Opinion: Freeland will face misogyny in carrying out her new roles

Opinion: Freeland will face misogyny in carrying out her new roles

Chrystia Freeland’s influence in the new Liberal minority government has been upgraded significantly with Justin Trudeau’s recent cabinet announcements.

She now serves in dual roles as deputy prime minister and minister of intergovernmental affairs. Freeland will also play key leadership roles on the “agenda, results and communications” and the “economy and the environment” cabinet committees.

In addition to her new formal mandates, however, Freeland will likely have to face another ongoing problem in Canadian politics: growing resentment and anger directed at women politicians.

As deputy prime minister, Freeland is now second in command. Whether her position will be ceremonial or substantive remains to be seen. Deputy prime minister duties are determined entirely by individual prime ministers.

Since the position was created in 1977, the importance of this role has varied. Under some prime ministers, the role was substantive, under others, it was symbolic, and under still others, it was completely absent.

Two other women, Liberals Sheila Copps and Anne McLellan, have held the position. Of the nine preceding deputy prime ministers, only one, Jean Chretien, has gone on to become party leader.

As intergovernmental affairs minister, Freeland is responsible for federal-provincial/territorial relations. She does not head a department, but leads the Intergovernmental Affairs Secretariat, located in Privy Council Office, which serves a co-ordination role for the federal government.

With only one woman premier in Canada (Caroline Cochrane of the Northwest Territories), Freeland has been given a much-needed opportunity to inject a woman’s perspective into important intergovernmental concerns of the day, such as health care, the environment and equalization.

Freeland is also being asked to clean up some of the biggest Liberal messes of the past four years. This follows a typical gendered pattern: women leaders who inherit from their male predecessors a poisoned chalice.

The biggest mess left to Freeland is national unity. The dramatic re-emergence of western alienation, including strong political rhetoric and a fringe separatist movement, has frayed the national politics.

Many in Alberta and Saskatchewan argue that Trudeau’s actions have crippled the oil and gas sector. Specifically, they point to the failure of the Energy East pipeline, the overhaul of infrastructure approval processes (Bill C-69, referred to by critics as the “No More Pipelines Bill”), and the “tanker ban” (Bill C-48) on the northern Pacific coast, but not the Atlantic coast.

Trudeau’s comments, later retracted, about phasing out the oilsands further stoked resentments. The delays in Trans Mountain pipeline construction, despite the government’s purchase of the project, have caused suspicion.

Rising western alienation was evident prior to the election and reflected in the 2019 election results: the Liberals dropped from 29 to just 15 seats in the West. The Liberals were shut out of Alberta and Saskatchewan, with veteran parliamentarian Ralph Goodale losing his seat.

Trudeau has struggled to establish effective relationships with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, neither of whom appear motivated to extend an olive branch. At best, Trudeau has failed to contain regional tensions. At worst, he has fostered it through policy, personal style and neglect.

Expectations of Freeland in her dual roles are exceedingly high. She has been described as “indispensable” to Trudeau, and poised to “save the Liberals.”

This media framing is consistent with research that shows that women politicians are often elevated by media early in their careers or when they take on new positions. But this same research finds that women are attacked more fiercely than men when they fail to meet such high expectations.

Already, Freeland has signalled a more collaborative approach to western interests, and Moe has responded positively. Kenney also emerged from his first meeting with Freeland, aimed at finding “common ground,” to say: “I appreciate Minister Freeland’s willingness to listen and work with us, but the measure of the prime minister’s sincerity will be swift action on these urgent issues.”

With no real policy tools in her portfolio, Freeland’s capacity to affect change is questionable. Her collaborative approach may quickly be reframed by her critics as a weakness and indicative of women’s leadership inadequacies.

Freeland’s new challenges are formidable, and will be even more difficult given the gendered nature of the issues she’s been tasked to address. Western alienation is tied to both male-dominated natural resource industry interests and regional identity.

Public vitriol directed at Catherine McKenna, the former environment and climate change minister, illustrates the challenges faced by women politicians who occupy positions of real power, especially when advocating for climate change policies.

Given that Freeland is now responsible for some of the most volatile files facing the country, it is highly likely that she too will face misogynistic attacks.

Without anyone from Alberta or Saskatchewan appointed to cabinet, Freeland is Trudeau’s point person in dealing with these regional tensions and economic issues. She will likely be the conduit through which western anger towards the Liberal federal government will channelled.

