Women 'at the table': Trudeau urged to create gender-equal Senate
The Senate chamber on Parliament Hill is seen May 28, 2013. (Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Monday, January 4, 2016 11:04AM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 4, 2016 12:35PM EST
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is being urged to achieve gender equality in the Senate this year, by filling all of the current vacancies with female candidates.
More than 80 prominent Canadian women from across the country have signed a letter to Trudeau calling on him to commit to a gender-equal Senate.
Currently, of the 83 sitting senators, 30 are women, representing 36 per cent, the letter says. There are currently 22 vacancies, and another four senators are scheduled to retire before the end of the year.
The letter urges Trudeau to fill the 22 vacancies with women from "diverse backgrounds," including Indigenous women, and women from minority linguistic, racial and ethnic communities. In doing so, the prime minister would make the Senate gender equal for the first time in history.
"This would achieve the result of a Senate that is 50 per cent female and more representative of Canada," the letter states. "This is a historic opportunity. Future appointees would include both women and men in equal numbers."
Signatories to the letter include former prime minister Kim Campbell, former deputy prime minister Sheila Copps, former Ontario attorney general Marion Boyd, and Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, Pam Palmater.
Ceta Ramkhalawansingh, a former Toronto city councillor and former Equity and Diversity Manager for the city of Toronto, helped launch the letter campaign with Donna Dasko, the co-founder of Equal Voice.
She said it's time for the Upper Chamber to be truly representative of the country.
"We need more than symbols," she told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview. "We need women to be at the table in all our glorious diversity from across Canada.
"To paraphrase the prime minister, it's 2016."
Last November, Trudeau made international headlines when he fulfilled a campaign promise, and appointed a gender-balanced cabinet.
When asked by reporters why he felt it was necessary to make his cabinet 50 per cent women, he simply replied "Because it's 2015."
Now it's time for Trudeau and the Liberal government to follow suit with the Senate, Ramkhalawansingh said.
Last month, the Liberal government announced it will create an independent advisory body to recommend Senate nominees, promising to choose candidates based on their merit, not their political leanings.
A spokesperson from the office of Maryam Monsef, minister of democratic institutions, said in an email to CTV News that the Liberal government "shares the desire of the signatories to achieve gender balance in the Senate."
The government is working to establish the independent advisory board as soon as possible, spokesperson Paul Duchesne said, noting that Senate nominees will be considered with a "view" to achieving gender balance.
After consulting to produce a list of "high-quality candidates," the board will give Trudeau a short list of recommended nominees so that five appointments are made in early 2016, he said.
Ramkhalawansingh said that achieving gender equality in the Senate will help bring a variety of viewpoints and perspectives to the table, which organizational research suggests ultimately benefits the organization.
"It is about democratic reform," she said. "It is about making sure we have better decisions … and that women will be at that table."
She said that when she and Dasko first wrote the letter and launched the campaign on Dec. 11, it took just over a week for more than 80 women to sign on. "This idea was clearly resonating with women leaders across the country," she said.
The letter was sent to Trudeau on Dec. 21, and copies of it were sent to all of the female cabinet ministers, to make sure they were received before the first Senate appointments come up this year, Ramkhalawansingh said.
While she believes that the Liberal government will "aim" to achieve gender equality in the Senate, she wants them to go further. "We want to push further; We want to say, 'Make it real,'" she said.
As for the argument that the Senate appointments should be based on merit, not gender, Ramkhalawansingh said the two are not mutually exclusive.
"We can find 22 women from across Canada who have as much merit as any male member that there presently is in the Senate," she said. "It really is a sexist argument to bring up merit."