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,


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.

What’s your favorite virtue? Who are your real life heroes? These are the questions that the Liberal Party of Canada is very curious to ask women.

So curious that they’re even holding an entire event dedicated to it! That’s right, on Thursday night in Toronto, “ladies” are invited for cocktails and candid conversation (for $250 a head) with Justin, unplugged! The Liberal Party has even been so kind as to craft an invitation specially for our gender. Complete with cute cursive writing and lots of splashy colours and of course, Mr. Trudeau’s mug plastered all over it Andy Warhol style. It is being promoted on twitter with the hashtag #AskJustin.

The only thing missing from this creepy, patronizing and unbelievably ridiculous picture are scented pages and locks of Trudeau’s hair as door prizes.

Yes “ladies”, it appears Mr. Trudeau is attempting to win our vote with cocktails, small talk and colorful invitations that look like invitations to the Junior Prom! Fortunately, Trudeau’s plan has totally backfired. The invitation to his “ladies night” invitation has spread like wildfire over social media, with many people, especially women, pointing out how absurd and sexist it is. The hashtag for the event #askjustin has been completely taken over by people turning the table on Trudeau and giving him a taste of his own patronizing sludge. It trended Wednesday night for all the wrong reasons. Some hilarious gems include:

@bendanjones: boxing or policy briefs
@RBBeche: Was Humpty Dumpty pushed?
@alixiswright37: Are you on Team Edward of Team Jacob?
@craddo: Does this mole look okay to you?

You might be shocked by the Liberal Party’s latest attempt to win over the “women vote”, but what do you expect from a party that has actually released, on several occasions, a “Pink Book” on so-called “women’s policy,” complete with a rose adorned cover. Apparently and rather unbelievably, the Liberal Party thinks dressing policy in pink makes it more palatable to women.

If this is what Trudeau and the Liberal Party think are appealing to female voters in this country, they’ve got a lot to learn about women.

So Justin, here’s a bit of advice from a lady who doesn’t feel like spending $250 to tell you what her favorite virtues are:

  • Ask women the same thing you ask men. Don’t treat us any different because of our gender. Ask us about policy, about your platform, and engage us in intelligent discussion of substance. Don’t patronize us.
  • Don’t treat women like we’re one homogenous voting block. We care about all issues, from child care to the economy.
  • There is no such thing as women’s issues, because women’s issues are society’s issues.
  • Retire the Pink Book. It’s just embarrassing. You wouldn’t have a Blue Book for men, so why do you have a Pink Book for women?

Last week’s controversy over Health Canada’s funding of a program to give heroin to select addicts is like déjà vu. It’s an awful lot like the conflicts the federal government has had with similar drug programs over the years. The Insite supervised injection clinic in Vancouver’s renowned Downtown Eastside is the most famous example, where addicts can go to inject heroin under the supervision of nurses. Centres likes these are sometimes called “safe injection” sites, which is truly an oxymoron considering that these harmful drugs are anything but safe.

There has long been a debate raging in Canada over how best to help people who are addicted to dangerous, illegal drugs. It’s been played out in the court rooms and among politicians and policy makers on repeat, yet we don’t seem to be getting closer to actually helping addicts in the Downtown Eastside recover.

All it takes is one trip over to the Downtown Eastside and you can see for yourself that centres like Insite are doing little to get the addicts off the street and into places where they can get off drugs and get their lives on track. Arguably, places like Insite are actually making addictions worse by enabling the drug use and sending the message that it’s “okay” to use drugs, so long as it’s done “safely.”

The Downtown Eastside is an extreme example that represents only a small part of the problem. Drug and alcohol addiction are serious problems in communities across the country that often exist in privacy behind closed doors, not in full view on street corners.

Marshall Smith is an addiction expert who knows first-hand what it’s like to be stuck in the depths of an addiction. Ten years ago he was a successful political staffer with a bright career ahead of him. Then someone offered him some cocaine, and he was instantly hooked. His life derailed and he spent years living as a homeless addict, including in the Downtown Eastside. Smith recovered, and is now the Manager of Corporate Development and Community Relations for Cedars at Cobble Hill, an addiction treatment center on Vancouver Island.

According to Smith, in order to craft a successful strategy to deal with addiction, government policy makers need to be talking to people who have actually beat their addictions and are living in long-term recovery. “If they want to help individuals and communities recover, they need to listen to people in recovery from this disease. They need to ask people in recovery how they got well and what is required to successfully support yourself in recovery” says Smith.

The problem that Marshall sees with current drug policies and programs is that they are focused on the maintenance of people’s addictions and disease prevention, not on the recovery. The questions policy makers seem to be asking is “how can we make it safer for addicts to do drugs?”, not “how can we get addicts off of drugs and help them get their lives together?”

So instead of developing more recovery programs, more programs are developed that give addicts access to drugs and tools that keep them stuck in the depths of their addictions.

Neal Berger, the Executive Director of the Cedars Cobble Hills Treatment Center, is calling on the government to fund and execute a national research study on people who are living in long-term recovery from their addiction. He sees real value in studying people who are successfully managing their illness. It’s this valuable insight that can lead to effective policy to help addicts achieve recovery.

Berger is encouraging the government to sit down and talk to people who have overcome their addictions. “Like many other diseases, addiction is a chronic illness that needs to be rigorously managed through participation in recovery focused programs” says Berger.

Smith likens this approach to any other strategy one would employ to beat a disease, asking “can you imagine building a cancer strategy without engaging cancer survivors?”

Getting addicts into recovery is easier said than done. Smith knows all too well the challenging road it takes to get there, and a system that enables addictions certainly doesn’t make it any easier. A system that actively pushes addicts towards recovery and draws on the real experiences of those who have recovered could make all the difference.

This article was originally posted on Huffington Post Canada.

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