“Because it’s 2015.” That’s all Justin Trudeau needed to explain his commitment to a gender-balanced federal cabinet. Canada’s recently elected Prime Minister promised during the election campaign that he would select a gender-balanced cabinet if he was elected, and he delivered. However, this promise was not met without opposition. Critics are arguing that Trudeau was mistaken to prioritize gender over other qualifications, such as merit or previous experience, when choosing his new cabinet, and are suggesting that better appointments could have been made.
But consider that for the first time in Canadian history, the appointed cabinet is now half female. Not only that, but it also features women in some of the most significant and influential ministerial posts. These choices are a significant move on Trudeau’s part to promote and encourage gender equality. This decision shows significant change from former Prime Minister Harper’s cabinet, which was made up of just 32% women . It is also worth noting that in the older, larger Conservative cabinet, most of the female ministers occupied Minister of State posts, which are junior positions compared to the regular Minister posts. Under Trudeau, more publically influential ministries such as the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of International Trade, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, and the Ministry of Health are now being run by female ministers.
While some people believe that the Cabinet should be a meritocracy, merit and work experience within a specialized field have never been, and never should be, the only factor taken into consideration when choosing ministers. Previous experience is not the only qualification for a cabinet post, nor is it the most important. In the majority of cabinet posts, the prior experiences of a minister are often insignificant; the ministers are briefed on their roles, responsibilities and any relevant information to operate their ministry. In fact, each government ministry includes public service officials, whose roles are to advise and give recommendations to the government in order to ensure that the government can make informed decisions. Experience, while a bonus, is rarely necessary.
Moreover, the federal cabinet is meant to be representative of the diverse population of Canada, including gender. Federal ministers are always reflective of population densities and settlement patterns, as governments are responsible for ensuring that the populations in each of the provinces and territories, as well as cultural minorities such as the First Nations, receive fair and equitable representation.Location representation is already one of the most significant factors considered when choosing the cabinet, and similarly it is important that both male and female citizens have fair representation. Often, if there is just one elected government MP from a specific province, they will be chosen as a minister to ensure regional representation in cabinet discussions and meetings. Gender is just as important a factor as languages, ethnicity, and culture, all of which are already considered in cabinet selection. There is no reason that gender should not be considered as well.
Moreover, even if merit were the predominant factor in the selection process, most of the recently appointed female ministers certainly do not lack in this department. All the new ministers are more than qualified to make their own decisions (which Trudeau, unlike his predecessor Stephen Harper, has permitted his ministers and foreign diplomats to do), with most possessing tremendous experience in their fields. For instance, the new Attorney General or Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould, has had extensive experience as a crown prosecutor, treaty commissioner, BCAFN regional chief, and was a lawyer before entering public service as a politician. The new Minister of Health, Jane Philpott, has worked as a family physician, a Chief of the Department at a hospital, and an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto in the Department of Family and Community Medicine. Critics claiming that these female ministers will lead less capable ministries clearly haven’t done their homework.
Canada’s new cabinet is gender-balanced, and there is no reason to complain. Just as the MPs’ riding locations are taken into consideration, so that the different cultures, languages and regions of Canada are reflected in the cabinet and their decisions, gender must also be considered so that both the male and female sides of the Canadian population are fairly and equally represented.