Wednesday, November 4, 2015

I hope new Finance Minister Bill Morneau doesn't forget about the vulnerable local communities that elected him...

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with his new finance minister, Bill Morneau
Today marks the end of the awful Stephen Harper era, and the beginning of a new Liberal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Writing that still gives me a special thrill.  It means Canada has a prime minister whose values are better aligned with the progressive majority of the country.  It means there are numerous policy areas in which real progress will be forthcoming, as long as the new government keeps its promises.

One of the first promises kept was to name a cabinet with gender parity.  Today, Trudeau appointed 15 men and 15 women to join him around the cabinet table.  

In years past, conservatives and others never complained about regional quotas, like appointing representative numbers of Western MPs, Ontario MPs, Quebec MPs and Atlantic MPs to cabinet.  They never complained about cabinets that included people who beared passing resemblance to the ethnic make-up of the country.

Yet today, many conservatives and private media types are attacking Trudeau's decision to appoint an equal number of women and men, you know, to make his cabinet more representative of the country's population than ever before.  

Conservatives like Tasha Kheiriddin simply will never understand how women, people of colour, sexual minorities, and many other groups need to be represented in our society in order for voices to be heard and for decisions to be made that take into account more than just white, male, privileged mainstream perspectives.   To most of the complainers, diversity is not valuable.  To them, it seems if we all acted like while, male, heterosexual, privileged elites, the world would be a better place.  They pretend that women bring nothing unique to decision-making, therefore it doesn't matter if women are underrepresented.  

I heartily disagree.  A cabinet table with equal numbers of men and women will provide more balanced and civilized government for Canadians.  The voices of women will be well-represented, not silenced and irrelevant as they largely were in the boys' clubs run by conservatives, who seemed to like it that way.

For a thoughtful take on this issue, check out Green Party leader Elizabeth May's column in the Huffington Post. 

As a resident of Toronto Centre, it's nice to see my newly elected MP Bill Morneau make cabinet as the country's new finance minister.

However, I have to say I'm worried that Morneau may focus too much on his new fiscal responsibilities and neglect his very vulnerable local communities that elected him.  I hope not.

For too long, Toronto Centre has been seen as a launching pad by high-powered Liberals for big Ottawa careers.  The former MP, Chrystia Freeland, seemed more interested in writing New York Times columns than attending local events after she won her 2013 by-election.  Before her, Bob Rae also had his eye squarely on bigger things in Ottawa than tending to the urgent needs of his vulnerable constituents. 

I remember knocking on doors in the 2013 by-election for Freeland and coming across an AIDS patient who demanded to know what "the hell" my candidate was going to do for people like him.  I couldn't answer him.   Sadly, two years later, it seems that Freeland didn't do much if anything for people like him.  She then vacated the area to run in nearby University-Rosedale.

The pro-Liberal trend in last month's election, in which promiscuous progressives got behind the Grits in order to defeat the Harper government, pushed all of these local Liberal candidates to Ottawa.   They got lucky.  But if they ignore the needs of their communities, they will have a much tougher time in 2019. 

I have met Morneau briefly on a couple of occasions.  He seems like a decent guy.  But I have to admit I was always disturbed by the fact that he wasn't from the riding, but instead from Don Valley West.   Now he's being described as a Bay Street millionaire.  That's hardly representative of his new riding.

Of course, that doesn't mean Morneau won't be able to keep the interests of his vulnerable communities always in mind.   His previous volunteer work for Covenant House and other charitable organizations shows he has a heart.

I just hope Morneau remembers who elected him to Ottawa as he takes on the great task of managing the new government's finances.   Toronto Centre deserves a local champion in Ottawa.