Humbug to sex parity in cabinet

Élection du 8 décembre 2008 - Résultats

When will men begin to understand that gender-based appointments are an insult to women?
Last week, Quebec Premier Jean Charest chose an equal number of men and women for his new cabinet. Since Mr. Charest's previous cabinet, in 2007, was based on numerical parity between the genders, this might become an inescapable convention that will bind future premiers. Indeed, it would be unfathomable for Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois, if she ever succeeds Mr. Charest and becomes Quebec's first female premier, not to follow suit.
This development is being touted as a progressive move by Mr. Charest. It certainly added a touch of gloss to what would have been a rather lacklustre event, since most senior cabinet ministers were simply given their former posts. But it's sending our governments down a very bad path, because it means that some of these appointments will be made regardless of merit and qualifications.
Far from being progressive, these gender-based cabinet appointments are a throwback to the 1980s, when some feminists called for reverse discrimination because women were so clearly disadvantaged. But such condescension is unjustifiable nowadays, with a majority of university graduates being female and with so many women occupying leadership functions in various fields. Educated, middle-class women don't need this kind of encouragement. Those who do need help are the uneducated women who lack good jobs and self-confidence.
The Liberal caucus in Quebec City has 44 men, including the Premier, and 22 women. This means that each female MNA had more or less double the chance of being appointed to the cabinet than her male colleague. That is blatantly unfair.
As it is, Mr. Charest's best ministers are women: Monique Jérôme-Forget at Finance and Michelle Courchesne at Education. Kathleen Weil, a newly elected MNA with a sterling résumé who's been given the Justice portfolio, is a rising star. As for the rest of the female ministers, how many were chosen simply because they wear a skirt? How many competent men were excluded simply because they shave in the morning?
True, there still is rampant sexism even in our open-minded societies, and politics remains a hard field where women are often judged by double standards. Hillary Clinton, for example, was subjected to an array of denigrating barbs that would never have been thrown at a male politician of the same calibre. But this is an attitudinal problem that can only be alleviated with time, not something that can be solved by governmental decisions, and certainly not by vain and symbolic window-dressing such as gender-based appointments to high office.
Former federal Liberal leader Stéphane Dion fell into the same trap when he decided that a third of his candidates in the last election should be women. That was his rationale for imposing Martha Hall Findlay on the Toronto riding of Willowdale, allowing her to bypass a riding convention. Was this articulate and assertive lawyer who ran for the Liberal leadership in 2006 incapable of fending for herself?
When Mr. Charest chose an equal number of men and women to form his 2007 cabinet, one could see this as a coincidence, or a sign that his caucus contained many qualified women. But when this scenario is repeated, especially when two-thirds of the caucus is male, it turns out to be a quasi-formal rule that has no grounds in justice or in good governance.
There are many factors apart from merit that must be taken into account when a premier creates his cabinet - geography, political considerations and so on. Introducing an artificial factor such as gender parity will dilute even more the likelihood that these important posts will be filled by the most qualified persons.

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