Canada has had more than 100 years to modernize elections and campaigns so that women candidates can compete on a level playing field.
What’s taken so long? How is it possible that obstacles dating from the suffrage era continue to pose significant barriers?
Veronica Strong-Boag’s forthcoming biography of the first woman cabinet minister in the British Empire reveals problems that continue to this day. In 1892, Mary Ellen Smith left the dusty coal towns of northern England for Nanaimo, B.C. She arrived as an experienced public reformer, committed to improving the living and working conditions of families like her own – composed of white European miners, their wives and children. Smith became a leader in West Coast campaigns to extend the vote to women and to strengthen minimum wage, public pension and child labour laws.
The sudden death of her husband Ralph, an MLA for Vancouver, led Smith to contest his seat in a provincial byelection. Despite fierce competition, she won in 1918 and in two subsequent races. Smith became not just B.C.’s first female MLA but also a minister without portfolio in the province’s then-Liberal government.
As an immigrant from the U.K. whose first language was English, what were her rewards? Smith was provided no stipend, staff or seat at the cabinet table. She resigned as minister without portfolio less than a year after her appointment, stating she refused to be a superfluous “fifth wheel on the political coach.” In 1928, the B.C. Liberals pushed Smith off the stage entirely, running her in a Tory bastion on Vancouver Island. Smith, as well as the B.C. Liberal Party, lost that election.
During much of Smith’s time in the public spotlight, political leaders and media pundits remarked on little beyond her attractive face, fashionable clothes, feminine speaking style and congenial personality. Smith became a sexualized commodity of the time: B.C. Liberal leader John Oliver announced that he’d kissed the victorious candidate out of “duty” rather than sin. Another B.C. Liberal proposed marriage with a $3,000 monetary incentive. In short, the substantive commitments that had long dominated Smith’s civic involvement were buried in a volley of commentary that highlighted her “comely” good looks and “quiet, gentle voice.”
Mary Ellen Smith stands among the first women in Canada to walk away from parliamentary politics with a deep sense of disappointment. But she was far from the last.
What can be done to ensure that today’s women candidates escape these sordid legacies? First, sustained focus in public debate on policy content rather than personal minutiae would go a long way toward improving our political climate. As they did 100 years ago, contemporary news reports and commentaries that highlight hair, wardrobe and tone of voice trivialize the contributions of half the population by turning political campaigns into old-fashioned beauty pageants. This trend is particularly worrisome in our visually saturated era, when social media emphasis on style and imagery is usurping the somewhat more-substantive orientation of older news outlets.
Second, I encourage candidates and leaders to channel Mary Ellen Smith by calling out the biases they confront. To their credit, a number of diverse women who abandoned federal politics in recent months, including Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq and Vancouver Granville MP Jody Wilson-Raybould, did just that. Back in mid-June, Qaqqaq announced she would not run in the next federal election. A member of the NDP caucus since 2019, Qaqqaq said the House of Commons was “a very uneasy place,” where staff did not recognize her status as an MP. Qaqqaq also felt stymied in her attempts to improve housing and prevent suicide in Indigenous and Inuit communities.
A Liberal MP and cabinet minister for one term and then an independent MP since 2019, Wilson-Raybould explained in July that she’d decided not to run again given a “toxic and ineffective Parliament” characterized by “harmful partisanship.”
Instead of quietly exiting the parliamentary arena, both Qaqqaq and Wilson-Raybould spoke publicly about what ails the system. They. along with embattled Green Party Leader Annamie Paul. have identified problems that continue to impede participants who come from traditionally marginalized outsider groups. Paul’s comments this summer suggest that the internal Green Party debate over the Middle East conflict and the defection to the Liberals of Jenica Atwin, a Green MP from New Brunswick, was far from civil. In fact, Paul told reporters that racist and sexist allegations were levelled against her at an emergency meeting of the Green Party’s national council in mid-June.
Not surprisingly, these contemporary trail-blazers include women who are Indigenous (Qaqqaq and Wilson-Raybould) as well as Black and Jewish (Paul). Their entry to Canadian public institutions that were constructed for and by white Christian men has provoked discomfort, hostility and lots in between.
