Let’s get physical, and then not: On Justin Trudeau and his cabinet

It’s quite a dance, dealing with our physical attributes. Do we acknowledge them, or not? Or when?

Since Justin Trudeau and his Liberal party won the Canadian federal election, the news, entertainment talk shows and social media have been filled with accounts of how “hot” the new prime minister is. My goodness, people have been suggesting doing some, um, intimate things with him.

It’s completely inappropriate. And can you imagine the uproar if we elected a female prime minister and social media came alive with tweets about how people would like to do unmentionable things to her?

Justin’s physical appearance is irrelevant and has nothing to do with his ability to lead our country. It should not even enter the conversation.

And then, he chose a cabinet, and he chose to make it 50% female. He also chose openly gay representatives, members of our Canadian First Nations, a Sikh and a person with a physical disability.

I trust that every one of them is capable of doing the job and is worthy of the position, but their physical attributes are still part of the conversation and, in some cases, likely swayed the decision toward inclusion in the cabinet in their favour.

There has been a lot of response to this. Most of it concerning “merit.” Something along the lines of, “Why, if we go about loading up the cabinet with women, then people of merit (white males) will be excluded”.

On the extreme flip-side, one letter to the editor in the Ottawa Citizen suggested that the 50% target might have set an artificial glass ceiling for women, as if there was a possibility that there might have been more than 50% women appointed.

Excuse me for a moment.

(HAhahahaHAhaha. HOOO. Hahahahahah. Hoo. Ha. That was a good one.)

Am I comfortable with decisions about cabinet inclusion being based on physical characteristics? No.

But decisions about cabinet inclusion have always been based on physical characteristics: white and male (preferably Christian, or at least not vocally doubtful of deity), and the decisions have always excluded people of merit (women, homosexuals, people of races other than Caucasian).

I prefer this expanded version. I like the sound of “She was appointed because she was a woman” better than “She can’t be a cabinet minister (or an MP, or even vote) because she’s a woman”. I like “He was appointed because he’s openly gay” better than “If he’s appointed it can never become public that he’s gay”. I like “He’s in cabinet because he’s First Nations” better than “No First Nations representatives will ever be elected”.

I hope that some day gender, sexual orientation, race, or physical challenges won’t be noteworthy. I hope that some day we won’t waste our valuable brain power worrying about whether a physical characteristic makes a person automatically worthy or unworthy of a position.

When asked why he appointed a cabinet composed of 50% women, Trudeau replied, “Because it’s 2015.” I would say the same answer applies to why we need to—for now—announce the target and keep it part of the conversation. “Because it’s 2015,” and 2015 still doesn’t look like gender equality. Obviously not, or we wouldn’t even be talking about this.

Keep it part of the conversation, because we still have balancing work to do. For a while longer we have to get physical to conscientiously balance out the equation. And then, I hope that someday we can let all of that go. 


Check out the diverse Canadian cabinet in Maclean’s 

Justin Trudeau’s New Cabinet


4 thoughts on “Let’s get physical, and then not: On Justin Trudeau and his cabinet

  1. Phil Augustine

    Interesting article. I think so many people are so happy about the change in government it really feels wonderful to see people excited (in a positive way) about government. From my perspective, it’s nice to see a fit and attractive leader and a happy young family in the pictures. If people find Justin “hot” I don’t think there’s any harm in it. I agree there’d be much hang wringing if anyone made any such suggestion about a female leader (no doubt fear of such criticism has kept such comments from being made about Anglea Merkle, Hillary Clintion, Margaret Thatcher etc.). I digress.

    I like the symbolism of the 50 – 50 gender parity in cabinet. But there are risks to that sort of approach. You laugh about it, but you’re wrong about that. Imagine if, 25 years ago, a quota had been set for university admission or for admission to professional schools and we approached the matter in that fashion today. We know that today, based on merit, a significant number of young women would not gain admission based on their gender not meeting the gender quota.

    I think Justin has made his point. The 50 – 50 split isn’t etched in stone so it’s not a big deal at this point. However, one must essentially decide if one is in favour of gender discrimination or not. If it’s just a matter of gender cheerleading then I guess one says hooray for our side whenever there is gender discrimination in favour of one’s own gender. I think a more principled approach is required. For now, everyone is embracing the change and happy about getting the country’s leadership and laws more reflective of broadly based Canadian values. I think gender equality is amongst those values. I would hope that, in the future, a candidate for a position in cabinet or law school etc. would be selected without gender bias.
    At this point in my life none of this has much impact on me, but I would hope that my children see the world in a gender neutral way and that, apart from symbolic acts, merit and principle are the guiding values rather than quotas and gender bias.

    Phil Augustine

    1. Arlene Somerton Smith Post author

      We agree in every way – as long as we’re really clear about what people do when they think someone (male or female) is “hot.” The best thing is to think so quietly to themselves or to mention it in conversations with close friends. The wrong thing is to blatantly write explicit details for all the world to see when the person is an unwilling recipient of such suggestions. That, to me, crosses a dangerous line.

      Beyond that, you are absolutely right. We need to decide if we’re in favour or gender discrimination or not, and I am not. The problem is, that society has been so out of balance for so long, that the problem has become a BIG ship – an aircraft carrier-sized vessel – that takes a long time to turn around, and the actions that one must take to turn it have to be visible. We can’t turn this boat by thinking it so.

  2. Sharyn

    GREAT blog. You said what I was thinking, and I hold the same hope that, someday, there will be no question about merit related to gender, physical abilities, racial or cultural origins, religion or any other consideration but the intelligence and ability to do a good job. Now it’s up to Trudeau’s cabinet to get on with it, and get it done.

    I didn’t vote Liberal; I voted for our local guy who had been doing a good job. But I think the nation has spoken and that’s how it should be, and I’m so excited about how it is all going to roll out.


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