A feminist revolution in Canadian politics -- or the same old boys' club?

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Photo: Jody Wilson-Raybould/Facebook

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected in 2015 promising sunny ways (even though sunny ways had already been used by a previous prime minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, in a different context, on different issues).

To the journalist who asked him, "Why a gender-balanced government?" Trudeau candidly replied, "Because it's 2015." That reply charmed the country and the world -- from young feminist actress Emma Watson to U.S. feminist website Jezebel.

Many times over the last four years, Trudeau branded himself a feminist and a strong believer in the efforts of reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and the rest of Canada. It is ironic to see today how these two self-described attributes have come back to haunt him and show us that state politics in Canada are still being done in the same old way as the sunny ways of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. In other words, the same opaque politics run by a small male elite. The presence of women and Indigenous people in the cabinet isn't necessarily a badge of honour or a guarantee of a "feminist" policy. Neither is it a pass for the implementation of Truth and Reconciliation recommendations, especially when the real strings of power are still held and controlled behind the scenes by white male politicians and strategists.

Over the last three weeks, we have seen a confrontation between two visions of politics. One is made and run through a well-established political strategist from the old school. Think of Gerald Butts, Trudeau's former adviser, who in a previous life was strategist and adviser to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, versus another type of politics slowly emerging from centuries of patriarchy and colonialism and struggling to see the light in the dark corridors of Ottawa.

I don't want to put former attorney general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould on a pedestal. She made decisions that I didn't agree with and she didn't show particular courage when dealing with some complex cases. For instance, in the case of Hassan Diab, the Canadian citizen unjustly extradited to France by Canada, despite credible revelations by a CBC investigation pointing to the role of justice department officials in his ordeal, she merely ordered a judiciary review rather than calling a public inquiry as demanded by many rights groups. 

More recently, the justice department's decision to arrest Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, doing the Trump administration's dirty work, has put Canada in a bad position with China, politically and commercially. Wilson-Raybould shouldn't have accepted the politically motivated demand from her U.S. counterpart, even if Trudeau repeated many times that the decision wasn't political interference.

And when Wilson-Raybould tweeted that "Canada can and must do better" about the acquittal of Gerald Stanley, a white farmer accused of the murder of Colten Boushie, an Indigenous young man, a storm followed her public remark and many Canadians wrote to her, accusing her of being biased.

Maybe that incident taught her to keep quiet, but not for so long. The case of SNC-Lavalin seems to be the straw that broke the camel's back. Her reaction, beyond an obvious sense of being demoted and humiliated by a self-identified "feminist" prime minister, might have also been derived from a decision where personal political calculations coincided with a genuine sense of injustice because of the way she was treated as an Indigenous woman. But what made her resignation a feminist political act is the resignation of her colleague ("accused" by some of being her friend, as if friendship was a sin for women in politics), Jane Philpott, then minister of the treasury board. Philpott could have decided to stay. She had an excellent record as a minister. She was loved by her constituents. Her gesture was a purely feminist political move.

It is interesting to see how the self-branded slogan of "feminist prime minister" is coming back to bite Prime Minister Trudeau's leadership. And the two individuals gnawing at his feminist image are real feminists who decided that they cannot be idle any more.

In the U.S., many observers believe that change to the Trump administration is coming from women politicians. Not only they are culturally diverse, they are unapologetically progressive, forceful and radical.

I wonder if Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott are the first crack from which a new wave of feminist politicians could emerge, one that would bring to politics what has been so far lacking: integrity and transparency and, yes -- why not real friendship?

Monia Mazigh was born and raised in Tunisia and immigrated to Canada in 1991. Mazigh was catapulted onto the public stage in 2002 when her husband, Maher Arar, was deported to Syria where he was tortured and held without charge for over a year. She campaigned tirelessly for his release. Mazigh holds a PhD in finance from McGill University. In 2008, she published a memoir, Hope and Despair, about her pursuit of justice, and recently, a novel about Muslim women, Mirrors and Mirages. You can follow her on Twitter @MoniaMazigh or on her blog www.moniamazigh.com

Photo: Jody Wilson-Raybould/Facebook

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