Marqué : Politics

Who’s Afraid of Women in the House?

The following commentary was first published by the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal on March 8, 2017.

A hundred years ago, New Brunswick women couldn’t vote. No, this is not going to be about how women today are lucky and better off, or even thankful.

In 1917, women, who had been agitating for several decades already for the right to vote in New Brunswick, had their hopes up. They thought 1917 would be the year, given their war effort and that women from five other provinces had gained it. When a suffrage bill was proposed, women “flocked in such numbers to the Halls of Legislation that they had the Hall itself and the members went to the gallery”, according to the minutes of the Women’s Enfranchisement Association of the times.

But that bill was defeated like others before it, due to indifference and political gamesmanship. Women’s suffrage was a chip in a play between parties. Some would say a political tradition to this day. But on that day in 1917, in a Legislature corridor, women mobbed – terrorized, according to some – some elected members. The 1917 “fiasco” got the political class to see the writing on the wall and New Brunswick women eventually won the vote in 1919. Though women elsewhere usually obtained the right to run for elected office at the same time as the right to vote, in New Brunswick it was another 15 years before that was granted (the idea of women in the House having caused such jocularity when it was suggested).

New Brunswick cannot claim that it has shown a particular appreciation of women or women’s rights in our history. Not that we are significantly worse than other regions, but we’ve managed to make sure we are no better.

These days, we have had the lowest proportion in Canada of elected female members to the provincial legislature for years, though recently Prince Edward Island took over that category. Not because we improved, but because their rate worsened.  Our Legislature is now 84 percent male. It has been as low as 82 percent. It goes up and down from tragic to marginally less pathetic. Who deserves 84 percent of the seats when they are 49 percent of the population? If you think the Legislature has so many males because of the merit principle, go sit in on the goings on at the Legislature.

Women’s low representation is not seen as a problem since there have been no attempts to change it, other than the incantations heard from the political parties before every election: “We really, really want more women.”

Here’s the thing: political parties are gatekeepers, and they receive significant public funding. They have a responsibility to act and for decades now, plenty of examples from around the world of what works. But the government has the main responsibility to act.

In 2003, when the New Brunswick government created the Commission on Legislative Democracy “to strengthen and modernize New Brunswick’s democratic institutions”, its mandate did not include women’s quasi-absence from our Legislature. However, the Commission’s final report, which has been lauded nationally, included a good discussion of the problem and of the levers that must be worked to increase women’s representation and improve democracy.

The Commission gave New Brunswick a plan that could have had us reach 35 percent female MLAs by now. The annual allowance that government gives to political parties would have been increased by $1 per vote for any party where males were no more than two-thirds of candidates. The Commission also recommended that government assist groups to encourage women to get into politics.

New Brunswick is a great place to live. New Brunswickers are kind, plain folks. If only we did our politics more responsibly. That goes for everywhere these days.


Ask me what I want for IWD

(In March 2000, I wrote this text for publication in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal. Thought about it today when someone asked how I was going to celebrate this damn day.  I would today change somewhat the list of what it would take to make me celebrate it, but heh, blast from the past)


If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention

Every year around March 8, International Women’s Day, during the many years I was with the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, some reporter would call to ask, “Why do we need a special day as International Women’s Day?”

“To celebrate…,” I would answer.  “To honour…blah,blah … like Labour Day and Mothers’ Day.” (Actually, he was thinking, “Didn’t we do this last year?” and I was thinking, “Couldn’t you think of anything better since last year? If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”)

But seriously, if I were Queen of the World, I would abolish March 8, International Women’s Day.  On March 9, I would increase the minimum wage to the minimum needed to live at poverty line.  (Fill in the blank: “I believe people who work full-time at minimum wage should be paid less than poverty level because…”) .

I would make schools into community centres with non-profit day care centres, senior centres and youth clubs, which would pretty much end the use of malls as hang outs.

I would revamp the criminal justice system: sentences for crimes against persons would be as severe as those for crimes against property.

I would rewrite the electoral laws.  Anyone wanting to run as a candidate would have to file proof of having sat in a hospital waiting room with a sick child or relative, and a video of them giving the same speech to parents, entrepreneurs, men, women, corporations, unions.

After having served their elected term, politicians would have to either serve time as a social assistance recipient, or as a seasonal part-time split-shift black-hole worker, or actually “spend more time with their family”.

I would require all teenage girls who say, “I’m not a feminist” to write an essay, “Why I believe it’s okay that women earn two-thirds of every dollar men earn” or alternatively, “ I think my future partner should take my name because…”

I would legislate that secretaries should be paid more than janitors, day care workers should be paid more than zookeepers and no one in any corporation or government should earn more than double that of their lowest paid worker.

