Equal Voice Daughters of the Vote Gala
Remarks for Hon. Karina Gould, Minister of Democratic Institutions
Gatineau, QC, March 7, 2017
Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the Government of Canada’s official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with its communications policy.
Good evening everyone, thank you,
Thank you for inviting me, it is a real pleasure for me to be with you all tonight. I would like, first and foremost, to emphasize that today we are united in the traditional territory of the Algonquins.
It is a real privilege to join you – the Daughters of the Vote, bright, ambitious, talented young women from every corner of Canada. It is inspiring to be here with you, to participate in your events today as we celebrate International Women’s Day. It is an incredible window into what is possible in Canada if we set our minds to it – I can`t wait to see the visual of the House full of young women tomorrow. I enjoyed the opportunity earlier today to participate in a panel with you, and I am honoured to have the chance to speak with you now.
But let me start by saying congratulations to Nancy, and to everyone here. Today has been such a success. When Equal Voice approached me with this initiative back in the fall, to say I was excited is an understatement. I am so pleased to this initiative and to play my part in encouraging, supporting and promoting young women in politics. To everyone who helped to plan, organize, deliver and bring the Daughters of the Vote to life: thank you, merci, miigwetch, congratulations!
338 remarkable women have come together to highlight what determined, driven, brilliant women can do – and accomplish for the Canadian democracy we all love and value. There are 338 inspiring personal stories of strong, smart, passionate women, and I would like to give you just one example. Emma Fisher-Cobb is here representing the great riding of Burlington (no bias), my hometown. Emma is a great example of the positive, progressive democratic values we share. Emma volunteers with the Girl Guides of Canada, leading efforts to integrate environmental education and sustainability into guiding. She’s stepping up to be a leader in her community today, sharing her passion and her ideas, including through her blog and through her work with Guides.
Emma told her local newspaper, “We aren’t doing this to have a tea party” and she’s right. Your voices are important, and your leadership is important, to the future of this country and to where we are today. And those voices are important, especially the voices of young women like you. Prime Minister Trudeau likes to say that young people aren`t just the leader of tomorrow, they are the leaders of today, in all manner of fields. And that our challenge as a government is to help support opportunities for you to grow, prosper, thrive and inspire others.
When asked why I got involved in politics at the age of 26, I would respond by saying that now, this age is the most important time for me to be involved. Because the policies and laws that are being put in place, are the ones that will impact me for the majority of my adult life; I want to have a say in my future and the future of my generation.
Making good on that commitment to you is part of my job as Minister of Democratic Institutions. My job is to improve, strengthen and protect Canadian democracy. I was honoured when the Prime Minister asked me to take on this portfolio as, to me, it is one that touches every Canadian. And more so, the effectiveness of our democratic institutions and the health of our democracy is one of the most defining features of our identity as a country.
In this capacity, I see my role, on the one hand, as a steward of Canada’s democratic institutions and traditions. This is a role I take very seriously, particularly at this moment in time when democratic values and traditions are the focus of so much public attention.
On the other hand, I also believe that my role as Minister comes with a responsibility to champion democracy in Canada. And to champion opportunities for our democracy to be inclusive, especially for young women such as yourselves.
I was shocked yesterday to hear the results of Equal Voice`s poll that 48% of Canadians think there are enough women in politics. Equal Voice points out women make up just 26% of the seats in the House of Commons. Ladies, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work. I guess that means those of us who are here must be strong voices that amplify the messages we care for and champion.
The mere representation of women in elected office does not necessarily equate to a government taking substantive action in support of women’s rights and the advancement of policies and priorities important to women. It`s the fact that when a woman gets into office that she can have substantive and meaningful engagement that truly demonstrates tangible steps towards equality. We do see in Canada, that women take on these leadership positions they can and do enact real change. We can certainly do better enabling greater participation of women to successfully run for office.
It’s not that politics needs to be a 1:1 reflection of the exact makeup of Canadian society. However, the more representative our politics are of Canada, the more Canadians will be engaged in politics and the better our policies will be. But I believe opportunities for women to be democratic leaders, to break down barriers to our participation in the democratic process, is going to help enable those substantive actions that will benefit all Canadians.
Since I can remember, I have been an advocate for advancing women’s rights and women’s representation in democracy both here and abroad.