Third, as the citizens whose voices ought to be represented in legislative chambers and in cabinet meetings, we – as members of a diverse Canadian public – need to demand better. It’s our responsibility to hold editors, journalists, bloggers and tweeters to foundational standards that require fair coverage of election campaigns. Emphases on the coiffure, sexual allure or voice of female candidates tend to go hand-in-hand with neglect of their substantive politics. This approach remains as vapid and imbalanced now as it was a century ago.
We also need to insist that parties and legislatures open their doors to change-oriented participants who don’t look like the Fathers of Confederation. If public institutions remain closed to candidates like Qaqqaq, Wilson-Raybould and Paul, those structures are sure to calcify as bloated parking lots full of status quo advocates.
Our job, in short, is to help ensure the experiences of women candidates and parliamentarians in 2021 are measurably better than they were in the era of Mary Ellen Smith.
Data shows that during this pandemic, public trust in elected leaders in Canada has dipped precipitously. Just imagine how much worse those trends will become if we don’t find ways to elect women like Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Annamie Paul – and ensure they are effective and are able to be influential inside the system.
This article is part of the How can we improve the elections process special feature.
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Biden says United States would come to Taiwan’s defense
The United States would come to Taiwan‘s defense and has a commitment to defend the island China claims as its own, U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday, though the White House said later there was no change in policy towards the island.
“Yes, we have a commitment to do that,” Biden said at a CNN town hall when asked if the United States would come to the defense of Taiwan, which has complained of mounting military and political pressure from Beijing to accept Chinese sovereignty.
While Washington is required by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, it has long followed a policy of “strategic ambiguity” on whether it would intervene militarily to protect Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.
In August, a Biden administration https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/us-position-taiwan-unchanged-despite-biden-comment-official-2021-08-19 official said U.S. policy on Taiwan had not changed after the president appeared to suggest the United States would defend the island if it were attacked.
A White House spokesperson said Biden at his town hall was not announcing any change in U.S. policy and “there is no change in our policy”.
“The U.S. defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act. We will uphold our commitment under the Act, we will continue to support Taiwan’s self-defense, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo,” the spokesperson said.
Biden said people should not worry about Washington’s military strength because “China, Russia and the rest of the world knows we’re the most powerful military in the history of the world,”
“What you do have to worry about is whether or not they’re going to engage in activities that would put them in a position where they may make a serious mistake,” Biden said.
“I don’t want a cold war with China. I just want China to understand that we’re not going to step back, that we’re not going to change any of our views.”
Military tensions between Taiwan and China are at their worst in more than 40 years, Taiwan’s Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said this month, adding that China will be capable of mounting a “full-scale” invasion by 2025.
Taiwan says it is an independent country and will defend its freedoms and democracy.
China says Taiwan is the most sensitive and important issue in its ties with the United States and has denounced what it calls “collusion” between Washington and Taipei.
Speaking to reporters earlier on Thursday, China’s United Nations Ambassador Zhang Jun said they are pursuing “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan and responding to “separatist attempts” by its ruling Democratic Progressive Party.
“We are not the troublemaker. On the contrary, some countries – the U.S. in particular – is taking dangerous actions, leading the situation in Taiwan Strait into a dangerous direction,” he said.
“I think at this moment what we should call is that the United States to stop such practice. Dragging Taiwan into a war definitely is in nobody’s interest. I don’t see that the United States will gain anything from that.”
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington, Michelle Nichols in New York and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Stephen Coates)
Do climate politics really matter at the local level? A Seattle professor thinks so – knkx.org
The changing climate is a topic you’d think would be front and center in local elections – especially after the heat wave that killed hundreds of people in the Northwest this summer.
A professor of politics at the University of Washington noted a lack of attention to the issue – until he and a colleague pushed for a debate about it in Seattle.
Aseem Prakash directs the school’s Center for Environmental Politics. In July, he wrote about his amazement that none of the candidates seemed to care about the climate. Instead, their focus – as with candidates in New York City – is on crime, policing and, lately, homelessness.
