They say a week is a long time in politics. But just about two weeks have trundled by since the federal election in which every party was the loser – except for the Liberals who managed to hang on to power. Every pundit has had their go at the Liberals, the NDP, the Greens and especially at the Tories. The Tories had the most to gain and the most to lose; they lost—despite winning the popular vote – because people living in city suburbs and new Canadians just didn’t trust that the party of Stephen Harper and Andrew Scheer had really changed. Moreover, the right wing of the of the party judged O’Toole as too cozy with the centre-left.
But few have raised the alarm about what happened in two federal ridings in Nova Scotia. Two capable and experienced women lost to two white men. Two high-profile Liberal women incumbents lost to two Tory men, whereas most of the Liberal men held on to their seats.
Who were the women and why did they lose?
In South Shore-St Margaret’s, Liberal Bernadette Jordan had won two terms, first in 2015, then in 2019. She was clearly cabinet material because she was first appointed Minister of Rural Economic Development for 11 months and then got a “promotion” to Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard in November 2019
In summer 2020, the Sipekne’katik First Nation defied the government’s rules and began to fish for lobster outside the official season. They claimed that the 1999 Marshall decision affirmed Indigenous hunting and fishing rights to earn a ‘moderate livelihood’. However, the non-Indigenous commercial fishers opposed this – first because they didn’t want to lose any part of the lucrative lobster fishery to the Mi’kmaq. Second, those opposed claimed the Indigenous fishers were not conserving the lobster stocks. The opposition also insisted that the Mi’kmaq were starting a commercial fishery – which is technically not allowed under the Marshall decision. In a process called Marshall 2, fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan worked with three Atlantic bands to bring in new rules that would apply to the Indigenous fishers. But Chief Mike Sack of the Sipekne’katik band refused to fall into line. He insisted his band had developed its own self-regulating system for licenses, quotas, conservation which rivalled the government’s.
In September 2020, 350 Mi’kmaw lobster traps in St Mary’s Bay in southwest NS were removed by non-Indigenous fishers. The Sipekne’katik First Nation also said the non-Indigenous fishers had vandalized their equipment and boats. From the demonstrations and the anger from the non-Indigenous commercial fishers it was clear that race figured prominently in the dispute.
With emotions running high, Minister Jordan tried to calm everything down. She wanted ongoing talks with the Sipeknak’atik and still wanted the federal government to have some control over the fishery.
Of course, Jordan trying to steer a middle course backfired. In her riding which combines bedroom communities near Halifax and rural towns and villages, many defended the commercial mainly white fishers. The Indigenous fishes are also angry since nothing has been resolved in their favour. It seems that Jordan got caught in the middle.
Lenore Zann was an NDP-MLA in Nova Scotia for ten years before landing the federal Liberal nomination. When elected MP for Cumberland-Colchester in northern NS in the 2019, she was asked what drives her. She said “Well, I think it’s called justice.” As an MP her bill on environmental racism reached second reading. Bill C-230, “An Act respecting the development of a national strategy to redress environmental racism,” demands that the environment minister develop a strategy with consultation from provincial and municipal governments, Indigenous and other affected communities.
Marginalized people, racialized people and people who live in poverty are the primary victims of environmental racism. In NS, a book by academic Dr Ingrid Waldron “There’s Something in the Water,” inspired Zann to start the fight for a bill that would outlaw environmental racism. The book was followed by a feature film by Elliott (the actor formerly know as Ellen) Page which highlighted several places in NS in which people suggests that environmental racism has been evident throughout history in Nova Scotian Indigenous and Black communities. Here is the link for the film’s trailer. One example is the effluent from the pulp mill in Pictou Landing First Nation’s Boat Landing Harbour. Then there are the toxic dumps and landfills placed near the Black communities of Shelburne, Lincolnville, and Africville.
