No, you aren’t suffering from double vision — it’s just that as we gear up for Vancouver’s municipal election, Vision and the Non-Partisan Association are looking increasingly similar.

Last week, NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe made a big campaign announcement that he will take on child hunger by working with various groups to fund a breakfast program.

Practically at the same time, Mayor Gregor Robertson, who is running for re-election for Vision Vancouver, made his own announcement on child hunger. He pledged the city would invest funds into the Vancouver School Board’s breakfast program.

It’s great to see an important issue like child hunger take front and center in this campaign. However, the two candidates have essentially the same position on the issue, they just disagree on how a school breakfast program should be funded and facilitated.

This week, LaPointe announced another big NPA campaign policy. If elected, he says he will create the “first-ever” Vancouver ombudsperson’s office. This will help Vancouverites deal with their issues with the city so they can avoid other costly avenues, such as the courts.

Vision Vancouver was quick to point out that the position already exists: the B.C. Ombudsperson, who has jurisdiction over all local governments – including Vancouver.

Well, there goes LaPointe’s groundbreaking announcement – his big policy is something that already functionally exists. However, LaPointe is adamant that Vancouver needs its own distinct ombudsperson, and even pointed out that in a former life, he was an ombudsperson for the CBC.

Again there is no fundamental disagreement – both mayoral candidates believe Vancouverites need an ombudsperson, all they disagree about is who pays for the service: the city or the province.

Another big NPA policy announcement is city-wide free Wi-Fi. If elected as mayor, LaPointe has promised there will be free Wi-Fi throughout the city. But Vision has been pilot-projecting free Wi-Fi in select Vancouver areas since 2013 and Vision Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer has said that city-wide Wi-Fi is a long term goal.

Another big promise and no fundamental difference between the parties.

There are nearly two months left in this election, and the NPA has promised there are more policies to come. Based on what they have released so far, the choice in this election is between Vision and a team offering the same policies as Vision – only with a different set of faces.

If the NPA wants people to vote to change government, they need to offer policies and ideas that are different from Vision.

We rarely seem to hear about spending scandals and wasted money in municipal governments. Why is that?

Is it because municipal politicians are more careful with tax dollars, or are better money managers than their provincial and federal counterparts?

I don’t think so.

Municipal spending scandals happen, but they are simply more likely to be hidden from inquisitive eyes. Unlike other levels of government, municipal governments generally don’t have formal opposition parties whose main job it is to scrutinize what the government is doing. Another big thing that helps bring transparency at the provincial and federal levels is the auditor general position.

Every year, an auditor general — an independent, expert civil servant — and his or her team examine how the government spends money. They issue a report that tells everyone where the government is doing well and where it isn’t when it comes to spending habits.

But wait, unbeknownst to many British Columbians, there actually is an auditor general responsible for looking into the spending of municipal governments in our province.

According to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Auditor General for Local Government was created two years ago, has spent nearly $5 million in taxpayers’ money and has published just one measly audit of one tiny rural municipality.

Now there’s a spending scandal — $5 million for one report.

In November, we are electing new mayors, councillors and school trustees for four years. It would have been useful for reports on how our money is being spent in the Lower Mainland. That sort of information is vital to helping voters make up their minds as to whether their councils have been governing wisely or wasting money.

But instead of transparency, we have a brick wall. For example, voters actually have no idea if Vancouver is making smart decisions on sewers or if Richmond is paying employees too much.

And what makes it worse is this lack of information is deliberate. Back in March, the provincial minister responsible for the Auditor General for Local Government actually said that no reports would be released in the run-up the civic elections – because they were “respecting local governments.”

What about respecting taxpayers?

It’s time for some reports from the Auditor General for Local Government – let’s get some value for the money we are spending on her office.

Lately there’s been a lot of talk about the lack of women on corporate boards.

All this talk is certainly justified – the numbers are truly dismal. In Canada, women only comprise ten per cent of corporate board members.