This year is significant: 2017. It marks 100 years since the first laws were passed granting women the right to vote. It took more than 40 years before all Canadian women had the right to vote, seek elected office and become members of Cabinet – whatever their social status, race or religion.
And yet – in 2017, as we celebrate 150 years since Confederation - there are still barriers to women seeking office, and they can be formidable. Since being elected I`ve thought a lot about barriers. Some are very real: financial, personal obligations, discrimination. And others are barriers that are imposed on us by others.
I am sure every woman in this room can think to a time when a barrier challenged her, or made her question herself, her abilities and her dreams. When I decided to seek the Liberal Party nomination in Burlington, some people told me I wasn’t what they were looking for in a candidate. They wanted someone more middle aged, and more male. I was likely a nice young woman, and smart at that, but it wasn’t going to deliver votes. It made me wonder whether my age or my gender would place limits on my campaign.
I remember knocking on doors during the election, and after introducing myself to one gentleman at his door, and asking whether he had any questions for me, he said, “How old are you?” “How old are you?” I asked back. He smiled, said fair enough, we had a good chat about policy and eventually he took a lawn sign.
My point is that there are those out there who have decided that barriers should exist. Those barriers can be real, in terms of rules that stack the deck against women or perpetuate patriarchy. Those barriers can also be more a matter of perception, of generations of stigma and social norms in a society that often is still coming to grips with women like us seeking agency and claiming our place in public life.
The more people told me I wouldn’t win because I was a young woman, the more I decided that I wasn’t going to pay attention to the obstacles they were placing in front of me. They were trying to keep me out, but I was determined to get in. At some point I had a decision to make, was I going to give up, or was I going to plow through. I decided: screw the barriers.
Each of us has this same choice. Are you going to let others stop you? We have to answer that for ourselves, but I can tell you there are inspiring women in this room tonight, in our federal Cabinet right now, and who have proudly served our country like Prime Minister Campbell, Premiers Wynne, Notley and Clark or lead parties like Alexa McDonough and Rona Ambrose, who chose not to let others determine their limits.
My hope is that this is changing more with every new generation. Too often we impose imagined barriers on ourselves. We believe so strongly in the value of democratic participation, but may undervalue the contributions we are already making to civic life and engagement – at home, in schools, in our communities, in the workplace – and the contributions we could bring.
You were all brought here to this conference because you have a vision for Canada and you are already leaders in your communities.
So tonight, I want to share a simple message with each and every one of you. Believe in what you can achieve. Believe in your vision. Whatever office you will have the privilege to hold, however you choose to participate in our democracy, believe that your contribution will matter.
Our government has looked for opportunities to help break down those barriers, real and perceived, to build a stronger Canadian democracy. For the first time, 50% of the Cabinet is made up of women. Around the world we are taking a feminist approach to foreign policy and international development, investing in initiatives that support a woman`s choice and her rights in her health care.
Just a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister announced a new initiative with the President of the United States to support women entrepreneurs and support their business successes. There is still much work to be done, but politics is a long game, and we can achieve great things if we focus on what unites us both here at home and around the world.
Looking out across this room tonight I know that you all have an important voice. Canada needs young women leaders like you to get involved and enrich our communities through the range of your experiences and opinions.
Real democracy is about all of us and all of our voices debating, discussing and creating a dialogue on important issues and finding our path together.
It can be messy and it can be challenging. But it is also beautiful, and inspiring. There is a long horizon on this task we are setting for ourselves and there are no easy solutions, no quick shortcuts to getting there.
There is more to do. There is action to take. There is progress to be made. There are hard questions to ask. And together, there are barriers to be smashed to bits. As Minister of Democratic Institutions, I am looking forward to working with Equal Voice and others across Canada to strengthen, improve and protect Canadian democracy. I look forward to working with all those who are equal to the challenge and decide with us to break through those barriers.
I wish the very best of luck next year to Emma as she heads off to study at Cape Breton University, and hope she takes this experience as a Daughter of the Vote, and as a proud Burlingtonian, in her life ahead.
Daughters of the Vote, I started my remarks by talking about how I felt I am steward of our democracy – so are you.
Thank you for the opportunity to join you.
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