I would organize a raffle to help pay the tax bill of professional sports (did I mention what would happen to their tax bill?). The raffle prizes would be:

First prize: You get time with loved ones – the rarest commodity.

Second prize: You get to follow a politician or a corporation president of your choice as they try to live on minimum wage for a month – Okay, a week: a month would be cruel.

Third prize: Receive the average wage gap between women and men – yes, you could live on it.

I would have a curfew a few times a month: only women over the age of 65 would be allowed out – do you know how often women that age see the stars and feel free to roam the night?

Employers who fired women because they were pregnant would have to pay child support.

If I were Queen, food banks would be abolished. An emergency committee would be struck – not to deal with the poor, for whom economic and social programs would provide – but to deal with those for whom paying taxes didn’t fulfil their need to be benefactors.

I would end affirmative action programs for men: they would have access to 50 percent of government appointments and elected positions. (You know the drill. In 250 words or less, “Why I believe men should have more than half of the appointments…”)

Then I would rest.  That’s when I would celebrate Women’s Day.


What I loved about 2016

The following text was written following my participation in the CBC NB year-end political panel on Shift radio program, December 30, 2016.

I don’t submit well to all exercises. Year-end reviews for example. Year-end reviews are influenced by news headlines which necessarily focus on recent political or legal events and often, also necessarily, negative events like terrorism attacks and natural disasters. It doesn’t seem the right moment to raise long-term trends for how things are going, but that’s what I’m wanting to do.  What made the year tolerable was the knowledge that the bigger picture shows a somewhat different reality than recent events.

The trials and madness of the daily news – especially the tragedy that is becoming the United States – are easier to take knowing that some things have been going in the right direction. There are fewer wars in the world than most other times in history. More than 90% of children in the world are learning to read and write. One out of two humans in the world lives in a democracy. Women have more power, education and rights than ever. World population growth has slowed to a fraction of 1% annually. Extreme poverty in the world has now fallen below 10%. Those are firsts. For as long as such progress continues, and there is no guarantee it will, we improve chances of dealing with the difficulties, such as wars, looting leaders, climate change, fanatic religions. It’s what I loved about 2016.

Having said that, here are some of the trials and madness of 2016 in New Brunswick:

The issue that was there every time I looked up, especially if I was walking around Fredericton, was bilingualism, most often the anti-bilingualism forces. The world is blaming Mr. Trump for his use of fake news, online funny stuff, made-up statistics, but I think New Brunswick haters should get some credit for doing it first. The made-up stories were everywhere about who did or said what, about the percentage of civil service jobs that require bilingualism, about the dollars potentially saved from combining school buses or doing away with duality, or was that doing away with Acadians.  The federal minister for Official Languages just did a cross-Canada consultation on official languages and she said that it was the consultation in Moncton that attracted the most anti-bilingualism forces. Through most of the year the provincial government avoided playing its role on the issue – not defending its policies, not calming the rhetoric and the hate, attacking the Official Languages Commissioner, openly disrespecting her report before and after it was released, telling her that her role is to be a cheerleader not an auditor. Then in September, there was Brian Gallant’s coming out, his saying he is an Acadian, and that New Brunswick’s experience with French-English cohabitation is reasonable. That week, the government spoke and acted responsibly. We shall see if they are consistent on this issue.

The court decision last April that it is unconstitutional to forbid bringing in liquor from other provinces was an important one that will make news again next year. The court decision was the result of the happy circumstance of a determined client, a bright lawyer and a lower court judge who delivered a thesis of a decision – it takes three hours to read. Next year hopefully the Supreme Court will speak on the case, but expect repercussions on similar cases and on other interprovincial trade.

Blaine Higgs’s election to lead the “Progressive” Conservative Party was a surprise of the “all that for that?” sort. Blast from the past. The party doesn’t look like a 21st century party. It actually doesn’t feel like a provincial party.

No, Mr. Gallant, your problem is not that your government has not communicated well about your effort to change the Judicature Act. The problem is that you have not communicated. What is the problem that this is a solution to? Of all the issues in the province that need attention, why is this one getting attention?  If we were handing out stupidity awards, this would get it along with the provincial government’s seemingly natural revulsion for all its independent agencies like the Auditor General, Ombudsman, Official Languages Commissioner etc. You do know, I hope, that these agencies and their commissioners (and judges, by the way) are held in higher esteem by New Brunswickers than are politicians. Oh and give one of those awards to Liquor NB for wanting to sue the Right to Information Commissioner because she wanted information.

