Green Leader Elizabeth May says she’s stunned that Justin Trudeau of the Liberals hasn’t agreed to participate in a proposed federal party leaders’ debate on issues of women’s equality.
“Yes, I am surprised, but I’m also horrified that the Liberals are voting for Bill C-51,” the Saanich–Gulf Islands MP told the Georgia Straight by phone from her constituency office in Sidney, referring to the Conservative government’s controversial antiterrorism legislation.
Up for Debate, an alliance of more than 100 women’s and other organizations, is calling on party leaders to commit to a nationally broadcast debate in this year’s election on such issues as pay equity, childcare, and violence against women. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and May have said yes, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Bloc Québécois Leader Mario Beaulieu, and Trudeau have not responded.
“We do look forward to the eventual discussions that will be had on the subject of leaders’ debates,” Cameron Ahmad, Trudeau’s press secretary, told the Straight by phone from Ottawa. “But, for now, our focus remains meeting as many Canadians as possible across the country.”
On its website, Up for Debate points out that then party leaders John Turner, Brian Mulroney, and Ed Broadbent took part in a debate on women’s issues in the 1984 federal election. Since then, according to May, leaders’ debates have tended to give women’s rights short shrift.
“It seems to me that in election campaigns, the major national networks decide in conjunction with the major national parties that there are key ballot-box issues, and then they’ll decide other issues aren’t ballot-box issues,” May said. “They’ll decide environment’s not a ballot-box issue, women’s issues are not ballot-box issues.”
Irene Tsepnopoulos-Elhaimer, executive director of Women Against Violence Against Women Rape Crisis Centre, told the Straight that “men’s issues are always at the forefront” despite the fact women make up more than half the Canadian population.
“If women are being sexually assaulted and abused by men, it’s a men’s issue,” Tsepnopoulos-Elhaimer said by phone from her Vancouver office. “So let’s call it a men’s issue.”
On Saturday (April 11), Up for Debate will host a public forum at the Vancouver Public Library (350 West Georgia Street).