Those are the kind of numbers you’d expect to see in 1972, not in 2014.

Yes, it’s a problem, but no, it’s not something that can be truly “fixed” overnight with law.

But that’s exactly what Liberal Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette is proposing. Her private member’s bill will institute a quota system that will mandate that 40 per cent of all corporate board members must be female.

The Liberals aren’t alone in their call for quotas, the NDP have come out in favour of them as well. NDP MP Niki Ashton has said she supports gender quotas for federal crown boards.

That’s the kind of policy you’d expect to see in 1972, not in 2014.

According to Hervieux-Payette, “law is the right place to start…so that women in Canada are contributing to the level of their talents.”

This is the same tired refrain we have heard from the Liberals and NDP for years and years, as they’ve come out batting for gender quotas in the electoral system too.

It’s time to put this relic of a policy back in the time machine for good.

While there’s no doubt Hervieux-Payette’s intentions are in the right place, her proposed “solution” is very misplaced.

Merit, not the law, is the right place to start if we want to see more women in the boardroom.

Women should be on boards, in public office, and on judicial benches not because they tick a box on a form, but because they are smart, talented and have earned these positions through hard work and merit.

Gender quotas result in good numbers on paper, but that’s about all they do for the advancement of women. In reality, gender quotas simply reinforce tokenism and push the sexist belief that women somehow aren’t “good enough” to earn power on their own.

Quotas are downright patronizing, insulting and marginalizing. Let’s be honest, how many of us women would actually want to sit on a board if it’s just to fill some quota?

Women, like all people, want to be recognized for their hard work and merit, not their anatomy.

There are many real barriers facing women in the corporate world, but quotas just create another barrier to substantive female involvement.

We already know there is no lack of amazing women out there with incredible talents to contribute — so what can be done to start seeing more of them on corporate boards?

The Government of Canada’s Advisory Council for Promoting Women on Boards has somegood ideas which they have included in a report released by the Minister of Status of Women, Kellie Leitch.

When it comes to the private sector, the Advisory Council emphasizes mentorship, professional development and networking opportunities for women.

A good example of this that I have seen firsthand is the Canadian Bar Association’s Women’s Lawyer’s Forum, which is very active and offers a lots of opportunities to connect with other lawyers in the profession. It also runs a great mentorship program that is really beneficial to young lawyers.

Encouraging women to be involved in organizations within their professions helps them get their names out there and network with other movers and shakers.

When it comes to the public service and crown corporations, the Advisory Council suggests private-public sector partnerships to bring in more private sector women to public sector boards.

One idea not addressed by the report is the role that existing women’s networking organizations can play. Groups like the Women’s Executive Network work with the corporate sector to promote women’s representation on boards. There are many other women’s groups out there that could be doing the same. It’s time for them to take initiative and lead by example, rather than just lament the lack of women at the helms of power.

Finally, the corporate sector needs to step up to the plate. Saying they can’t find enough women to fill board spots is not an acceptable. If companies want to find strong female talent for their boards, they need to get out the office and recruit, just like they would to find good staff. This is not an easy process and sometimes means looking in unlikely places.

The Liberal-NDP “solution” of gender quotas is about as good of an idea as implementing government printed “binders full of women.” At the end of the day, it’s just paper deep.

Let’s focus on getting women a real voice in the boardroom, not just a reserved seat at the table.

Originally posted on Huffington Post.

Dear Leah,
We’ve never met, but I read your open letter to Nazanin Afshin-Jam in the Globe and Mail.

As you may have heard, there is a very unfortunate trend in the media to go after the spouse of a politician for something that politician did or said.

This disturbing trend almost universally applies to wives only. Why is that? I recall from my university women’s studies classes that this is rooted in the archaic, patriarchal notion that wives are somehow an extension of their husbands. You see, Leah, how often is it that a husband gets publicly attacked for something his wife says or does?

