblown. Almost all of these early measures are about enhancing domestic competitiveness, not engaging in an arms race or a clash of civilizations. Indeed, Elizabeth Warren advocated for domestic reforms to compete with China during her presidential campaign. Domestic progressives are much more inclined than their foreign-policy counterparts to support this conceptual framework if it unlocks the politics of an ambitious domestic agenda, which will include new jobs through investments in clean technology—a vital part of a climate policy.

Getting serious about competing with China is also justified on the merits. Xi Jinping’s China has become more dictatorial and aggressive. Even the European Union, which is about as benign a geopolitical actor as China could hope for, has all but given up hope that engagement and cooperation will change China or fundamentally moderate its behavior, even on shared interests such as global public health. Cooperation with China on shared interests should occur, but we need to be realistic about the limits. To prevent competition with China from spiraling into outright confrontation, Biden should situate the strategy as part of a larger affirmative vision for strengthening the free world. This policy would include making free societies more resilient to external shocks such as pandemics and economic crises, fighting corruption and kleptocracy, standing up to autocratic countries that try to bully or coerce democracies, and combatting democratic backsliding. This approach would be more effective than organizing a global summit of democracies.

The inescapable political reality in Washington is that competition with China is the only way to persuade a Trumpian Republican Party of the benefits of international cooperation—whether through alliances providing a counterweight to Chinese power, through vying with China for influence inside international institutions, or through relying on international law to prevent Chinese revisionism in the South China Sea. Without the China component, Biden has no hope of creating any kind of domestic consensus around internationalism.

After addressing the China issue, Biden should shockproof U.S. foreign policy against the return of Trumpism in 2025. Republican senators may hope to harness populism for future elections, but they are, for now at least, committed to America’s alliances. Why not codify their support by introducing legislation that requires congressional approval if the United States is to leave NATO? Biden could proactively build redundancy into the alliance system by supporting EU security and defense cooperation, even if the action risks a duplication with NATO. Biden should also press Congress to enact new commonsense restraints on presidents—for instance on their ability to circumvent the confirmation and security-clearance procedures for appointees—to prevent a recurrence of Trump’s abuses of power. On climate change, he must prioritize carbon-emission cuts at the state and city levels, which are less likely to be stopped or reversed by Congress.

In managing relationships with allies, Biden cannot rely only on shared problems to bring them closer. He must also engage these leaders on their terms, paying special interest to their political situation and priorities. It would be a disaster if France were to fall into the hands of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in 2022, so Biden should bolster President Emmanuel Macron, including by showing solidarity with France in the face of a domestic terrorism threat. He should make a genuine effort to help Britain succeed after leaving the EU, as long as it respects its obligations under the Good Friday Agreement. And finally, a bipartisan consensus on China will reassure Japan and Australia.

Managing nondemocratic allies—including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Hungary, and the Philippines—is more difficult. They will try to put him in a vise by flirting with Russia and China. Biden won’t succeed by appealing to the better angels of their nature, and he cannot be tricked into thinking that America needs these regimes more than they need America. Biden must be feared by the so-called strongmen before he can be respected by them. He must show that he is willing to push back and that he can wield power and generate leverage more effectively than Obama. He must introduce red lines that cannot be crossed. Only then can transactional cooperation on matters of mutual interest really occur.

Biden’s election is a reprieve from Trumpism. Whether that break is permanent or temporary depends very much on the choices that Biden makes. Biden must act with a degree of urgency and boldness to demonstrate that his brand of liberal internationalism effectively addresses the real concerns and anxieties Americans have about the world.

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There’s still more work to do to level the field in politics – TVO

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Last month, the Greens’ Annamie Paul made history when the first Black national major-party leader ran for a seat in a Toronto byelection.  

And there was another significant breakthrough that night.

Thanks to the election of two new women MPs — Marci Ien in Toronto Centre and Ya’ara Saks in York Centre — there are now 100 female MPs in the House of Commons.

That’s never happened before in 153 years of Confederation.

That achievement notwithstanding, more than 70 per cent of the members on Parliament Hill are still men, so perhaps the huzzahs should still be a bit muted. When it comes to female representation in Parliament, Canada ranks 59th in the world — yes, ahead of the United States, which is 78th. But we’re somewhere between Albania and Estonia, which doesn’t feel like much of an achievement.

Despite the current prime minister’s once saying, “Because it’s 2015” in answer to a question about why he wanted gender parity in his cabinet, we’re still a long way away from that when it comes to everyday members of Parliament.

Three Canadian political trailblazers explored why it still seems tougher for women than men in politics during a discussion hosted by the Canadian Club of Toronto last Friday. Ottawa’s first female mayor, Charlotte Whitton (1951-56; 1960-64) may have famously quipped, “Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.” But that joke belies how elusive gender parity still is in partisan politics.

