On the Margins?

The federal election campaign is in full swing, but with two more months until voting day, that “campaign swing” will probably be more of a “campaign stagger,” as hustings-weary candidates, parties and Canadian voters head to the finish line on October 19.  

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If we can believe all the pundits and non-stop media coverage, this election is becoming more of a three-way race between Conservatives, NDP and Liberals, with anticipated gains by the Greens on the West Coast, and a slight lead in the polls by the NDP at the time of writing this post.

The “ghost of Senate past,” disgraced Senator Mike Duffy, continues to haunt Mr. Harper on the campaign trail, as Duffy’s trial for alleged fraud, breach of trust and bribery plays out in the Court and national media.  Voters will ultimately decide if this trial is merely a distraction during what will be the longest federal election campaign in Canadian history, or a decisive issue that still resonates on voting day.  In politics, however, timing is everything and one wonders if Mr. Harper’s questionable judgement is just limited to Senate appointments.

The Duffy trial must feel like an albatross that Mr. Harper and Conservative candidates must drag to every campaign event, and I believe that the Duffy trial, however it ends, may jeopardize the Conservatives’ attempt at another majority, if and only if, the Canadian public can still recall all the details after the middle of September, when voters are beginning to tune into the campaign.  Unfortunately, the trial will be recessed at the end of August and will not conclude until after the October 19 federal election.  Again, timing is everything.

If timing in politics is everything, then so are declared Party campaign platforms and policies.  And lacking prominence in this federal election campaign are women’s issues and Aboriginal issues, which could spell trouble for leaders and Parties hoping to make gains with female and Aboriginal voters.  In addition to human rights, natural justice and legal considerations, political Parties and candidates should be reminded, that the health of regional, provincial and national economies is influenced by the economic well-being of women and Aboriginal people throughout Canada.

For instance, women are reported to be among the fastest growing population of Canadian small business owners and for Aboriginal communities, many of them control and have inherent rights to territorial lands that include valuable natural resources  https://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/14246/index.do — both groups represent “hard to ignore” implications for our economy and Canada’s GDP.

At over half of the Canadian population (50.4%) according to 2010 Stats Can figures, females have held onto this majority for the past 30 years.  And if we can rely on statistical projections, by 2031, there will be 21.2M girls and women populating this country.  Not surprising, in 2010, Ontario (39%), Quebec (23%), British Columbia (13%) and Alberta (11%) had the largest percentage of female populations in the country, with more than half living in metropolitan areas.  As for Aboriginal girls and women, their numbers grew by 20% between 2001 and 2006, with Canada’s Aboriginal population estimated as the fastest growing among all groups (Statistics Canada 2010, Catalogue No. 91-520-x, “Population Projections for Canada, the Provinces and Territories”).

In fact, many women and men are signing a petition sponsored by the Up for Debate coalition, a network of more than 175 women’s organizations across Canada.  More locally, University of Victoria political science grad Michael McDonald has developed a voter’s guide, commissioned by the International Women’s Rights Project, a NGO that advocates for women’s rights in partnership with the Up for Debate coalition.

In a recent Oak Bay News article (August 14, 2015 edition), Mr. McDonald was quoted as saying “We have issues that affect 50 per cent of the population [who] are largely left out of the conversation.”  The Up for Debate petition is making the rounds on social media and the voter’s guide is available online at  https://www.change.org/p/federal-party-leaders-join-an-election-debate-that-speaks-to-women-upfordebate  The guide also includes a “Questions for Candidates” feature attached to each issue, asking candidates to explain how they will address the issues if elected.

In the last few months, a variety of articles written about women’s issues in this election (and beyond) suggest that they are not fully or fairly included at federal government policy tables and in major political Party platforms.  To overlook women’s issues is to ignore their unique needs, such as adequate and affordable child care, pay equity, accessible and affordable education and training, affordable and supportive housing, adequate health care and benefits and effective social programs and services.

As a result, key policy questions come to mind — when will the federal government develop and adopt a national child care program, when will a national affordable housing strategy be developed and implemented and when will Aboriginal leaders be equal partners in federal government decision-making?

Aboriginal issues and needs, while long-standing, troubling and complex, should be reflected in relevant policy announcements by all major Parties and their candidates, given that 2015 brought to Canadians the Truth and Reconciliation Commission findings.  Years in the making, these significant findings and recommendations shine a bright light on the history and plight of many of our Aboriginal communities, especially for on-reserve populations.  For example, in the context of grinding poverty, many reserves lack decent, safe and accessible housing, access to potable water, effective and relevant social and health services, responsive education, training and employment programs and local economic opportunities.

For Aboriginal populations living off-reserve, they face additional hardships because the majority gravitate to metropolitan centres.  For many, living in a Canadian city can create a sense of loss of community, language, family and identity, leading many to disenfranchised experiences that include substance abuse, homelessness and poverty.  And for Aboriginal women living off-reserve in urban centres, we have learned that they are especially vulnerable and at risk as victims of violent crime.  The number of unsolved cases of missing Aboriginal girls and women in Canada is a national tragedy.

I am hopeful that all major Parties and candidates in this federal election campaign will authentically engage women and Aboriginal people across Canada, in meaningful consultation that informs new public policy and enhances the future of these two groups.  I believe that this federal election campaign provides obvious and significant opportunities, to develop working relationships and partnerships, that address inequity and inequality, harsh realities for many women, Aboriginal people and their families.

In this 2015 federal election campaign, I believe the time for talk is long over and now, Canadians expect compassionate action on these important social justice issues.  As former Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Joe Clark, observed in his book How We Lead:  Canada in a Century of Change, “Canada now talks more than we act, and our tone is almost adolescent.”

** Note:  I have had the privilege of working with women’s groups, Aboriginal communities, families and individuals on the margins of our society, during a 30+ year career in criminal justice, post-secondary education, K-12 education and as a consultant and volunteer.