Below: Advertisement for There’s Something in the Water, Book cover, former MP Lenore Zann (CBC.ca)
When Baskut Tuncak, the U.N. special rapporteur on toxic chemicals, visited Canada in 2019, he reported that he “observed a pervasive trend of inaction by the Canadian government” in dealing with the health threats of toxic exposures on Indigenous people– and their cumulative effects.
On another file, Cumberland-Colchester MP Zann drew the ire of those in authority, especially the RCMP and their supporters. Two months after the April 2020 horrific mass shooting that left 22 dead (most of whom were women). Zann called for a public inquiry that includes a feminist analysis and approach.
Zann said her constituents have waited patiently for answers about what happened and why the police made so many errors. She also noted the role of wife-abuse, the suppression of women’s voices, and the relationship between access to weapons and violence against women and girls
She drew parallels between mistakes made by government and police after after the 1989 Montreal Massacre, which left 14 women dead and 10 women injured at École Polytechnique. Zann insisted that attack was a misogyny-fuelled, anti-feminist attack—something that was not recognised until decades later.
Zann’s outspokenness must have made the privileged squirm. She’s an activist and a feminist. Both don’t sit well in the rural riding which saw a backlash against Covid-19 constraints. In May, some constituents stopped traffic from the busy Trans Canada highway from New Brunswick into Nova Scotia for more than a day. The protest was organized in part by anti-vaxxers who want Nova Scotia to have fewer Covid health restrictions and egged-on by Tory MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin. The latter was dropped by the provincial PC Party but still managed to win as an independent in the 2019 provincial election. This, in part, was the electorate that Zann had to face in the Federal election immediately following.
Constituents wanted to teach the Liberals a lesson about having an election just to get a majority (which Trudeau did not get). The Tories picked up two more seats (for a total of 3 out of 11) in NS. In 2015 all the seats went Liberal; in 2019 there was 1 Tory seat. There was an anti-Trudeau animus among many – and the Tories came close to unseating the Liberals in a few other ridings
Who replaced the women?
Rick Perkins won in Jordan’s riding of South Shore-St Margaret’s. His biographical notes don’t tell us much except that he left NS to build his business acumen and came back relatively recently. He’s owned many businesses, and speaks for business. He ran and lost against Jordan in the 2019 election
His entry in Wikipedia 30 words long – is called a “stub”. His potted biography says he’s a ”business leader” who founded several small businesses. His career working for federal government saw him privatize 18 crown corporations!
Stephen Ellis, who won in Zann’s Cumberland-Colchester riding is a family physician in Truro, NS. His Wikipedia entry is all of 31 words. His campaign biographical note says “Dr Ellis was born into a modest but hardworking family. Money was tight but their work ethic was strong. That is why he enrolled in the Canadian Armed Forces’ Medical Officer Training program to fulfill his goal of becoming a physician. “ He served for 9 years in the Canadian Air Force.
What is it about these two relatively undistinguished men that won them seats in the House of Commons?First they represent the Conservative party which continues to bark at the heels of the Liberals. The Conservatives are a broad church – they have members who are centrists, members who are extremely right wing, and members who are anti-vaxxers.
Clearly some Canadians no longer have a love affair with the Liberals. They see Trudeau as self-indulgent, sometimes two-faced, and not living up to his promises. A calculating virtue-signaller.
But also there may be more than a hint of misogyny and political blowback that helped to elect these two new male MPs. Neither has a track record, no outstanding opinions, just blue thru and thru.
My conclusion: when voters are disgruntled, strong opinionated women are especially vulnerable – more than men.
Who’s keeping score?
Only 33% of the seats in the House of Commons are held by women.
Here’s a list of some other countries – Canada is at the bottom for women’s representation in Parliament:
Britain: 34% are women
Australia: 38% are women
Sweden 46% are women
Norway 45% are women
Iceland 47% are women.
Featured Image: Lie-Lie Land: Trump and Theresa May waltz on Islington wall by Bambi, a street artist in London, UK. She is often called “the female Banksy”. (credit CTV)