“Patriarchy,” “tribalism,” “testosterone-flooded” — these are three terms you won’t typically hear at a run-of-the-mill electoral debate. But last night’s Up For Debate event, held at Isabel Bader Theatre in Toronto, wasn’t a typical election appearance.
Originally planned as a live debate on women’s issues, the event was cancelled when both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair decided not to participate. So organizers turned to plan B. The result is video interviews conducted by journalist Francine Pelletier with Mulcair, Justin Trudeau, Elizabeth May and Gilles Duceppe about issues pertaining specifically to Canadian women: gendered violence, economic equality and the dearth of female representation in leadership positions. Last night’s event included screenings of these interviews (see the highlights in the clip above) with live panel discussions with experts such as Angela Robertson, executive director of the Central Toronto Community Health Centres, and Kate McInturff, a senior researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Harper declined to participate, which prompted emcee Jess Beaulieu to quip that perhaps Harper would have shown more interest “if women bled oil every month.”
While both Mulcair and Trudeau identified as “feminists” in the videos, the male leaders seemed to mostly fall back on tried-and-true campaign rhetoric and child-care promises. Other times, their comments missed the mark — like when Justin Trudeau attributed societal misogyny to the prevalence of pornography and “certain types of music.” (Comments which journalist Desmond Cole eviscerated on Twitter.) Green Party leader Elizabeth May was the sharpest in the interviews, calling out the boys’ club–style sexism she says plagues the House of Commons (and the irony that the face-to-face women’s issues debate was cancelled because of two men). “Of course we’ve all confronted sexism,” said May at one point during her interview. “[But] there is a refusal to talk about it in parliament.”
For more information about Up For Debate and its partner organizations, visit the group’s website.