Catching up with Canada

Saturday, 7 November 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The world is talking about the new Cabinet appointed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and for once its’ for the right reasons. They include a millionaire businessman, a geoscientist, a Paralympian and a refugee who fled the Taliban. But what has caught the world’s attention the most is the fact half of them are women. 

According to a United Nations study Trudeau’s gender-equal cabinet Canada will now rank No. 4 in the world in terms of percentage of women in ministerial positions, tied with France and Liechtenstein. It was previously in 20th place, according to the UN Women report; Finland is No. 1. Trudeau also slashed the number of portfolios to just 30 but introduced new designations tailored to deal with key global and local issues.  

In contrast Sri Lanka’s parliamentary election provided disappointing results for women representation with the already low number of female parliamentarians dwindling to just 11; in other words one representative for every million women in Sri Lanka. 

Even though the main parties adopted a gender policy in their manifestos, including the promotion of women’s development and social welfare, General Election 2015 had only 9% female representation or 556 out of 6,151 candidates.

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Sri Lanka with less than 6% representation in parliament ranks 128th out of 140 countries. Sri Lanka had only 13 women in the parliament out of 225 seats that formed the last Government. Females represent only 4.1% of seats in the Provincial Councils (PC), and 2.3% of seats in the Local Government (LG) bodies in Sri Lanka. 

Rwanda trumps even Canada with the highest representation of women in parliament with 64%, followed by Bolivia with 53% but it does provide yet another international benchmark for countries such as Sri Lanka to aim for. 

Deserving women should have a chance to represent themselves in Parliament. This should not be seen as an ‘us against them’ battle but rather an effort to improve good governance through inclusiveness. Canada is an excellent example of how deep and instantaneous change can happen when political will is exerted. The Canadian Prime Minister has proved to the world that when there is a will there is always a way.

Trudeau has not stopped with women. Some of the top jobs including Finance and International Trade went to rookie ministers. There are two aboriginal ministers and four ministers who are Sikhs or of Sikh origin for Defence, Infrastructure, Tourism and Economic Development.

Among the rookies, two ministers have disabilities. Lawyer Carla Qualtrough, who is the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, was born with a visual impairment and was a Paralympics swimmer. Another was paralyzed after being hit in a drive-by shooting when he was 21.

Still, six former Liberal ministers returned to cabinet, bringing a dose of experience to the team. Trudeau has created 10 cabinet committees to deal with issues such as “inclusive growth,” Canada-U.S. relations and climate change. The top committee, called Agenda and Results, will be chaired by the Prime Minister and feature 10 ministers. Clearly the intention is to get things done by paring down the Government and appointing the most competent people to key positions. Sri Lanka could learn much from the reduced overlap, needless expenditure and deepening representation all successfully embodied in the Canadian Cabinet.