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New Post, New Opportunities for Maryam Monsef

The Trudeau government has elected to make the fall of Maryam Monsef—once their rising star, and still hometown hero to Peterborough’s progressives—a shuffle instead. I wrote in in September of 2016 that time would tell whether the electoral reform process was genuine or just democratic snake oil. As it turned out, Minister Monsef threw herself under the bus in an act of utmost unprofessionalism, choosing to push anti-intellectualism by lambasting the Gallagher index.

On January 9th, Monsef was removed from the post of Minister of Democratic Institutions and has replaced Patty Hadju as the minister on Status of Women. Progressives won’t view this as a demotion because to do so is to imply that the status of women is not important. Women are important, but the Status of Women portfolio has been a largely symbolic role in cabinets of the present and past. It may not be a demotion, but it is clear that Maryam Monsef was no longer capable of being the face of electoral reform, and this new position will be whatever she makes of it.

It was only as early as 2015 that the Status of Women cabinet position was elevated from a junior cabinet position to a full one. Established in 1971, for the first 9 years of its existence, the ministry was hilariously held by a man. Under the Harper administration the position was held by current Conservative party leader Rona Ambrose and the increasingly infamous Kellie Leitch. Leitch was known during her appointment for introducing the Barbaric Cultural Practices Hotline”, and is openly pro-life.

The actual functions of the Minister of Status of Women in Canada are simple at a glance but become vague upon further inspection. The Status of Women cabinet post was originally established to implement the policy prescriptions on the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, which confirmed what many knew to be true at the time: that a wage gap existed and that management positions were overwhelmingly held by men.

Unfortunately many of the same issues that existed in 1970 persist today, although recently there has been more attention put towards gender-based violence and a government strategy to combat it. The Status of Women office also offers grants to those who are looking to mitigate violence of women such as funding to women’s shelters and provides $20 million in grants annually. The Ministry of the Status of Women may not be directly undertaking the inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, but serves a vital role by supporting the inquiry and incorporating its findings into their own initiatives.

One of the ministry’s central functions is to be a watchdog on federal policy from a gender perspective. They are meant to be advocates for women within the upper echelons of government, and bring marginalized perspectives from the ground to the ears of the prime minister. They ensure that the policies of the government of the day do not contradict a mandate of protecting women. This is why Patty Hadju, someone who had worked in shelters and has seen violence against women first hand, was such a great pick for the Status of Women position.

This does not mean that Monsef cannot fill this role. Whether or not it was herself or the liberal party who created more harm than help with the electoral reform process is a moot question. It is clear that she wasn’t ready for the post. But then, federal governments have never taken electoral reform seriously. Maybe the next attempt will be pursued more genuinely.

A Status of Women cabinet post may suit Monsef better. She will be drawing upon her experience from founding the Red Pashmina campaign. During her stint as Minister of Democratic Institutions, she was at the very least, confrontational. This is the demeanor necessary for a Status of Women minister to be the head of an effective watchdog. Luckily, Maryam Monsef is not being swept under the rug as a failed experiment by the Liberal Party, although in no way should she be absolved of her failure to reform Canadian democracy. It is up to the minister to adapt more quickly to her new post than she did her last.

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