So actually, this is not so much of a trend as it is a long-standing, sexist tradition.

A tradition which you, in 2014 made the choice to participate in.

A politician said some things you disagreed with. In response, did you pen a column to that politician? No.

Instead, you penned an 873-word column (873 words!) to his wife criticizing, lecturing and attempting to shame her.

Your column was condescending, patronizing and downright mean.

I wasn’t impressed. You are a smart, educated newspaper columnist and author.

Instead of penning an intelligent, thoughtful column about issues that you care about, you chose to sling mud.

You chose to participate in a sexist tradition that should be a distant memory of the past.

But don’t worry, your column wasn’t a complete waste of ink. It might serve as a wonderful learning tool in future women’s studies classes, where clever students can critique it and shake their heads that in 2014 it was actually published. Maybe one day my daughter will be one of those students.

So thank you Leah. Thank you for reminding feminists that, even in 2014, there is still much work to be done.

Yours sincerely,

Kathryn

Originally posted on Huffington Post Canada

Recently, Steve Paikin, author and host of TVO’s The Agenda, took to his blog to ask a question: “where, oh where, are all the female guests?”

According to Paikin, it’s awfully hard to get females to appear on his show.
He crafts two explanations for this that are so absurd and insulting to women, it’s no wonder he struggles to get them on his show.

Paikin says “the vast majority of “experts” in the subjects we cover are men.” That’s quite a sweeping statement. If you’ve ever watched The Agenda, you’ll know it covers an extremely wide range of current affairs and social issues. For example, the past few episodes alone have covered a huge spectrum of issues, such as access to water, breast cancer and the political participation of young Canadians. Peruse through their past episodes and you’ll be amazed at the variety of topics they cover.

There is definitely no lack of intelligent, insightful women out there with expertise in the multitude of issues The Agenda covers each week.

Paikin offers up another reason women guests are so hard to come by, and this one will floor you. He says “we’ve also discovered there also seems to be something in women’s DNA that makes them harder to book.” I think the last time I read something along those lines was in my undergraduate women’s studies critical theory course, but it was something written in the 1800′s.
According to Paikin: “No man will say, “Sorry, can’t do your show tonight, my roots are showing.”

I’m sure these words will find their way in a women’s studies course someday too, to be picked apart by clever students who won’t believe for a second it was written in 2014.

Paikin then tops off his blog post with a plea, “is there something we’re not doing that we should be doing to increase our female presence on the program?”

Well, he could begin with not insulting and stereotyping us, or making inane assertions that for the most part went extinct in 1952.

Paikin has rightly been receiving a lot of heat over his blog post, but the silver lining is that at least he has opened an important debate: why aren’t there more women commentators and pundits?

Firstly, how often are women asked? You often see panels on current affairs and news talk programs that include only one woman. If programs are treating women guests as quota fillers, that’s a big problem. My question to Paikin and others is, how many women to you actually invite on your program versus men? Is it 50/50, or is it less? If so, why? It’s a cop out, and inaccurate, to say there are more men out there willing to opine on topics than women.

Secondly, how often are women only invited on programs to talk about so called “women’s issues” like child care? I’ll bet it happens a lot. Women get stereotyped and pigeon holed, and that’s not right.

Thirdly, how common is it for women pundits and commentators to face sexist backlash? Unfortunately, that’s all too common. I wrote a weekly column for two years and headed up a national advocacy organization, and I can say first hand at least half the negative criticism had something to do with my looks or gender. It’s completely wrong, but it’s a unique challenge women in the media face.

The network that does the best job of putting women on the air is also the newest, the Sun New Network. They have an impressive number of female guests, hosts and contributors – who talk about everything under the sun.

The only way women are going to appear on more news and commentary show is for them to be invited. The only way this will change is if TV hosts stop thinking like Paikin, and make a greater effort to include women on their panels and in their programming in a meaningful way.

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