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September 28, 2008

Stephen Harper: What About Those Promises You Made to Canadian Women the Last Time Around?

Dear Stephen Harper:

During the last election, you promised to promote women's equality. (Here's what you said, just in case this tiny little detail has slipped your mind.)

"Yes. I'm willing to support women's human rights and I agree that Canada has more to do to meet its international obligations to women's equality. If elected, I will take concrete and immediate measures, as recommended by the United Nations, to ensure that Canada fully upholds its commitments to women in Canada."
- Stephen Harper, January 18, 2006  

Well, Mr. Prime Minister, you certainly have a funny way of honoring that promise.

Given that the United Nations has told its member nations that public policy won't begin to reflect women's priorities until at least 30 to 35 percent of Canadian Members of Parliament are women, you'd think you would be taking a leadership role in encouraging more women from your party to run in this election -- and not just in ridings that are pretty much likely to fall to other parties, of course. That doesn't seem to have been your plan in this election, however. Here's how the numbers add up. It's not a pretty picture, is it? And it's certainly not what you'd expect from the leader of a party who promised, during the last election, to promote women's equality in this country:

  • GraffitigirlPercentage of female candidates amongst all candidates running for the Conservative Party: 20.5 per cent
  • Rank of the Conservative Party when it comes to running female candidates: 5th
  • Number of women candidates running for the Liberal Party in this election: 112 (or 36.6 per cent)
  • Rank of the Liberal Party when it comes to parties running female candidates: 1st

Here's something else that makes me wonder about your commitment to women's equality: the way you wrenched "political equality" out of the mandate of Status of Women Canada and chopped 43 percent of the organization's funding (a measly $5 million to your government but enough money to force the organization to close 12 of its 16 regional offices across the country). Your government also told applicants seeking funding under the Women's Program administered by Status of Women Canada that the Government of Canada was no longer funding research or advocacy work into the causes of women's inequality in this country -- activities that had led to significant progress and reforms over the years.The message that Canadian women got was that the problem was solved. We were already equal enough.

Those $5 million dollars have since been restored, as a result of a huge public outcry, but advocacy work is still off-limits to anyone seeking SWC Women's Program money. And, just as worrisome to many Canadians, the Court Challenges Program did not get its funding reinstated.

"Without funding for women's equality advocacy work, women's essential inequality remains entrenched in Canadian and Qu├ębec culture," noted The Ad Hoc Coalition for Women's Equality and Human Rights in "Women's Equality and Human Rights," a chapter in The Harper Record -- available for download from the CCPC, free of charge).

"In the eyes of many observers, the minority Conservative government appeared bent on silencing a diverse range of governmental and non-governmental organizations that had, over the course of a generation, advocated for citizenship equality both in the courts and in the policy process," noted activist and social theorist Janine Brodie (quoted in the same source).

At the same time, your Minister of Finance, Jim Flaherty, has some strange ideas about what it means to include women in budget consultations. This leaves progressive Canadians -- both men and women -- wondering why you even bother talking the talk about doing all these fabulous things for the Canadian woman voter when it is blatantly obvious that you've never even considered walking the walk.

You seem to be having a hard time keeping your promises, Stephen Harper. And a lot of people are using ugly words to describe broken promises. They're calling them everything from mistruths to twisted truths to out-and-out-lies.

I don't think that's how you wanted to be perceived when you slipped into that fuzzy blue sweater and talked about how important your family is to you -- how much you love being a family man and a father. Unfortunately, that's all just political spin when Canadian women have your political record to reflect upon between now and election day. It makes for fascinating reading -- as an exercise in contrasts: words spoken, actions not taken, promises not kept.

You are a man of mystery, Stephen Harper: that I'll give you. That's why I spend so much time keeping track of what you're doing and saying (because often they're not the same thing). Politics wasn't nearly this fascinating before you came to power.

Before you were elected, I had a good idea what I could expect from the Canadian government: I could sleep well knowing that they stood for my vision of Canada -- that I knew what was on their agenda. Now I haven't got a clue.

Meet you at the ballot box on October 14th.

One Woman in Peterborough Riding

Harper's No Ladies' Man
The Ad Hoc Coalition for Women's Equality: Resources
CRIAW: New Federal Policies Affecting Women's Equality: Reality Check (tip sheet available in .pdf and html on this site)
44 posts in this blog related to women's issues


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Excellent post with lots of informative links. I always suspected that Harper's reference to fighting for women's human rights internationally in the last election was a shout out to his mentor GW Bush. The Bush administration used that meme to justify the Afghanistan invasion. Beyond using women as an excuse to wage war, neither Harper or Bush give a crap about women's rights.

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