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Why diversity matters in our politics — and what can be done to support it – CBC.ca

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This column is an opinion by Devin Percey, who works in the public sector in St. John’s. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.


“When you ask a man to run in politics, their first question is something like ‘What took you so long?’ or ‘Do I have to wear a tie?’ When you ask a woman, her first question is, ‘Really? Do you think I would be good enough?’ even if her CV is way more impressive than any random male candidate.”

That quote is from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a recent media availability. He was talking about the all-too-common occurrence that happens when political parties try to recruit female candidates. Despite the social progress of the past century, societal and psychological barriers exist that make many potential female political prospects unable to see themselves as potential candidates.

Even more troubling, this occurrence is not exclusive to women. Members of other historically underrepresented groups — such as visible minorities, Indigenous people, members of the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities — can also struggle to see themselves as viable contenders for elected office.

One of the main reasons for this phenomenon is a relative lack of historic representation of people from these groups in politics. As someone with mild cerebral palsy, I understand why this is the case.

Without many tangible examples of someone like you, with similar views, experiencing some success in politics, it becomes difficult to envision yourself doing the same. Then when you do try to picture a political run, it is easy to negatively fixate on how it could go spectacularly wrong because there is a distinct absence of examples where it really goes right.

The best and the brightest people who care about improving their community do not all come from one particular group.

This creates a vicious cycle where marginalized groups continue to be under-represented in elected government. Since it is difficult for them to visualize themselves as politicians, only a select few offer themselves up as candidates when an election is called. As a result, only a few managed to get elected and the under-representation continues.

This is a problem for a variety of reasons. First, researchers have shown that groups made up of people from diverse backgrounds tend to focus more on facts and come up with more innovative ideas.

Diverse candidates provide diverse viewpoints

At the same time, politicians today are finding themselves representing increasingly diverse communities that are composed of many smaller communities with unique needs. Having diversity among elected officials is a definite way to ensure these unique needs are identified and brought to the forefront.

For example, a town councillor who uses a wheelchair is probably keenly aware and knowledgeable of accessibility issues such as the availability of blue space parking, whereas other town councillors might not be.

However, arguably the biggest problem with having certain parts of society being reluctant to step forward for public office is the simplest: the best person for the job might not get elected to office. No race, ethnicity, nationality, creed, sex, gender or sexual orientation has a monopoly on talent. The best and the brightest people who care about improving their community do not all come from one particular group.

Therefore, since certain groups of people feel politics is not for them, there’s less chance of electing the very best because the best person for the job might never even come forward. Instead of getting the best candidate with an impressive CV on the ballot, it’s possible to get stuck with a less qualified candidate who has the entitled “What took you so long?” mentality.

Barriers can be broken down

Clearly these barriers that demotivate female, racialized, Indigenous, LGBTQ and differently abled people from entering politics need to be addressed. Fortunately, for all of us, these barriers can be broken down with public awareness and a little civic engagement to help normalize the idea of diversity in government.

Take the time to pay attention to the diverse candidates in your local municipal, provincial and federal elections and their platforms. If you don’t see something you like from them, that’s perfectly OK. But if you do see something you like, be vocal and supportive. Talk to your neighbours about them, register to vote, contact their campaign to see if you can get a lawn sign and so on.

Meanwhile, if you know somebody from a diverse group who you think would make an excellent town councillor, member of the provincial legislature, or member of Parliament; let them know you think so. Tell them you think they would be amazing for the job and encourage them to step forward. You can offer to volunteer with their campaign.

Those little gestures might seem insignificant to most people but that is the funny thing about a little encouragement: to people who have been looked down on and discouraged by others, a little bit of encouragement can go a long way.

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Quebec undergoes a culture shift as ‘woke’ politics is redefined in the province – The Globe and Mail

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Quebec Solidaire Leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois questions the government during question period on Sept. 23.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

For 50 contentious years, the defining split in Quebec politics was between sovereigntists and federalists. “Should Quebec remain in Canada?” was the ideological question par excellence.

