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Justin Trudeau's Promises

Incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned on a wide array of platform promises. Metro tracks how he is doing in this feature.

Justin Trudeau's promise: Gender parity in cabinet

Incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to appoint an equal number of men and women to his cabinet on Nov. 4.

Chrystia Freeland campaigns with Justin Trudeau during the 2013 byelection in Toronto. The University-Rosedale MP is considered a good bet for his cabinet table.

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Chrystia Freeland campaigns with Justin Trudeau during the 2013 byelection in Toronto. The University-Rosedale MP is considered a good bet for his cabinet table.

Each day this week, Metro is taking an in-depth look at some of the immediate items on prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau’s to-do list. Today, we examine his promise to have gender parity in cabinet.

Justin Trudeau made one of his more striking campaign promises on a hot mid-June day when he was still in third place.

“My Liberal cabinet,” he said, “will have an equal number of men and women.”

The time has come to appoint that cabinet, one of the most important tasks for the prime minister-designate’s transition team in the coming days. If he keeps his promise on Nov. 4, his will be the first Canadian cabinet in history to feature an equal number of men and women.

“I think it’s smart politically, I think it’s actually doable and a it’s good idea,” said University of Ottawa political science professor Caroline Andrew, director of the school’s Centre on Governance.

Choosing a cabinet is a delicate process involving many considerations, including region, language and political experience.

Stephen Harper’s final 39-person cabinet included 12 women (about 30 per cent). That was a higher proportion than the overall House of Commons, which had only 25 per cent female members of Parliament.

Trudeau has set the bar higher, which “gives him the opportunity to dig a little bit deeper into his women’s caucus,” said Nancy Peckford, national spokesperson for Equal Voice, a multi-partisan organization dedicated to electing more women in Canada.

Fifty Liberal women were elected on Monday, 42 of whom are first-time MPs.

“We think he will have no trouble finding highly-qualified, talented women to fill those posts,” Peckford said.

When Trudeau made the announcement in June, some critics said Trudeau should just pick his cabinet regardless of gender, and was compromising the possibility of appointing ministers of merit alone.

Peckford says that argument is “bogus, quite frankly.”

“This is not a quota. This is a commitment to equality,” she said. “We don’t buy the argument at all that it will somehow limit his choices any more than any other consideration.”

Among some good bets for a spot at the cabinet table: former editor and author Chrystia Freeland, former Assembly of First Nations B.C. regional chief Jody Wilson-Raybould, international trade lawyer and former UN advisor Catherine McKenna, Oxford-educated lawyer Mélanie Joly and former Newfoundland and Labrador cabinet minister Judy Foote.

Peckford said the promise is a positive signal to all 50 women in Trudeau’s caucus, regardless of whether they’re in cabinet.

“This is a signal to those women who ran and won that he very much wants to value their voices and ensure that they are able to make the best contribution possible,” Peckford said. “In the context of a House that is still very much male-dominated, this commitment is quite significant.”

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