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After Five Years of Harper, are Canadian women better off?

Posted on January 14, 2011

The year is 1967. The Royal Commission on the Status of Women reports that Canadian women make up only 6.3% of appointees to federal agencies, Crown Corporations and Task Forces.

Fast forward to 2005. Women make up about 37% of all appointments – still a long way from equal gender representation, but progress nonetheless.

I was curious to see what progress the Conservatives had made closing the gender gap, so I asked the government to provide me with a report on the number of women appointed to federal agencies over the past five years.

I was shocked at the response.

According to documents from the Privy Council, the percentage of women appointed to federal agencies fell to 32.5% between February 2006 and May 2010, including 26.7%  on Crown boards.

When questioned by CBC News about this steep decline, Conservative Senator Marjorie LeBreton quipped, “it has nothing to do with a lack of commitment to promoting women.”

I beg to differ.

The decline in female representation under the Conservatives is only one example of the Stephen Harper’s lack of commitment to achieving meaningful gender equality.

Over the past five years the Harper Conservatives have made substantial cuts to the regional offices of Status of Women Canada, cancelled funding for research and advocacy by women’s organizations, scrapped the long-form census used by policy makers to analyze gender representation, cancelled the Court Challenges Program, and launched an ideological crusade to eliminate the life-saving long-gun registry. And the list goes on.

Liberals have never accepted the excuse that there aren’t enough qualified women to achieve equal gender representation.  We haven’t forgotten the government’s obligation to achieve diversity in its own appointments.

Let’s not forget that it was under the previous Liberal government that the percentage of women appointees reached about 37% from 2002 to 2005. We did it by having a structured appointment process and a clear goal: more female appointments.

Improving gender equality requires leadership. But leadership only exists when there is a real commitment to change – clearly something the Conservative government is lacking.

As women, we need to ask ourselves: after five years of Harper, are we better off?


Anita Neville is the Liberal Status of Women Critic

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