WITH THE DEPARTURE of Bill Morneau this week as Minister of Finance under a cloud of WE controversy, another glass ceiling in politics was broken in Canada. Chrystia Freeman was appointed as the first woman to hold the role of federal Minister of Finance in Canada’s 153 year history.
For 153 years, while we all paid taxes and shared services, women’s voices have been missing in leading the ministry that sets the federal budget, and advises the government on economic and fiscal policy.
We all pay taxes, but certain services, such as childcare, are more important to women. For years and years, advocates have been pushing for national childcare programs that would support working families, especially women, with children.
We all pay taxes, but 68 per cent of seniors aged 85 years or older are women. Taxation and services that serve this demographic need to be especially mindful of the needs of women.
We all pay taxes for policing services. Yet half of all women in Canada report they have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual assault since the age of 16. Funding different approaches to end gender-based violence need to be considered.
How might the last 153 years have been if more women’s voices had led the Ministry of Finance. How might childcare, seniors’ services, policing, or other services have served women better if women had been Minister of Finance sooner.
There’s nothing to say that men’s voices don’t have value. But, having just spent the last five months listening to the likes of Dr. Teresa Tam and Dr. Bonnie Henry lead the pandemic fight, there’s value on having women in leadership roles once in a while too.
That it took 153 years for a woman to take over the Ministry of Finance and set the budgetary priorities for the country shows how thick the glass ceiling can be.
One would think there weren’t any other glass ceilings to break for women. But there is still a ways to go.
The Bank of Canada has only had men in their top role since its inception in 1935. Its purpose is to “promote the economic and financial welfare of Canada”. Given that women earn $0.87 for every dollar earned by men in Canada, perhaps a woman at the helm might help bring women’s earning up closer to those of men.
Of course, there have been other firsts. But often, they are first, and only.
There has only been one female President of the Treasury Board. Conservative MP Pat Carney held the post for nine months in 1997. The treasury board oversees parliament accountability and ethics, financial, personnel and administrative management. Ethics is equally important to women and men, but except those nine months, only men have led the Treasury Board.
There has been a female Minister of National Defense. One. For six months in 1993, Kim Campbell held the post. Mothers and fathers both send their children off to war, but except for six months of our history, decisions on war and military actions have been led by men.
Women in politics are still rare, and in the top roles even less common. Moves by some, like the BC NDP, to run women candidates in half the ridings, or both the BC NDP and the federal Liberals to appoint half their cabinet with women, goes a long way to giving women an equal voice at the table.
But this week’s announcement, that this is the first time in 153 years that a woman has been the federal Ministry of Finance, is a stark reminder that there is a ways to go to ensure women’s voices are equally heard in the halls of power in Canada.
Good luck Chrystia Freeman. Here’s hoping you won’t be the first and only female Minister of Finance in Canada.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.