On Wednesday, November 4th, 2015, while most of us were probably either in class or supposed to be, Justin Trudeau (now technically the Right Honorable) was sworn into office as the 23rd Prime Minister of Canada. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, the Liberal Party of Canada won a sweeping majority in the election on October 19th. The swearing-in ceremony was remarkable for a number of reasons, namely his newly appointed cabinet.
The ceremony began with a Land Acknowledgement, honoring the fact that Rideau Hall is situated on traditional Algonquin land. The speaker even ended the Acknowledgement saying meegwetch, the Algonquin and Cree word for thank you. The procession was led by a twelve-year-old Cree boy, who played the drum as he walked while Trudeau and by his soon-to-be cabinet followed. Trudeau went up to the Governor General, took his oath, became Prime Minister, and stood, slightly awkwardly, in front of everyone as they clapped enthusiastically. Two young Inuit throat singers performed. Then, the cabinet was announced and each newly appointed cabinet minister took their oaths, some more emotional than others.
Prime Minister Trudeau’s 31-person cabinet is gender-balanced (if you don’t include Trudeau himself). Fifteen female ministers, filling 50% of cabinet positions, is the highest number of women in Cabinet ever in Canadian history. Some of the biggest portfolios are being managed by women; Jody Wilson-Raybould, for example, is the new Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada – one of the most prestigious positions in government. She is also the first indigenous woman to occupy the position.
If one were to watch the swearing-in ceremony with no context of female and minority representation in Canadian politics and the deeply rooted oppression of Indigenous people, it would all seem normal. We all like to think of Canada as an inclusive, egalitarian and accepting place – a beacon for multiculturalism and diversity. However, a single look at the House of Commons paints a different picture. When 75% of Members of Parliament (MPs) are male, and a majority amount of MPs are white, it’s clear that either Canadians view whiteness and maleness as favourable factors in the politicians they elect, or there are a number of barriers to entry for non-white and non-male individuals to enter the political sphere, if not both.
By giving us a gender-balanced and diverse cabinet and by bringing Indigenous culture into the swearing-in ceremony, the Trudeau government has recognized that these are challenges that Canada, and the Canadian political system in particular, faces. Trudeau’s government, which ran a campaign that pushed for a “better Canada,” is stepping up and taking real, meaningful action when it comes to compensating for systemic injustices throughout the nation. Furthermore, in taking these steps, Trudeau is showing Canadians that non-male and non-white individuals deserve a place in our government. When asked about why he needed to have a gender-balanced cabinet, Trudeau simply responded, “Because it’s 2015.” And he’s right. By now, we should be doing better.
It’s most important to keep in mind, though, that this isn’t enough. Although our new government is taking steps to make Canada a better and more inclusive place, discrimination and injustice still permeates our culture. Even with Trudeau’s conscious effort, many of the ministers given junior position are women. The cabinet, although diverse, could still be more so. The House of Commons as a whole should, too, be far more representative of the Canadian population. This new cabinet is unequivocally a step in the right direction, but we should look forward to a day where a diverse and representative government and cabinet is the norm. To get there, we need to continue to take steps in this positive direction.