History was made this week when Chrystia Freeland was appointed as Canada’s first female federal finance minister.
It’s 2020. This shouldn’t be “a thing” — but it is.
“It’s about time that we broke that glass ceiling,” she said after being sworn in to take the oath of office on Tuesday.
Gender representation has been a glaring issue in Canadian politics for years. And while Canada’s federal cabinet is now evenly split between men and women, only 27 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons belong to women. So when a women is tasked with what’s viewed as the crème de la crème of cabinet positions, both in power and prestige, this is “a thing.” Irrespective of gender, Freeland was the most likely candidate for the role and here’s why.
The 52-year-old politico has the education, acumen and track record to succeed as finance minister. Both a Harvard and Oxford graduate, the former journalist has held lucrative positions at several media companies, including serving as Moscow bureau chief and Eastern Europe correspondent for the Financial Times and managing director at Thomson Reuters.
While she may not come from a traditional financial background, having reported extensively on it requires a depth of understanding of the subject. But more than that, she has proven in her short time since entering politics in 2013 that she is a top-notch negotiator with sound judgment and a wealth of knowledge of global financial markets and the key players.
In her role as Canada’s foreign minister and minister for international trade, she was one of the key negotiators of the new North American free trade agreement. Since being appointed deputy prime minister and minister of intergovernmental affairs last year, she continues to display strong political skills.
A mother of three, she also intimately understands the economic impact of working women. We have seen how the pandemic has disproportionately affected women. During the first two months of the crisis, approximately 1.5 million women lost their jobs.
A report released by RBC Economics last month revealed that women’s participation in the labour force has dipped to 55 per cent for the first time since the 1980s. When Freeland was sworn in on Tuesday, the gravity of her appointment during this particular moment in time was not lost on her.
“Certainly I’m glad that I’ll have an opportunity as a woman, as a mother, to address this really important challenge our country is facing,” Freeland said.
With the deficit expected to climb past an unprecedented $343.2 billion, in large part due to the coronavirus, she faces a very challenging road.
However, her track record for calm under fire strategy and solutions should serve her well.
And while some commentators were quick to judge her lack of Bay Street experience, the markets did not seem fazed, barely skipping a beat with the announcement of her appointment.
Personally, I am interested to see how her outspoken views on social reform, issues with wealth inequality (she penned a book on the topic in 2012) and green-focused initiatives will play out.
I want to give her a chance because our country needs a more just and sustainable plan and she seems poised to deliver it. But change does not happen overnight, and in this case, we will not know the lasting impact of this, especially with Parliament closing until late September, when it resets with a new throne speech.
At the end of the day, I hope that Freeland succeeds because her success is symbolic of what is possible for all women in our country.
We’ve seen the sexism and misogyny towards women in public office. From the name-calling of federal minister Catherine McKenna to the most recent incident last week, in which Michelle Rempel, Conservative MP for Calgary-Nose Hill, was trending on Twitter, not for a speech she made but for wearing a sleeveless dress in Parliament.
My hope is for Freeland to be judged based on the financial plans she conceives, ones that will hopefully pull our country from this unprecedented economic slump to a new wave of growth. I don’t care about what she’s wearing when she tells us about fiscal policy — neither should any political pundits or the rest of us.
It was 1921 when Agnes Macphail became the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons of Canada. We have certainly come a far way since then, but with women representing just over half of the Canadian population, they are still
significantly underrepresented in politics — especially in high positions of leadership and power.
To date, our only female prime minister has been Kim Campbell. She became prime minister by winning the leadership of the governing Progressive Conservatives, but the 1993 general election.
Canada has yet to elect a female prime minister in a general election.
This week, Kamala Harris made United States history when she formally accepted the Democratic vice-presidential nomination, becoming the first Black and South Asian woman in that position.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland may be poised to make history herself once again as the Liberal Party leader and a run for prime minister in the years to come.
Who knows, sooner rather than later, we may just have a female prime minister and female president governing Canada and the United States side by side in harmony — and that would be a thing.