But last week, when Premier François Legault exchanged barbed words with the rising opposition star Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois in the Salon bleu of the National Assembly, a new political axis was born. Call it “les wokes” vs. “les Duplessistes.”

This divide isn’t about economics or independence so much as issues of race and religion, whose primal importance in Quebec was once again borne out by this year’s federal election. And although the divide stems from a pair of insults hurled across the floor of the provincial legislature, it reveals a deeper realignment in Quebec’s political class that is being mirrored around the democratic world, away from traditional standards of left and right and toward a preoccupation with identity.

The fracas began on Sept. 15, when Mr. Nadeau-Dubois, a leader of the “Maple Spring” student protests in 2012 and now parliamentary leader of the left-wing Québec Solidaire, rose in the Assembly to accuse Mr. Legault of imitating Maurice Duplessis. It was meant as a bitter reproach: “The Boss” ruled Quebec for most of the period between 1936 and his death in 1959 with a mixture of Catholic piety, anti-Communism and Quebec nationalism, while openly persecuting religious minorities such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and suppressing dissent. His time in power is still often called The Great Darkness.

The current Premier, Mr. Nadeau-Dubois argued, was channeling his notorious predecessor in part by conflating support for Bill 21, a contentious piece of provincial legislation that bans the wearing of visible religious symbols by certain public servants, with membership in “the Quebec nation.”

Visibly angry, Mr. Legault shot back that a majority of Quebeckers support the religious-symbols law. Duplessis, he said, had “many faults, but he defended his nation. He wasn’t un woke like the leader of Québec Solidaire.”

A surprised wave of laughter went up in the Blue Room; the Quebec media has been tittering about Mr. Legault’s choice of epithet ever since. Why was the Premier of North America’s only majority francophone jurisdiction wielding a term popularized by Black activists to describe vigilance about social injustice? Why was he using it as a put-down, not to mention a noun?

Asked to define “un woke” the following day, Mr. Legault offered an original contribution to the Quebec vernacular, saying that to him it meant someone “who wants to make us feel guilty about defending the Quebec nation [and] defending its values.” Google searches for the word exploded in Quebec.

But if the Premier’s particular gloss on the term was novel, its use by conservatives in the province was not. In the past couple of years, columnists for the influential Quebecor media conglomerate have become particularly enamoured of using “woke,” in English, as a slur for liberals and leftists who are highly sensitive about race and gender, a trend on the American right as well. Benoît Melançon, a literature professor at the University of Montreal, searched a media database to find that, since the beginning of last year, the word has appeared in francophone outlets more than 2,000 times.

The word entered Quebec’s political bloodstream purely as a pejorative; virtually no one in the province owns up to the label. While a French politician running to be the Green Party’s presidential candidate recently embraced being “woke,” Prof. Melançon noted, “that’s never done in Quebec.” Likewise, although some historians and journalists have recently begun rehabilitating Maurice Duplessis’s reputation – and Mr. Legault himself jokingly compared his party to Duplessis’s as recently as 2019 – his name remains a popular shorthand for reactionary authoritarianism.

Both political camps have begun life, then, with no self-professed members – but that does not mean they lack weight. In an unsuccessful attempt to steal back some thunder from two rival parties and reassert the importance of his political project, Parti Québécois leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon tweeted a photo of himself this week wearing a shirt that said, “Neither woke, nor duplessiste. Indépendantiste.” The provincial Liberals, meanwhile, traditional standard-bearers of the federalist cause, have stayed out of the fray altogether. Their only slight involvement in the squabble came when Mr. Legault sneeringly referred to them as one of two “multiculturalist” parties in the National Assembly.

