In the first federal election debate, held by Maclean’s over two hours in early August, the word “woman” was mentioned just four times. Up For Debate, a coalition of more than 175 women’s organizations, wanted to remedy that with its own meeting between the leaders, but the event was abruptly cancelled: Prime Minister Stephen Harper declined; Thomas Mulcair refused to debate without Harper; and the remaining candidates were out of luck.
So in four one-on-one conversations conducted across 13 days in August and September, Chatelaine asked Harper, Mulcair, Justin Trudeau and Elizabeth May exactly where they stand on so-called women’s issues and what we could expect from their governments.
Plenty of ink has been spilled over what exactly the term “women’s issues” means, and whether it should be used at all. Women comprise more than half the population and are also more likely than men to cast ballots, so there is something a tad reductionist about corralling us all into a special-interest group. Yes, we care about reproductive health and gender parity in leadership — but so do men. And yes, men worry about national security and the economy — but women aren’t exempt from those concerns.
Still, when certain social issues fall off our government’s radar, whether it’s child care or pay equity or domestic violence, women disproportionately shoulder the burden. Two weeks after the women’s-issues debate was called off, the CBC obtained an internal report by Status of Women Canada, and its findings were bleak: Men are paid 20 percent more than their female colleagues; rates of violence against women have not declined, with rural, immigrant and indigenous women being particularly vulnerable; and poverty rates for single-parent families headed by women continue to climb.
Whether they’re called women’s issues or social issues or Canadian issues, these are crucial subjects that must be addressed. (A new Up For Debate event is scheduled for September 21.) With fewer than two months of campaigning to go, here’s what the leaders told us:
The Chatelaine Q&A: Stephen Harper >>
The Chatelaine Q&A: Thomas Mulcair >>
The Chatelaine Q&A: Justin Trudeau >>
The Chatelaine Q&A: Elizabeth May >>