And when you ask them how we’re truly adapting to climate change, the candidates either pass the buck and say some other jurisdiction is ultimately responsible, Prakash says. Or they talk about pilot programs for this and that.
And there are lots of pilot programs, he says. But he doesn’t see any Seattle mayoral candidates — or past mayors — following up with data that would help keep them accountable. Instead, he says, most seem to use a local office, like mayor or city councilmember, as a stepping stone at the beginning of a career in politics — or toward something else more lucrative.
“At some point, all of us, we have to call out the B.S. You have to call out the B.S. and force politicians to confront the issues that affect us,” he says.
“Because there’s a program for everything, right? … Is it really helping?” Prakash wonders.
“Do we have data that the heat island effect in Seattle has improved over the years because there are programs? Have we evaluated how effective these programs are? No. … So then what’s the point? This is what you call ‘virtue signaling.’”
Prakash says there are too many pledges and not enough action. Accountability is missing. Most people aren’t getting help with things like cooling their homes during heat waves or getting electric cars that are affordable and reliable.
“Everybody wants to be a global leader, (to) talk about the future generation. It’s a moral responsibility,“ Prakash says, with a note of frustrated sarcasm in his voice.
“But you ask them, ‘OK, can you please translate it in the context of my humble census tract, my ZIP code? What does climate change mean for my ZIP code? Why should I care?’ ”
These are issues that students and professors from departments all over the University of Washington want to come together to discuss and attempt to solve, as they relate to climate change.
This interdisciplinary approach is why Prakash founded the Center for Environmental Politics seven years ago. The debate is co-hosted by the UW’s EarthLab.
“A Climate Conversation with Seattle Mayoral Candidates” is free and open to the public via Zoom. It takes place Friday evening from 5 to 6 p.m. You can register here.
Factbox-Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, spent a night in hospital but returned to Windsor Castle on Thursday.
Here are some facts about the 95-year-old queen:
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born at 17 Bruton St, London W1, on April 21, 1926, and christened on May 29, 1926, in the private chapel at Buckingham Palace.
After her uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated in 1936 for the love of a divorced American woman, the queen’s father, George VI, inherited the throne.
Two years after World War Two, she married navy Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, a Greek prince, whom she had fallen for during a visit to a naval college when she was just 13.
She was just 25 when she became Queen Elizabeth II on Feb. 6, 1952, on the death of her father, while she was on tour in Kenya with Prince Philip.
She was crowned monarch on June 2, 1953, in a ceremony at London’s Westminster Abbey that was televised live.
MOTHER AND WIFE
Philip was said to be shattered when his wife became queen so soon.
Her marriage to Philip, whom she wed when she was 21, stayed solid for 74 years until his death in April 2021.
Their children are Charles, born in 1948, Anne, born in 1950, Andrew in 1960 and Edward in 1964.
Winston Churchill was the first of her 14 British prime ministers.
As head of state, the queen remains neutral on political matters. The queen does not vote.
Elizabeth, who acceded to the throne as Britain was shedding its imperial power, has symbolised stability. Her nearly 70-year reign is the longest of any British monarch.
A quiet and uncomplaining dedication to the duty of queenship, even in old age, has earned her widespread respect both in Britain and abroad, even from republicans who are eager for abolition of the monarchy.
OFFICIAL TITLE IN THE UNITED KINGDOM
Her Majesty Elizabeth II, By the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Her Other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.
The Queen is head of state of 15 Commonwealth countries in addition to the United Kingdom. She is also head of the Commonwealth itself, a voluntary association of 54 independent countries.
The 40th anniversary of her accession, in 1992, was a year she famously described as an “annus horribilis” after three of her four children’s marriages failed and there was a fire at her Windsor Castle royal residence.
The death of Princess Diana, the divorced wife of Elizabeth’s son and heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles, in 1997, damaged the family’s public prestige.
Charles’ younger son, Harry, and wife Meghan said in an explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey earlier this year that one unidentified royal had made a racist remark about their first-born child. The couple had stepped back from royal duties in early 2020 and moved to the United States.
(Writing by Michael Holden and Kate Holton; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Peter Cooney)
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