The lower profile of Quebec’s once-dominant parties, and the issue that animated them for decades, is the result of a sea change that has sidelined the traditional debate about sovereignty in favour of lower-stakes skirmishes about immigration and ethnic diversity. The shift dates to around 2007, according to Frédéric Bérard, a political commentator, doctor at law and course instructor at the University of Montreal’s law school. It was then, he said, that the question of “reasonable accommodation” of religious minorities came to the forefront of political life in the province.

Quebec has since been roiled by successive controversies around that theme, from the question of whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear the niqab at citizenship ceremonies to the outrage that greeted a debate moderator’s question during the recent federal election campaign about Quebec’s “discriminatory” religious-symbols law.

These issues have emerged, not coincidentally, amidst the long-term decline of the Parti Québécois. Sensing the withering of its traditional goal of an independent Quebec state, the PQ embraced a program of aggressive secularism and the integration of immigrants into the francophone mainstream as an alternative form of national self-assertion, Mr. Bérard said. “It’s less trouble to ban a veil than to have a referendum on independence.”

Although Quebec’s identitarian shift had local causes, it also happened in parallel with a move away from traditional definitions of left and right worldwide. Culture and identity have replaced economics as the main vectors of politics in much of the West, said Mark Fortier, a sociologist and publisher (as well as the author of a book about reading the work of Mathieu Bock-Côté, one of the main exponents of anti-wokeism in the mass-market Journal de Montréal newspaper).

If “les wokes” vs. “les Duplessistes” seems like a tempest in a Québécois teapot, then, it may be part of something bigger. Consider Brexit in the U.K. and the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S., Mr. Fortier said.

“It’s not just in Quebec … It’s the Quebec version of a phenomenon that traverses all liberal democracies.”

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Politics Chat: Democrats At Odds Over Government Spending – NPR

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Moderate and Progressive Congressional Democrats at odds over their party’s two big spending bills, plus a deadline for the debt limit looms this week.

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Politics Briefing: Canadian officials decline comment on resolution of Meng case, impact on two Michaels – The Globe and Mail

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Hello,

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Ian Bailey. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, is to appear virtually in federal court in New York Friday afternoon to resolve U.S. bank fraud charges against her.

But Ottawa bureau chief Robert Fife and senior parliamentary reporter Steven Chase report here that it is unclear if there is a side agreement with China that would free Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who have been imprisoned on charges of espionage since December, 2018.

The two men were arrested after Ms. Meng was detained at Vancouver International Airport on a U.S. extradition request.

Canadian government officials in Ottawa refused to discuss the legal development that is being handled by the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York.

Reporter’s Comment, Steven Chase: “The Globe and Mail broke the story of Ms. Meng’s Vancouver arrest in 2018, a development that was followed within days by the jailing of two Canadians in China: Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in what Canada has since called hostage diplomacy. The result was a deep freeze in Canada-China relations. The Globe also broke the news last week that talks had resumed with an eye to a settlement.

“A plea deal for Ms. Meng would allow her to return home but it’s far from certain China would swiftly reciprocate on the Michaels. Beijing has spent more than 2½ years arguing that there is no connection between the Meng case and the Michaels and defending the Chinese legal system as legitimate and above-board. For them to release the Michaels immediately would serve to confirm their critics’ accusations.”

This is a developing story. Please watch The Globe and Mail for updates.

There’s a Globe and Mail explainer here on China’s conviction and detention of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

ELECTION AFTERMATH:

O’TOOLE DEBATE CONTINUES – Some Conservatives, including former Ontario premier Mike Harris, are expressing support for federal Tory Leader Erin O’Toole, as others criticize the party’s election results. Story here.

VANCOUVER-GRANVILLE WINNER DECLARED – The race is over in the high-profile riding of Vancouver-Granville, formerly held by Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould. Her successor is Taleeb Noormohamed, for the Liberals. Story here, from CBC.

MEANWHILE

NEW DEFICIT INFO – The federal government ran a $12-billion deficit in the month of July, according to new Finance Department figures that provide a sense of the fiscal landscape as the re-elected minority Liberal government faces calls from premiers and opposition parties for billions in new spending.

