Justin Trudeau's Gender Politics

Trudeau Morneau - ipolitics.jpg

According to a 2015 Abacus Data survey, the Trudeau Liberals owe much of their electoral success to female voters. The gap between men's and women's support for the Liberals on election day was roughly 11 percent. Recent polls suggest that this gulf has widened. Nanos Research reports that the Liberals today have an 18 percent lead over the Tories among women, while the Conservatives hold a 5 percent lead among men. By now no one disputes that the prime minister is every bit the feminist he claims to be, nor that financial reforms advantaging women and girls are both necessary and timely. Pay equity, accessible childcare, parental leave, funding for girls in sport, the feminization of foreign aid—these are smart policies whose myriad benefits will by no means be limited to Canadian women. But the bifurcating polling numbers demonstrate why gender equality remains the lodestar of Justin Trudeau's "feminist" government, from its gender-balanced Cabinet to its "gender-conscious" third budget, tabled Tuesday.

There was time when the core responsibility of the state was to safeguard the security and prosperity of its citizens. On both counts, the Liberal budget is deficient. Business leaders, some of whom presumably are women, are annoyed that the budget did nothing to improve their "growing tax disadvantage vis-à-vis their U.S. counterparts." Former Liberal minister of industry John Manley has complained that "this budget all but ignores Canada’s serious tax competitiveness challenges, sending an unfortunate signal to entrepreneurs and companies that are looking to invest and grow.” The budget provides no contingency funding for the possible termination of NAFTA. Indeed, as a Globe and Mail editorial put it, "the seismic impact of Trumponomics, with its blend of low taxes and know-nothing protectionism, makes barely a ripple in the serene document the Liberals have tabled." The budget also commits the government to rolling deficits—in one of the most buoyant economic climates in memory. This, too, is off-putting to business people, as it should be to debt-wary Canadians more generally. As the Toronto Star's (female) budget analyst Fatima Syed noted bluntly, the big losers Tuesday were business owners, the Canadian economy and the national debt.

As for Canadians' sovereignty and security, to the continuing frustration of the country's defence establishment the Liberal budget is silent on our "undermanned and ill-equipped" armed forces and our "obsolescent" fighter jets, tanks and ships. Only cyber-security gets new funding.

To no one's surprise, some of the Liberals' most eye-catching line items have come in the realm of social engineering. Along with new funding to fight gender-based violence, sexual assault and harassment—all for the good—we read that they have allocated $1.8-million "to develop a strategy to engage men and boys on the topic of gender equality." Lest Canadian men understand this measure as some kind of Maoist reeducation initiative, the prime minister should perhaps explain what he has in mind here.

But the broader issue is one that almost no one is talking about—no doubt because our über-sensitive gender politics now precludes it. Women do indeed have unique needs and interests, and feminist ideology may well serve to give them voice. But Canadian women are Canadian citizens first and foremost, and they care about national prosperity and security as much as anyone. More than this, their educational, professional and family lives are seldom lived in the splendid isolation of identity politics.

The Trudeau Liberals believe that women voters can be wooed by targeted feminist spending, and perhaps they're right. But as we close in on the federal election of 2019, they are playing a dangerous game in polarizing the electorate along gender lines. Every Canadian prime minister has either explicitly or tacitly understood that national unity is the only game in town in a federation as diverse as ours. Surely no one wants to live in a Canada where the women vote Liberal and the men vote Tory.