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ANDREW COHEN: Canada's environmentalists, feminists must stop demanding political perfection

Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, April 10, 2019. – Chris Wattie
Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, April 10, 2019. – Chris Wattie - Reuters

When Voltaire wrote that perfection is the enemy of the good, he was surely speaking of Rachel Notley and the environmentalists. Or Justin Trudeau and the feminists.

Of course he was, even in 1770. Two hundred and fifty years ago, you see, Voltaire could predict the political future of Canada, even as he dismissed it as “a few acres of snow.”

But perfection is what critics demand. In Alberta, the environmentalists went after the New Democrats who imposed a carbon tax, promised to phase out coal and wanted to expand a pipeline broadly supported by Indigenous Peoples.

As Tristin Hopper writes in The National Post, this brought lawsuits, street protests and threats from the government of British Columbia. And what did that yield? Why, the defeat of the New Democrats and the election of the Conservatives, who will repeal said carbon tax.

As Hopper says: Nice work, friends. Now you can deal with Jason Kenney and those who reject climate change. Good luck.

There is the same contradiction among feminists unhappy with Trudeau’s treatment of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott. Now some feminists are in league with the Conservatives, condemning Trudeau’s “fake feminism.”

None talks about the government’s pay equity legislation, the first violence-against-women strategy, increased child care spaces and the establishment of an Employment Insurance Parental Sharing Benefit to encourage the sharing of parental leave.

Of course not. That would be inconvenient.

This woolly minded crowd finds its reflection in a shallow piece by Katherine Laidlaw in The Atlantic (“Justin Trudeau’s Feminist Brand is Imploding”). Her conclusion: “For Canadian women who want to use their vote to ensure an equal seat at the governance table, no major party in their country can offer them even that.”

Actually, that’s exactly what the Liberals are offering women.

Laidlaw artfully ignores senior women ministers in the gender-parity cabinet. She notes that Wilson-Raybould was replaced by “a white male,” which David Lametti certainly is. (Though the composition of cabinet remains equal, Lametti is far more qualified than Wilson-Raybould, whose deficiencies as justice minister were clear in the legal world long before SNC Lavalin).

To the purveyors of perfection, senior women in cabinet are not good enough. Malliga Och, an American academic, declared confidently in 2017 that only Wilson-Raybould held “a senior portfolio in Trudeau’s initial cabinet.”

That’s ridiculous. The 15 women in that cabinet included ministers of the environment, health, heritage, international trade and Indigenous affairs. They were assigned the government’s most critical issues: addressing global warming and the legalization of cannabis, protecting Canadian culture, developing free trade with Europe and Asia, creating a new relationship with Indigenous Peoples.

Today, women are still running Health and Environment, as well as Foreign Affairs and Treasury Board. These aren’t tokens or tin soldiers, they are managing the biggest files: Chrystia Freeland on relations with the United States; Catherine McKenna implementing a price on pollution as the government’s leading voice on global warming; Ginette Petitpas Taylor shaping pharmacare; Joyce Murray overseeing the operations of government; Marie-Claude Bibeau dealing with China in agriculture, the first woman in that position.

As John Geddes reports in Maclean’s , 49 per cent of this government’s appointments have been women. It has appointed women to run the CBC, Telefilm Canada and the RCMP, which is groundbreaking, given its troubled history with women. It has appointed a woman governor-general and woman justice to the Supreme Court of Canada.

It has more women deputy ministers – 39 in 2018, up from 30 in 2015 under the Conservatives. More women are ambassadors in senior posts, such as Paris and London; indeed, 46 per cent of heads of mission are women.

Under Stephen Harper, there was no gender-parity cabinet, and about one-third of appointments across government were women. In 2015, 31 per cent of heads of mission were women.

Of course, critics of the government’s treatment of women are free to ignore all this. And now the feminists can do in Ottawa what the environmentalists did in Edmonton. Let’s see how well that works out for them.

Andrew Cohen is a journalist, professor and author of Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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