Like other women leaders around the world, Freeland can expect that the anger directed at her will be gendered in nature, with the goal of such attacks to punish her for being a powerful woman in politics.

Her role as deputy prime minister is likely to amplify the sexism directed at her, whether or not she assumes more power in this position.

If successful, Freeland’s efforts may bolster national unity, the economy, the environment and Canada’s relationships with the United States and Mexico. But relentless sexist attacks against Freeland could also derail progress on these issues altogether.

There is growing awareness of the need for strategies to address sexism, violence and threats of violence against women in Canadian politics.

Given Nov. 25 marked the first day of the United Nations’ 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, now is an appropriate time for Canadians to discuss and address these issues.

Tracey Raney is associate professor of politics and public administration at Ryerson University. Loleen Berdahl

is professor and head of the department of political studies at the University of Saskatchewan. This piece is reprinted from The Conversation under a creative commons license.

Just Posted

Red life-ring with splash
Started from the bottom: How a family business started and grew in central Alberta

By Carina Moran We started our business in the basement of our… Continue reading

Shiree Appleman
Innisfail RCMP looking for missing woman

Innisfail RCMP is asking the public to help locate a woman who… Continue reading

Rotary Club of Red Deer logo.
Red Deer Rotary Club hosting tree planting event later this month

The Rotary Club of Red Deer will host a tree-planting event later… Continue reading

New admissions have been suspended for Engineering Technology diplomas (Instrumentation, Electrical and Mechanical) and the Transitional Vocational Program at Red Deer College. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Developmentally disabled impacted: Red Deer College suspends program

Transitional Vocational Program comes to an end

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw is asking Albertans to do their part by observing gathering limits, staying home if unwell, wearing masks and maintaining physical distance. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three new Central zone COVID-19 deaths, Alberta adds 1,433 cases

Red Deer down to 802 active cases of COVID-19

Bo’s Bar and Grill owner Brennen Wowk said the hospitality industry is looking for more clarity from the province around what conditions must be met to allow for restaurants reopening. (Advocate file photo)
Frustated restaurant owners want to know government’s reopening plan

Restaurant owners feel they are in lockdown limbo

Welcoming cowboy boots at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. The bar and hotel are up for sale. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘It was a going concern’: Remaining bar and hotel in Alberta coal ghost town for sale

WAYNE, Alta. — Built during the First World War, it survived the… Continue reading

A letter from a bottle that washed up in New Brunswick in 2017 is shown in an undated handout photo. A team of researchers from Université du Québec à Rimouski are trying to solve the mystery of whether a letter in a bottle that washed up in New Brunswick in 2017 was indeed from a young victim of Titanic shipwreck or simply a hoax. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, N. Beaudry, UQAR *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Real or hoax? Quebec scholars probe mystery letter allegedly from Titanic passenger

MONTREAL — Researchers from Université du Québec à Rimouski are trying to… Continue reading

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau takes part in a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. Advocates, experts and opposition MPs say correspondence showing close communication between the federal Transport Department and the Canadian Transportation Agency regarding passenger refunds throws into question the independence of the CTA, an arm’s-length body. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Emails reveal close communication between government, transport regulator on refunds

OTTAWA — Advocates, experts and opposition MPs say correspondence showing close communication… Continue reading

Pharmacist Barbara Violo shows off a vial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Toronto on Friday, March 12, 2021. Several family doctors and physician associations across Canada say they welcome questions from anyone concerned about second doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca or any other COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Family doctors say they can answer vaccine questions, after Trudeau recommends them

Several family doctors and physician associations across Canada say they welcome questions… Continue reading

The Olympic rings float in the water at sunset in the Odaiba section of Tokyo, Wednesday, June 3, 2020. A new Leger poll suggests Canadians are divided over plans to send athletes from Canada to the upcoming Olympic games in Tokyo as Japan grapples with climbing COVID-19 cases. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Eugene Hoshiko
Canadians divided on sending Team Canada athletes to the Tokyo Olympic Games: poll

OTTAWA — A new poll by Leger and the Association of Canadian… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Insert your name here

Back in the Paleolithic Era when a McDonald’s cheeseburger was 29 cents… Continue reading

Black Press file photo
Job search: Write a request that will get accepted

Last Thursday, when I logged into LinkedIn, I had nine connection requests… Continue reading

T-shirt with vaccine shot. (Contributed photo)
Letter: Hand out T-shirts with vaccine shots

I made myself a graphic T-shirt recently after getting my vaccine shot.… Continue reading

Most Read