Kim Campbell, still Canada’s only female prime minister out of the 23 we’ve had, pointed to the difficulty women have when it comes to most of the political prerequisites for election.

“Women are loath to ask for money,” she said, referencing the fundraising required to run a good campaign. “And we’re socialized not to toot our own horns, which you sometimes need to do in politics.”

And, of course, there’s the issue of power.

“When people have a privileged access to power, they may not want to give it up,” Campbell added. “But a lot of this privilege is invisible to men. It’s not that they’re bad; they just don’t see it.”

The city of Waterloo has been electing MPs since 1867. Famous ones, too, such as William Lyon Mackenzie King — Canada’s longest-serving prime minister — and former hockey legend Howie Meeker. But never a woman, until Bardish Chagger did it in 2015. A year later, she became the country’s first-ever female government house leader. She insists politics shouldn’t be about taking something away from men.

“It’s about creating more space and the conditions for success for others,” she said. Now that Chagger is the current government’s minister for diversity, inclusion, and youth, she said, “I represent all voices, including people who don’t identify as male or female. We simply need to create more pathways for success.”

“We all have to commit ourselves to opening up the narrative and understanding why exclusion is so unjust,” added Campbell.  

Then, in a nice non-partisan gesture, Chagger told the audience on Zoom that, when she gives her constituents tours of Parliament Hill, she makes sure people see the portrait of Campbell.

“It’s my favorite picture to show people,” she said. 

Paul, the new leader of the Green Party of Canada, the country’s first Black major-party leader, and the first Jewish woman to lead a national party, was a graduate student at Princeton University in the late 1990s when her son was born. “I just brought him to class with me and breast-fed him in class,” Paul recalled. “I didn’t ask permission, because I knew they’d say no. My professors just looked to the sky when I’d talk!”

What’s Paul’s advice?

“The structures of politics are not designed with women in mind,” she said. “We have to eliminate the barriers to women’s participation.”

Marion Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, once famously said, “It’s hard to be what you can’t see.”

“If you’re not reflected in institutions, you won’t think to do it,” Paul said. “The good news is, we’re living in a moment where things we previously thought were impossible are now possible.”

Campbell also pointed out that, when her predecessor, Brian Mulroney, appointed her (and Mary Collins) to cabinet in 1989, “neither of us had kids. That meant managing our personal lives was easier. If you look at the majority of men in the U.S. Congress, they have wives that don’t work. So we have to look at the structural things that get in the way of women serving.”

Paul echoed those comments more than three decades later.

“Unless there are profound changes to the system, we have no hope for balance,” she said. “I couldn’t have done this job if my kids had been younger.”

To be sure, legislatures across Canada are more family-friendly places today. Back in Campbell’s day, she and others made sure the House didn’t sit one week out of every four, enabling everyone to get home for a sustained period of time. They also did away with night sittings.

“It wasn’t just good for us,” Campbell pointed out. “It was good for men, too, who didn’t want to sit around all night drinking and playing cards waiting for a vote. They wanted to be with their families, too. So we didn’t just do this so the ‘girls’ could serve.”

Canada’s 19th prime minister has championed a controversial idea that could fix the House of Commons’ gender imbalance in one election: ensure every riding has one male and one female MP. That’s right, two MPs for every riding. If the idea of doubling the number of politicians in Ottawa offends you, make the riding boundaries bigger and have fewer of them. The point is, the House could achieve gender balance in one fell swoop. Whether you like or dislike the idea, it would surely be a grand experiment in whether increased female participation in public life makes a difference. It’s hard to imagine it wouldn’t.

Campbell now lives part of the year in Florence, Italy. A daughter of World War II veterans, she noted that 50 Canadian soldiers, most of them in their twenties, are buried in Florence.

“They put their lives on the line,” she said admiringly. “I’m so glad I don’t have to be that brave. But we can all do more. Just step up. Watch the news, and you’ll see what happens if we don’t take care of our democracy. Vote. Write a cheque. The alternative is unthinkable. Women have a unique role to ensure those eventualities don’t happen.”

It wasn’t that long ago that six of Canada’s 10 provinces had female premiers. In fact, Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne became the sixth in 2013. Today, there are none. (Caroline Cochrane, the lone female government leader in the country today, is premier of the Northwest Territories.) But Campbell isn’t despondent.

“Don’t allow the setbacks to lead you to think there’s no support for women out there,” she said. “In 2016, 65 million people pulled the lever, marked their X, or punched their chad for a woman as President of the United States. Whatever the difficulties, we shouldn’t think people don’t get it, because a lot of people do.”

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