Local accessibility champion welcomes diverse cabinet

The composition of the new federal cabinet garnered plenty of attention for its diversity,

The composition of the new federal cabinet, announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week, garnered plenty of attention for its diversity, and was greeted with welcome by a former Invermere municipal politician who has long championed better representation for minorities of all kinds.

The 31-member Liberal cabinet has a nearly equally gender balance (with 15 women), and includes two Aboriginal MPs; five visible minority MPs (four of South Asian heritage and one of Afghani heritage); and two differently-abled MPs (one who became quadriplegic after being shot, and another born with visual impairment).

“I think its fantastic. It’s truly exciting,” said former Invermere councillor Spring Hawes. “I particularly loved Trudeau’s response when he was asked why he had chosen a gender-balanced cabinet. He said ‘because it’s 2015’.”

Hawes sustained a spinal cord injury several years ago and uses a wheelchair. She also raised two kids as a single women. She frequently brought accessibility and women’s issue to the fore during her two terms on council (2008-2014) and the speech she gave at her final council meeting, in which she reminded the incoming  council (comprised entirely of middle-age, white males) to “represent everybody,” brought loud applause from everyone in the room.

“Our entire Canadian population has, up until now, been represented, by and large, by middle-aged, relatively well-off white men. No matter how good their intentions are, it’s just impossible to truly represent people who are not of the same demographic, ” said Hawes, speaking on the new federal cabinet. “Unless you experience a disability and are completely and totally aware of all the barriers in a ongoing and continual way, you just are not able to speak for people who are profoundly different than you are. The same applies to gender. A man has not lived a woman’s life and simply can’t have the same perspective and be aware of the the issues and concerns is the same way a woman is.”

Hawes said she was also heartened to all see a balance of ages in the cabinet (several cabinet MPs are 65 or older, and several are 35 or younger) and said the blend of new and veteran eyes will be good.

“Of course, there will be mistakes along the way as they learn, but it’s worth it for the new perspective they bring,” she said. “I hope this diverse cabinet will represent more authentically the diverse population we have in Canada.”

Trudeau’s cabinet is also geographically diverse, with MPs from each of Canada’s ten provinces and one from Nunavut (each of Canada’s three territories is a single riding), something that sat well with newly elected NDP Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski.

“I’m pleased to see that there are three cabinet ministers from B.C. in the new Liberal cabinet. I’ve looked at their qualifications and it looks like they certainly should know what they are talking about. Of course, our job is to hold their feet to the fire to deliver on the promises they made to Canadians,” Stetski told The Echo on November 6th. “And that is exactly what we are going to do. The role of the opposition is to make a better government, make better decisions. We take that seriously.”

Stetski is currently attending training sessions for new MPs in Ottawa.