If you want to know what will happen in 2017, I will tell you.

Opposition leaders will not like one idea in any Speech from the throne anywhere, and that will still make headlines.

Around the world, people will do terrible things out of love for their god, not caring that that love is not reciprocated.

Women will break some glass ceilings, climb through and someone will raise the ladder behind them.

Many will worry and bemoan NB’s weak performance in various things but no one will worry about the historic hold and ongoing influence of large corporations and fortunes on our economy, politics, and public debates.

Our apathy will prove to be our enemy, once again.

The winners in 2017 will be the ones among us who can find a way to handle news from the United States without giving up on humanity, democracy, or worse, giving up our responsibilities as citizens to keep informed and think critically.


Moi, Trumpette ?

Qui dirait qu’un événement si malheureux, si potentiellement catastrophique que l’élection de Donald Trump pourrait avoir des bénéfices ?  S’il y en a, ils ne valent ni n’excusent ce qui s’en vient. Mais alors que, des jours après l’élection, j’étais toujours dans la déprime et la torpeur, je me suis dit, fais une liste de ce qui pourrait ressortir comme positif de cette catastrophe. Pis brûle un lampion.

  • La marque « États-Unis » va perdre du brillant. (J’allais dire perdre des plumes mais l’ « aigle » américain est probablement occupé à aiguiser ses talons, donc évitons cette métaphore.) Déjà, l’ampleur de la réaction au geste irresponsable des États-Uniens, les moqueries, les railleries, les écrits brillants de gens d’ailleurs- c’est du jamais vu, et c’est de quoi on ne se remet pas facilement. C’est positif parce que leur image devait être mise à jour.
  • Le parti ‘Democrat’ va peut-être se refaire en un parti qui offre une alternative plus alternative. S’il le faut. Peut-être. S’ils ne trouvent pas d’autre moyen de se faire élire.
  • Les simples d’esprit qui ont voté pour cette personne parce qu’ils se sentent lésés et ignorés dernièrement vont voir qu’il n’y a pas d’avenir dans la haine – pas d’emploi pour tous, pas de paix, pas de rebondissement économique, pas de fierté « nationale », pas d’honneur. Ils vont voir la réalité qu’on ne montre pas dans la téléréalité – que M. Trump est un bluffant, qu’il n’est pas politicien, pas un homme d’État, pas un démocrate. Pire, il ne peut pas livrer la marchandise.
  • Les pays qui sont « great » le sont parce que leurs systèmes fonctionnent, parce que d’autres le pensent, parce que des autorités reconnues et indépendantes le disent. Les chances sont grandes qu’il va « Make America sorry again »
  • C’est un moment extrêmement propice à l’enseignement – tsé, comme après un accident de la route causé par l’inattention.
  • Enfin, – et là je niaise et rêve en couleur parce que j’ai toujours voulu porter des accusations contre les « citoyens » qui ne votent pas – les États-uniens qui n’ont pas voté seront peut-être accusés de manque au code de citoyen, de non-respect de l’obligation de maintenir la paix, de non-assistance à personne en danger, de ne pas honorer leurs ancêtres et l’honneur de l’humanité.

Excu-u-use me si vous n’êtes pas bilingue

J’ai probablement mal compris ou je ne devrais pas les prendre au mot, mais je crois entendre une note nouvelle dans le ronron des revendications de ceux qui sont contre le bilinguisme au Nouveau-Brunswick.

Je crois comprendre que certains de ces gens dénoncent la politique de bilinguisme parce que peu d’anglophones sont bilingues. Le dernier à présenter cet argument est le nouveau chef du parti conservateur, Blaine Higgs, qui a dit à l’Acadie Nouvelle la semaine dernière, « Quand 70% de tes enfants (anglophones) dans le système scolaire obtiennent leur diplôme sans parler les deux langues officielles, ils sortent de l’école avec une main attachée dans le dos. Ça ne peut pas être ça la vision de départ (du bilinguisme officiel). Et c’est ça qui provoque des émotions. »

Ces derniers mois, plusieurs autres anglophones unilingues ont avancé cette objection. Certains disent ensuite que c’est là la preuve que le bilinguisme ne marche pas et qu’il faut soit l’abolir, ou leur donner des emplois dans la fonction publique parce que tout Néo-brunswickois a droit à un poste de fonctionnaire, ou au moins les laisser embarquer pour une ride dans les autobus scolaires des petits francophones. Pardon, j’ai de la misère à suivre leurs arguments mais c’est quelque chose comme ça.

