B.C. Should Embrace its Gender Balanced Cabinet

“Merit” isn’t the perfect qualifier for a cabinet position that some would have you believe
Braden Klassen, Photo Editor

The newly-formed, 22 member NDP cabinet consists of an equal number of women and men, making it the first gender-balanced cabinet in the history of British Columbia. (Province of British Columbia/Flickr)

Following the precedent set by the federal government, the B.C. NDP has made their new cabinet gender balanced, meaning that half of its members (11 out of 22) are women. This is a historical first for British Columbia, and something the province should be proud of, though some have criticized the decision.

In a poll conducted by The Tyee at the beginning of July, readers were asked, “Should B.C. have a gender-balanced cabinet?”

Only 31 per cent said, “Yes, it’s time,” while 65 per cent responded, “Just pick the best men or women.” That means that more than half of British Columbians polled believe that “merit” should determine an MLA’s eligibility for entering the cabinet—that it’s better to appoint MLAs with the most experience and perceived capability, regardless of their gender. After all, the MLAs have some pretty daunting tasks ahead of them, and we wouldn’t want them to mess everything up due to their inexperience.

These convictions are unfounded. There has never been an instance where a cabinet minister resigned or was fired due to inexperience, and there likely never will be. On the contrary, the MLAs who have been fired or forced to resign in the past had plenty of “merit” and it didn’t save them from their own incompetence. Interestingly, every single member of cabinet that resigned or lost their job within the last 20 years was an older white male, some with less grace than others.

Pat Pimm, former secretary for Natural Gas Development and Peace River North MLA, resigned from the Liberal party in 2011 after being arrested for a domestic dispute with his wife. He was charged for assault in 2016.

Bill Bennett was fired twice from cabinet, once from his position as Minister of State for Mining in 2007, and again from his position of Energy Minister in 2010. The first time was for sending an offensive and embarrassing email in response to a complaining constituent—a surprisingly rookie move for the veteran politician. The second time was for criticizing then-Premier Gordon Campbell’s treatment of staff, stating in a press conference that he believed that the Legislative Assembly had succumbed to something akin to “a battered wife syndrome” under the abusive rule of the notoriously ill-tempered Campbell.

Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, Christy Clark appointed him Minister of Mining and Energy in 2013, combining the roles of both of the cabinet positions he had been previously removed from. Then the Mount Polley disaster happened under his ministry’s regulation and he was pressured by the opposition to resign. He didn’t, but if he had, he would have been the first Canadian politician to resign from a position that he had already technically been fired from. Twice.

We need accurate representation in the cabinet, and while a gender-balanced cabinet might not fully represent the gender ratio of elected MLAs, it does represent the gender ratio of the human species, which some consider to be slightly more important.

The point is that merit, when it is defined as the accumulation of practical experience related to the cabinet portfolio, is not always an accurate predictor of a minister’s performance in their appointed role.

However, if merit is defined as having the conviction to face and overcome the underlying misogyny of Western culture, as well as the patriarchal hegemony in politics, then yeah, I think our cabinet members should be appointed based on that.

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