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Analysis: More woman trouble for Stephen Harper and his cabinet

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Delacourt, Susan
Publication Date: 
12 Apr 2010

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It isn't easy to be a female cabinet minister in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government.

Just ask Helena Guergis, ousted as minister of state for the
status of women on Friday, and also ejected from the Conservative
caucus - a particularly severe form of punishment, unused to date
against a Harper cabinet minister.


Even the quietly competent and experienced Diane Ablonczy,
relegated seemingly forever to junior status within Harper's cabinet,
has been tagged as troublesome - losing her right to announce tourism
programs last summer after she posed for pictures with drag queens
while handing over funds to Toronto's Gay Pride parade.

Trouble, when it comes to Harper's government, often appears to
come in female form, whether it's the promotion of women who
disappoint, or the harsh discipline of strong performers who err.

Maxime Bernier lost his job as foreign affairs minister in 2008
because of his attachment to Julie Couillard, an ex-girlfriend with
alleged ties to biker gangs in Quebec.


Harper's Conservatives have long been wrestling with suggestions
that they are female-unfriendly. Belinda Stronach's explosive defection
from the Conservatives to the Liberal cabinet in 2005 may have been an
early warning that this leader would have trouble with prominent
females in his circle.

The recent political storm over the place of family planning and
abortion in promoting maternal health - prompting a rare public
reproach from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - only further
sealed an impression that the Harper government is more preoccupied
with hockey and winding down the gun registry than appealing to women
and their concerns.

Among parties in Parliament, the Conservatives have the smallest
percentage of women in their caucus - just 16 per cent - but Harper has
made sure women are overrepresented in cabinet, filling 27 per cent of
the ministers' positions with women from that small pool.

Yet apart from Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, women are
not in charge of the departments the Conservative government considers
a priority, getting shuffled instead around the second-rung posts,
junior ministries or ministries of state.


The Conservatives' decisions to abandon a national child-care
program, as well as cutting advocacy dollars to women's organizations
and the equality mandate of status of women, has not helped any
minister in that post build strong constituencies of support across

There was no discernible outcry from women's groups on Friday,
for instance, about Guergis's departure. It's doubtful that she'll be
missed. Just last month, while she was at the United Nations boasting
of progress Canada had made on women's issues, strong women's advocates
in Canada were sending withering, dissenting reports to the UN to
undercut her message.

On Friday, the New Democrats' critic on women's issues, Irene
Mathyssen, issued a news release to argue that the Guergis "fiasco" is
proof of the Conservatives' lack of commitment to women.

"This government has proven through its actions, time and again,
that women in Canada simply do not matter," says Mathyssen. She argues
that by giving the status of women job to Ambrose, it has been further
downgraded to a part-time concern.

"We need a competent, capable, dedicated minister responsible
for the status of women; not a junior minister and not 'postscript' in
someone else's portfolio."

-reprinted from the Toronto Star

Entered Date: 
14 Apr 2010
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