Well, excuse me si vous n’êtes pas bilingue. Ç’aurait peut-être affaire au fait que vous ne l’avez pas revendiqué ? Peut-être ça affaire au fait que le discours ambiant des anglophones de la province était depuis toujours que « French is being rammed down our throat » ? On doit présumer que ça ce n’était pas vrai ? Peut-être si la motivation pour l’inscription de ses enfants à l’immersion était plus saine et forte, et si l’engagement à une province bilingue était plus réel, vous auriez une panoplie d’options pour devenir bilingue. Je suis d’accord que vos services d’immersion sont peu glorieux – j’ai rarement vu un jeune qui en sort avec qui je peux avoir une petite conversation en français qui n’est pas pénible à mourir.

En tout cas, vous n’aviez qu’à vous organiser pour revendiquer des services. Bravo si vous le faites maintenant. Ce n’est point la faute des Acadiens ou notre responsabilité de le faire pour vous. Ça s’appelle la dualité…

Ah, pis en passant le but de la politique de bilinguisme n’était pas de vous rendre bilingue. You can look it up. C’était que le gouvernement traite de manière respectueuse avec tous les citoyens, pardon, contribuables.

Si je n’ai pas tout mal compris et ils veulent devenir bilingue par amour pour le français, pour le Nouveau-Brunswick, le Québec, la France et les Acadiens, je leur souhaite bonne chance et bon apprentissage. Ce que je ne leur souhaite pas, c’est de découvrir la meilleure façon que j’aie trouvé pour apprendre une autre langue : n’avoir pas de service dans ta langue.

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. Lire la suite

Will you still need me when I’m 36?

A slightly different version of this commentary was published by the Telegraph Journal on October 18, 2014.

What will four years bring for that nice young man we just elected?

Brian Gallant can succeed, but only to the extent that he breaks with recent traditions of New Brunswick governments. If he does that, he’ll likely increase his chances of being re-elected, thereby breaking the electorate’s new tradition of one-term governments.

He will have to pay as much attention to process as to content. He will have to resist micro-managing and instead respect and use the civil service properly. He will have to retool the civil service so they can once again give evidence-based policy advice, so that there is once again a difference between them and executive assistants – in their advice and in their hiring process.

He will have to resist those who have much wanting more.
He will have to stop demonizing taxes and use them smartly.
He will have to resist wanting to do a grand gesture solely to leave his stamp.
He will have to communicate with us. We have to have the sense that he has heard us, that he is being straight. He will have to tell us stuff, including about errors by him and his, before they become mistakes, and including when public opinion is wrong. We can think these things through. We’re not stupid. We’re just treated that way.

And for sake, he should deliver the State of the Province address to people, not the Chamber of Commerce.

He will have to reinvent “public consultations” – to make us forget the egregious use made of that term by previous governments, which have mainly consisted of anonymous, internet, choreographed or by-invitation-only consultations and ‘summits’. Lire la suite

Do you like your politics same-sex or opposite-sex?

This commentary was first published in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal October 6, 2014.

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party to fix the problem that the party is mostly men. Good men but hey, there’s stuff you haven’t lived, and this is not a same-sex democracy. And frankly, some of you are there because you are men.

Now is the time to change things, early in a new government term. The tradition is to wait until just a couple of months before a provincial election, and reporters ask you whether there will be more women running for your party, and you say, we really, really want more women. Then, it’s too late. And you can’t say that anymore. You’ve been saying that since 1935, when New Brunswick women were first allowed to run as candidates. It’s old. Psychiatrists have a word for people who do the same thing over and over and expect different results.

This is not a same-sex democracy, so your party needs women. Fortunately, there are a lot of good women. Many of them are looking at you, not impressed. And fortunately, it is possible for parties to become more diversified – all the other provinces are doing better than New Brunswick, as are most countries.
Political parties are gatekeepers to the Legislature, plus they receive significant public funding, so they have a responsibility to act, and we have a responsibility to demand it.
However, it’s not just a party problem. The government has the main responsibility to act, especially since the New Brunswick legislature is spectacularly lacking in diversity. Before last month’s election, about 90% of the seats were occupied by men. Now it’s 84%. In the past, it’s been as low as 82% male. It goes up and down like that, from tragic to marginally less pathetic.

The government has a responsibility to enhance democracy. I mean, who deserves 84 percent of the seats when they are 49 percent of the population? If you think our Legislature has so many males because candidates are chosen on merit and women don’t make the grade, then let me doubt that your female ancestors are proud of you, and that you really value democracy. And I’ll bet you’ve never sat in on the goings on at the Legislature. Lire la suite