From time to time, Your Daily Cap blog features opinion pieces by Capilano University faculty in their fields of expertise. In light of the recent Canadian election, First Nations Advisor David Kirk and Political Studies instructor Tim Schouls comment on the socially-diverse new Liberal cabinet.
Hearing First Nations voices at the federal level
by David Kirk, First Nations Advisor
Like all people we have been adapting our traditions… it is important to note that each of us comes from a specific context: social, historical, political and geographic. We share similarities, hopes and dreams and lives full of oppression and denial of who we are as people. We all share a belief that our children’s lives will be better because of what we do today. — Noeline Villebrun, National Dene Chief
As I reflect back on the recent Canadian federal election, it truly warms my heart to see so many First Nations people elected. I think back to a time—not so long ago—when our people had little or no voice in this country.
Like many First Nation’s families, my grandparents were survivors of Residential Schools, and the impact on our family is still felt today with a loss of language, culture and traditional teachings. Despite the challenges my grandparents faced during residential school, my grandfather instilled in his children and grandchildren the importance of education.
In my nine years at Capilano University, I have had the honour to support our First Nations students in their educational journey. With each year I have been at Cap, I have seen an increase in the number of graduates and enrolment.
Over the past couple of weeks since the election results, I have had conservations with many our students and Elders about how proud everyone is of the First Nations community members who have been elected across the country. In particular, many conversations have been shared about Jody Wilson-Raybould, who is now Canada’s new Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada.
We all hope that our voices will be finally be heard at a Federal level, with promises such as an inquiry to the missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls, addressing inadequate housing issues in many of our communities, and a promise for more funding for education.
We have come along way since the first Indian Act adopted an explicit vision of assimilation—in which Aboriginals were encouraged to leave behind their Indian status and traditional cultures and become full members of the broader Canadian society. In this context, Aboriginals were viewed as children or wards of the state, to which the government had a paternalistic duty to protect and civilize.
This underlying philosophy was clearly expressed by the Canadian Department of the Interior in its 1876 annual report:
Our Indian legislation generally rests on the principle, that the aborigines are to be kept in a condition of tutelage and treated as wards or children of the State. … the true interests of the aborigines and of the State alike require that every effort should be made to aid the Red man in lifting himself out of his condition of tutelage and dependence, and that is clearly our wisdom and our duty, through education and every other means, to prepare him for a higher civilization by encouraging him to assume the privileges and responsibilities of full citizenship.
One of the things I share in my work on campus is my grandparents perhaps didn’t have a voice, or that voice was not always heard. In my role on campus, I always try to ensure that our First Nation’s student’s voices are heard.
On that note, I truly hope our voice will be heard across this county with these new elected First Nations members of Parliament. For me, there is hope on the horizon for First Nations people in this country.
Submitted by David Kirk, First Nations Advisor
Composition of new Liberal Cabinet catapults it into the Canada of 2015
by Tim Schouls, Department of Political Studies (pictured below, far left)
Electoral winds of change swept through Ottawa, taking a male-dominated Conservative cabinet with it.
“It’s 2015,” proclaimed new Liberal Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, as he presented a new cabinet to Canadians—one more socially diverse in its composition than any before it.
For the first time in Canadian history, citizens will be governed by a cadre of powerful ministers that reflects back to Canada an image that is more representative of Canada as a whole: 15 women, five persons of south-East Asian heritage, two Indigenous and two disabled persons.
Surely, Trudeau’s choice to construct a more diverse cabinet will enhance the legitimacy of the governing process and the democratic credentials of a parliamentary system that in recent years has been perceived to be increasingly out-of-step with the identity and priorities of Canadians.
There can be no doubt that having a more socially-diverse cabinet means that the perspectives of women, visible minorities, Indigenous and disabled persons will now be more intentionally woven into the fabric of cabinet discussion and debate. One can reasonably expect, for example, that policy issues related to family care, equitable labor practices and tax regime, social policy, the environment, and Indigenous rights will figure more prominently at the cabinet table.
Canadians may also be inclined to identify more closely with Canada’s government, as they will now see themselves reflected in cabinet and more intentionally served by it. If we see cabinet as made up of individuals who understand and seek to serve us based on a shared experience, this can only serve to enhance the democratic credentials of the governing process itself.
Of course, in constructing a cabinet more reflective of Canada’s social diversity, we must not side step the important matter of competence. As head of a department for which they are accountable, and as political innovators advancing complex policy files, each minister must demonstrate that they are actually able to govern.
We expect our ministers to exercise good judgment, to be able to command the respect of their peers, to be full of innovative ideas and to know how to advance policy in keeping with election promises. Merit must accompany diversity, in other words, if the competence necessary for effective governing is also to be present.
Fortunately, there seems to be no need for worry. Given the extraordinary talent pool Trudeau has among his Liberal caucus of 184, there is no contradiction between his having made appointments to cabinet based on merit and also having done so based on criteria related to social diversity.
But, all is not well in Ottawa. While cabinet may now more accurately reflect the social diversity of Canada, the House of Commons clearly does not.
In this sense, Trudeau’s act of appointing a socially-balanced cabinet smacks of artificiality. He drew a disproportionate share of women, visible minorities and Indigenous persons into cabinet relative to their seat totals in the House of Commons. Consider the following: of 338 seats, 88 (or 26 per cent) were won by women, 10 (or three per cent) were won by Indigenous candidates, and 46 (or 13.6 per cent) were won by visible minority candidates.
Their share of the Canadian population registers as follows: women, 51%, Indigenous people, 4%, and visible minorities, 19%. There is a discrepancy here that ought to leave lingering doubts in our minds about just how deep and systematic change has actually been in addressing Ottawa’s electoral representational deficits.
So, as it stands after the election of 2015, much work still needs to be done. While it may be “2015” where Canada’s federal cabinet is concerned, the House of Commons remains caught in the white, male-dominated world of a bygone age.
Submitted by Tim Schouls, Department of Political Studies
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