Gender Parity or Gender Cleansing ? Or it is a retirement announcement with a different spin?

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

June 9, 2016


We are all feminists today. We know that men have no monopoly on being successful politicians or in totally screwing up. More generally we know that gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation are artificial barriers that for too long have allowed the ‘suits’ in the white male club to stay in power.

Nobody made that point better than our Prime Minister when he announced that his first Cabinet would be composed of an equal number of men and women and would also reflect Canada’s cultural mosaic. In the USA Obama broke the racial barrier, and now Hillary Clinton has smashed that other glass ceiling becoming the first female democratic nominee.


America’s choice for their next President?

Barring an act of incredible stupidity by our friends south of the border, she will become the next US president and leader of the free world, with the largest military in global history and the second most powerful economic machine on the planet. Of course this is a biggie for the Yanks, but the world has already seen some exceptional female leaders including Thatcher, Merkel, Meir, Gandhi, Katherine the Great. Kim Campbell was Canada’s first female PM.

So I’m puzzled by Ted McMeekin’s announcement that he is planning to resign from Premier Wynne’s cabinet to make way for a women to replace him. It’s true that less than 50% of Wynne’s Cabinet jobs are held by women. And Ted, the popular member of provincial parliament for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, my riding, claims he is a feminist and that he expects his resignation will facilitate the transition towards gender parity in Wynne’s Cabinet.

Using quotas, be they ethnic or gender, has been an important transition tool for changing attitudes and opening the door to broader participation by underrepresented sectors of our society. But quotas should never be considered as anything but transitional or they suddenly become that reverse discrimination the white guys all fear. And the pursuit of attracting more of one gender at the expense of the other may lead to perverse outcomes then requiring corrective gender re-balancing.

Teaching was a field once dominated by males, and now is a place where men are seen as an endangered species. Still, while the gap in male and female incomes is shrinking it is hard to argue that the need for transition is over in so many other economic sectors. Except at Queen’s Park where female MPPs are on the same pay scale as their male counterparts and the Premier herself is a woman with the fattest pay cheque in the legislature.

Yet, the argument remains that women are under-represented at Queen’s park relative to their numbers in the general population. But then so are the economically disadvantaged, the poor. And what about those with lower educational achievement or those with a physical or emotional handicap – or seniors. Indeed casting our parliament as a mini-me of the entire Ontario demographic could be a scary thought and formula for failure.

Transit - McMeekin tight

Ted McMeekin – MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale

And if a male political leader, like Ted is truly a feminist, wouldn’t staying on the job to continue to promote equality be the most important thing he could do? McMeekin is a popular political veteran with an enviable track record, having served the people wearing three different ministries. The horse-racing folks will remember him for his efforts to save their industry after the McGuinty’s austerity program nearly drove it out of existence.

In his latest job, as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Ted has just initiated a long over-due sea-change in how we elect municipal politicians. That includes new campaign spending limits, prohibiting corporate and union donations, and enabled municipalities to use ranked ballots to ensure that next elected municipal representative would the most popular, the first, second or third choice of the voters, should the municipality go this route.

Transit - Rishia Burke + McMeekin

McMeekin in an animated conversation with Risha Burke, field worker with Community development Halton.

Ted has spent much of his life in politics and fighting for the good causes. He may well be considering the benefits of slowing down, or may even be planning retirement. But resigning his Cabinet seat, notionally to make way for the Premier to appoint a woman, does him no credit. The Premier is a powerful leader and quite capable of recasting her Cabinet however she chooses. Ted would be in or out depending on her judgement of the skills needed for the new team.

Gender parity is a societal goal and we are inching ever closer to that goal, with or without McMeekin’s resignation from Cabinet. In the end it is more about enabling women and ensuring accessibility by removing roadblocks. And there have always been vocations in which one gender or the other predominates, and usually for a good reason. But politics is not one of those vocations.

There are still other significant opportunities to facilitate the transition to the goal of a more gender-neutral world. For example MP’s in Ottawa are considering enhancing the language of the song we all learn to sing, our national anthem, to make it more gender-neutral. But watching a good politician quit Cabinet in the interests of gender parity seems more like a case of gender cleansing. Who will be the next male volunteer?


Ray Rivers is an economist and author who writes weekly on federal and provincial issues, applying his 25 years of involvement with federal and provincial ministries.  Rivers’ involvement in city matters led to his appointment as founding chair of Burlington’s Sustainable Development Committee.  He was also a candidate in the 1995 provincial election

Background links:

McMeekin Stepping DownMore McMeekin

Ranked BallotsNational Anthem

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6 comments to Gender Parity or Gender Cleansing ? Or it is a retirement announcement with a different spin?

  • Vivienne

    Hi Ray, my take on this when I read about Ted’s reason for stepping down: He is getting tired. He has been an excellent representative first, for our area, and then for the whole of Ontario. This is an easy way for him to slow down a bit, and sound like a good guy with a noble reason. There is a first for everything.

  • James

    I cannot support any system that chooses gender parity and/or ethnic parity over having the best people available in those positions, regardless of their sex, race, or skin colour. I want only the best, not a watered down sample of society, where people are chosen based on their sex, race, and skin colour, simply because we want to make sure we end up with equal token numbers of every possible combination. This hurts us more than it helps us. Political correctness has gone too far, and we’re a weaker province and nation because of it.

  • Walter Mulkewich

    Ray: With all due respects – its not about quotas, but about leadership and Ted McMeekin has shown leadership.
    We need more males to take a stand. We will have a better political system and society when more females are involved and elected. Walter Mulkewich, a proud feminist and democrat.

    • John


      For my money as a tax payer, I want the best possible person for the job regardless of gender.
      Why would I except anything less ?

  • Thanks for a very insightful article. True to your courage, you did not shrink from addressing the “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” quota system, a concept which can be misapplied in many contexts. I’ve heard politicians excuse their vote on one issue as a means of staying in office to address other issues. And, for many years now I’ve heard representatives of various demographics referred to as “tokens”. But sooner or later the principle of the quota concept must be addressed.