The Premier of Women’s Equality

This commentary was first published by the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal on November 15, 2014.

Premier Brian Gallant is Minister responsible for Women’s Equality. This is a return to the original New Brunswick practice of having the Premier responsible for that portfolio.

When this was announced, someone tweeted, “A man!?”. To which I replied that I prefer the Minister responsible for this issue to be the Premier, and I’d also love for the Premier to be a woman. Women’s Equality gains in importance from it being the Premier’s responsibility, but the main reason is that bringing about equality requires an overarching approach due to the number of policy areas implicated.

To explain his decision, Premier Gallant said, « I believe that taking on women’s equality in the premier’s office shows it is something that will be at the forefront of our government.”

The first issue that he is expected to deliver on, because he said he would do so ‘swiftly’ upon election, is to identify and remove all the barriers to access to abortion services. The window for “swiftly” may be starting to close. Fortunately, the remedy can be quick. Abolish the political criteria for this medical procedure and ensure abortions are available, like all medical procedures, under the most appropriate care in the most appropriate setting.

What will take longer are the larger related issues: All the other reproductive health matters that New Brunswick has been neglecting, and paying for, including high teenage birth rates, midwifery services and sexual health services. If reproductive health includes being able to have the number of children you want, I say affordability of quality child care is also a reproductive health issue, but I know that the more persuasive argument for such child care is the economic stimulus effect it has.

The Premier must also do something soon about the no-see-um “Voices of Women”, which was supposed to compensate for the abolition of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women. “Voices” has yet to be heard on any issue, though the nine months since the members’ appointment have been full of matters affecting New Brunswick women. Mr. Gallant may well choose to do something different than continue with this format – the previous government’s choices and Voices’ inaction certainly make it easy to question Voices’ standing as an independent agency with authority, and ability, to act on the interests of women.

Mr. Gallant will also have to correct the egregious method used to calculate pay equity adjustments for the last seven years in New Brunswick. Do it right or don’t do it at all, as they say in my neighbourhood.

I mostly look forward – meaning I cross my fingers and hope it is done right – to the implementation of the Liberal platform promise to include gender-based analyses as part of routine policy development. That means not wasting time and money pretending everyone is the same.

One thing Premier Gallant does not have to worry much about is the Opposition critic for Women’s Equality, MLA Dorothy Shephard. On the day in 2011 when the Advisory Council on the Status of Women was abolished by her party, she stood in the Legislature to deliver a strange speech. “I understand that women across the province were surprised by this decision… Change can be scary, and it is often met with opposition. Nellie McClung met with opposition when she petitioned to give all Canadian women the right to vote, but this change was a good change. Agnes Macphail was met with opposition when she put her name on the federal ballot. She became the first woman elected to Parliament. It was a big change, but it was a good change. When Emily Murphy became the first woman appointed as a magistrate in Canada… it was a big change…”

It is not uncommon for public personages to try be witty without the benefit of wit, but that speech is in its own class of weird. Oh well, she is no longer on the government side.
Change is good. I hope.


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