CANADA STAND ON TRANS-PACIFIC TRADE DEAL – The Canadian government won’t offer any public support for applications by either Taiwan or China to join a Trans-Pacific trade agreement, saying it’s up to the 11-member pact to jointly decide on new admissions.

PROSPECTIVE NEW U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CANADA SPEAKS OUT – Joe Biden’s choice for the next ambassador to Ottawa says the U.S. is waiting for Justin Trudeau’s long-promised update to Canada’s China policy. David Cohen’s remarks Wednesday to a Senate hearing came amid fresh questions about the depth of the Trudeau government’s engagement with the U.S. President on China-related issues. From Politico. Story here. A copy of Mr. Cohen’s opening statement to the committee is here. Video of the hearing at which Mr. Cohen testified is here.

EX-LPC MP PLEADS GUILTY – Former Liberal MP Marwan Tabbara has pleaded guilty to two counts of assault and one of being unlawfully in a dwelling house in virtual courtroom on Thursday. From Global News. Story here.

U.K MILITARY OFFERS CANADA ARCTIC MILITARY HELP – Britain is signalling its interest in working with the Canadian military in the Arctic by offering to take part in cold-weather exercises and bring in some of its more advanced capabilities – such as nuclear-powered submarines – to help with surveillance and defence in the Far North. From CBC. Story here.

A HEAD-SCRATCHING MOMENT – CTV National News journalist Glen McGregor catches a political moment, involving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on video that defies easy explanation. See here.

PRIME MINISTER’S DAY

“Private meetings,” according to an advisory from the Prime Minister’s Office.

LEADERS

No schedules released for party leaders.

OPINION

John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail) on how the federal election revealed that Canada has never been more united in purpose: The United States has become so polarized it threatens to tear itself apart. Parties of the far right have become increasingly powerful in Europe. Canada is nothing like that, as the election proved. Our politicians howl over picayune differences. Elections are fought over the best way to deliver a new government program, rather than on whether such programs should exist. The consensus on everything that matters is deep and profound. It’s been a very long time since we were this united, if ever.”

Gary Mason (The Globe and Mail) on why Alberta Premier Jason Kenney should resign:A change in leader is the only hope the [United Conservative Party] has of holding on to power: a new leader, a new voice and mea culpas galore for the disastrous job the party has done since winning election in 2019. That pretty much has to be the only strategy. But we can never lose sight of the real story here. The real story is all the needless death from COVID-19 in Alberta caused by a government’s selfish desire to put politics ahead of the health and safety of the public. That is a scandal that should cost the person responsible for it his job. Mr. Kenney should do the honourable thing and resign.”

Tanya Talaga (The Globe and Mail) on why all Canadians should take Sept. 30 to observe National Truth and Reconciliation Day: “This year, Sept. 30 will mark the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and every Canadian should observe the federal statutory holiday. Put on an orange T-shirt to honour the survivors of those 139 so-called schools. Think about how Canada can bring about change. Reflect on how to bring loving homes free of mould and with clean water and full fridges to all First Nations communities that need them. Or high schools, for that matter. But we are only sort of recognizing the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, because it’s up to each provincial and territorial government, as well as individual businesses, to decide whether it will be an actual paid day off.”

Murray Mandryk (Regina Leader-Post/Saskatoon StarPhoenix) on Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe’s failure to explain issues in his eagerness to bash Justin Trudeau: “About the only things surprising in Moe’s Tuesday morning Trudeau bashing is: (a) we didn’t hear more of it during the campaign and; (b) there is a legitimate beef here, if you can get past Moe’s politicking and incoherent messaging.”

Send along your political questions and we will look at getting answers to run in this newsletter. It’s not possible to answer each one personally. Questions and answers will be edited for length and clarity.

Got a news tip that you’d like us to look into? E-mail us at tips@globeandmail.com. Need to share documents securely? Reach out via SecureDrop

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