Justin Trudeau's cabinet gender quota raises debate

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet is announced on Wednesday, there is still debate about whether he is making a mistake by fulfilling his election promise to make 50 per cent of cabinet ministers women.

Selecting members based on gender rather than merit alone could backfire, retired lawyer says

On Wednesday, 15 women were appointed as federal cabinet ministers under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet was announced on Wednesday, there is still debate about whether he made a mistake by fulfilling his election promise to make 50 per cent of cabinet ministers women.

Selecting members based on gender rather than on merit alone could backfire, said Winnipeg retired lawyer Naomi Levine.

"If [the women Trudeau appoints] don't do it well, then the naysayers … say, 'He never should have promised that. Women could never do it,'" she said.

"The message would be to other women … once you get in there, you will fail and everybody will laugh at you."

Joan Grace, associate professor of political science at the University of Winnipeg, is in favour of a gender quota.

"I'm hesitant to use the word 'corrective,' but it is a way to facilitate more diversity within our … most important decision-making body in terms of federal politics," she said.

Strong candidates to choose from

Trudeau made the election promise before he knew who he'd be able to choose from, and Levine said he is lucky to have ended up with strong options.

Grace, on the other hand, said luck has no part in it.

"I think we again have to remind ourselves here that it's likely — because there is a richness of talent here in women who have been elected — that the nomination process worked," she said. 

"These women come with vast experience."

If there was one thing Levine and Grace could agree on, it was that in situations where there are two candidates of equal talent and ability but different gender, women should be chosen over men.

"I would say go for the women because you really have to do affirmative action to get women and other minorities up to the level where the men were," said Levine.

"Women have been overlooked for decades. Decades and decades," Grace said.

Meanwhile, Karine Levasseur, an associate professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba, noted that women are still absent from some high-profile cabinet roles.

"Two of the most powerful departments, being finance and treasury board, which really control the spending aspect, are still held by men, and I would have liked to see a woman at the helm there," she said.

The topic divided Twitter users from across the country.

"Hiring inferior people to maintain a ratio is idiocy," tweeted Toronto-based Spencer Craig.

In the same debate, originally started by George Stroumboulopoulos, @thekeydom tweeted a different opinion.

Overall, Trudeau is sending a positive message with the quota, both Levine and Grace said: The boardroom is open, come on in.