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The Truth About Our Democracy

The Truth About Our Democracy

I had planned to write about something completely different today but Jody Wilson-Raybould’s announcement this past week that she wouldn’t be seeking re-election as an MP bumped a lot of people’s plans.

With signs pointing to a late summer federal election, political types from several parties are scurrying to find candidates to contest what they thought was an unwinnable seat in Vancouver-Granville. But the real story isn’t who will win but rather who has lost with Wilson-Raybould’s departure.

No matter how much you’ve read about her decision, if you haven’t read the letter she wrote to her constituents then you haven’t gotten a full picture of why she is choosing not to seek re-election. It’s a gut punch read for those who want to believe that democracy in Canada is about fairness, civility and equal opportunity.

If even one Indigenous woman had these experiences in government that’s enough cause for concern but the fact that we’ve heard the same story from two of the four Indigenous women elected as MPs in less than a month – Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq announced last month that she is also not seeking re-election - underlines how serious the problem is.

These challenges don’t just exist for Indigenous women or for those seeking to be Members of Parliament. For years when people from non-traditional power-holding backgrounds have overcome huge barriers to get elected they face the same racism and misogyny once they are inside Parliament, legislatures and city halls. The difference now is that these two women are speaking up.

The question for the rest of us is whether we will listen and act on what we hear. What does taking action look like? Check out the hot takes below.

HOT TAKES

On Friday, I did a segment on CBC’s Early Edition with Stephen Quinn talking about the challenges for non-traditional power holders in politics and some of the things we can do about them. To be honest, I hate doing interviews on this topic (so many triggers!) but one of the key actions to stop toxicity, racism and misogyny is to talk about it and I am grateful to Stephen for making the space to do so.

Reading Wilson-Raybould’s letter evoked a lot of the feelings I had when I wrote my own letter announcing I wouldn’t be seeking re-election back in 2017. I talked around a lot of the issues that impacted my decision but didn’t take them head on until I left office and wrote my first article for the National Observer called Surviving the shattered glass ceiling.

SOME JOBS

With summer quickly descending, and people finally able to travel, there are less jobs being posted right now but stay tuned! When they start posting again, it will be a flurry.

Meanwhile there is one great one that came my way this week: the Shareholder Association for Research and Education is looking for an Engagement & Advocacy Specialist to help energize their climate work. Check it out. Deadline is today (July 12!) at 5 pm ET.

THINGS TO CHECK OUT THIS WEEK

  • To understand the particular challenges for Indigenous women in politics you also need to understand intersectionality. The best place to start is with Kimberle Crenshaw’s TED Talk explaining why she invented the term and what it means.
  • Data is always a good foundation for advocacy. Two of the best sources to check out for stats on the representation of women around the world are UN Women and the Interparliamentary Union. Both do annual reports on the state of elected representation for women globally as well as reports on strategies to increase representation.
  • For those interested in local government, Women Transforming Cities is the perfect place to start.
  • The Samara Centre for Democracy does a biannual report on the health of Canada’s democracy called Democracy 360 that is worth taking a look at.
  • Is the tone of politics getting worse? Absolutely according to researchers. Check out Trolled on the Campaign Trail: Online Incivility and Abuse in Canadian Politics released last year by researchers Chris Tenove and Heidi Tworek.

Some longer reads:

There are so many biographies that I could point you to. I think the best advice is to read any memoirs you can find from people who were non-traditional power holders at the time they were in office. Although not revolutionary in today’s context, the biographies of trailblazers like Pat Carney and Deborah Grey taught me things that were as useful as Knock Down the House.

It's not just women in the politics that you're thinking of either. Sheila Watt-Cloutier's The Right to be Cold and Doris Anderson's Rebel Daughter are important stories about how women built power in Canada.

There are also a lot of books on the structural challenges of democracy all the way back to Plato’s The Republic. Two more contemporary (and easier) reads: How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt and On Tyranny by Tom Snyder

Finally, circle your calendar for October 12, 2021. That’s the release date for Jody Wilson-Raybould’s political memoir “Indian” in the Cabinet: Speaking Truth to Power.

THINGS I LEARNED IN THE PANDEMIC

I asked, you answered that yes, you would like to hear about some things I learned in the pandemic. First up (because summer) is what I think may be the perfect summer cocktail. You may not agree but the good news there is that perfecting cocktails is a long, methodical and enjoyable process perfect for filling never-ending time. You may enjoy inventing your own cocktail too!

THE LAST WORD

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