New bill fails to address human rights abuses in supply chainsTEST

Human rights and environmental abuses at the hands of Canadian companies are widespread, and little legislation exists to ensure accountability. For example, Barrick Gold Corp. has been fined for mining code breaches including a cyanide leak in Argentina. It has also been accused of employing police and private security companies that commit human rights abuses that include tortures, gang rapes and killings in both Tanzania and Papua New Guinea. None of this would be addressed through Canada’s proposed Human Rights Due Diligence (HRDD) legislation, Bill S-211.

Bill S-211, the “Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act,” is poised to pass during a final vote in Canada’s House of Commons. The Act represents a narrow interpretation of HRDD legislation. Despite decades of documented human rights and environmental abuses occurring in the supply chains of Canadian companies, the Canadian government is poised to address the issue with weak and diluted box-ticking legislation.

Human rights due diligence is something that has been gaining traction across the world. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, it is a process by which businesses are expected to identify and assess (real or potential) human rights abuses occurring within their supply chains, take appropriate action to mitigate the abuses, track the effectiveness of these actions, and communicate how impacts are being addressed.  This is in response to the UN’s guiding principles on business and human rights (UNGP) and OECD due diligence guidance for responsible business conduct. Unfortunately Canada is  behind implementing similar legislation and the proposed legislation is unlikely to address human rights violations in a meaningful way.

If passed, Bill S-211 will require large Canadian corporations and government entities to file annual public reports indicating the steps they have taken to reduce the risk of child or forced labour in their supply chains. This would accompany a proposed ban on goods produced by child labour. However, it fails to take into account broad recommendations or lessons learned regarding HRDD legislation.

There are three key issues with the way that Canada’s legislation is currently framed.

First, the scope is incredibly narrow. It fails to address human and environmental rights beyond child and forced labour, despite knowledge of human rights abuses that go beyond this narrow scope. Countries like Germany and France have recently passed similar legislation that, while imperfect, expressly address both human rights and environmental practices. Given the UN’s General Assembly’s recent resolution that “a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is essential for the enjoyment of our human rights,” this is something that should be included in a modern HRDD bill.

Second, it lacks accountability mechanisms that enforce HRDD requirements, despite evidence that suggests  laws that focus solely on disclosure and risk reporting do not have strong results. In their mandatory supply chain risk reports, there would be no repercussions for lack of actionable progress.

As a result, there appears to be no incentive to address human rights violations in Canadian supply chains and no real consequence other than “naming and shaming” businesses that do not make an effort.

Third, it encourages companies to abandon or avoid sourcing from high-risk regions, rather than working with suppliers to identify and address human rights abuses. This “cut and run” approach is both ineffective and harmful to many areas of the Global South.

Patagonia provides an example of what can happen when there are close supplier relationships. Perhaps most impressively, the company stays with many suppliers long term and actively works with them to resolve any challenges where it’s appropriate. Supply decisions address sustainability and human rights standards alongside ordinary considerations related to price and quality. This type of corporate practice is not encouraged through the current risk-based approach of Bill S-211.

These weaknesses contradict the mandate letter commitments of Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan to “introduce legislation to eradicate forced labour from Canadian supply chains and ensure that Canadian businesses operating abroad do not contribute to human rights abuses.”

HRDD legislation, if properly implemented, can prevent some of the most abhorrent corporate practices.

The myth of Canada as a voice for human rights

Canada’s contribution to ending slavery

Addressing these weaknesses prior to the final vote requires an “all-hands-on-deck” approach from those concerned about trade, human rights and the environment. Trade justice advocates have long supported a bill that would ensure accountability for human rights and environmental abuses in supply chains. However, Bill S-211 is a watered-down version of that original vision, tackling only a fraction of the challenges that remain pervasive in Canadian company’s global supply chains.

If Bill S-211 passes in its current format, it will not be revisited for five years. That’s five years of missed opportunities to address some of the most pressing global corporate accountability issues and work towards Canada’s international commitments related to human rights and the environment. Leading up to the vote, a unified voice is needed to advocate for effective HRDD legislation in Canada alongside organizations such as Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, World Vision and Fairtrade Canada in advocating for an improved legislation.

Editor’s note: The authors spent eight months working with Fairtrade Canada to conduct international trade justice advocacy research.

Extreme partisanship is infecting committees, and we should be worriedTEST

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Growing polarization in Canadian politics and deepening toxic partisanship have made the House of Commons an ever-more hostile arena where parties play zero-sum games that erode the effectiveness of Parliament. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated strong cleavages among Canadians, most evident in the convoy protests in Ottawa in early 2022. Political leaders on all sides have taken to using increasingly divisive rhetoric, and MPs face a rise in threats of violence amid growing toxicity in an increasingly divided Canada.

One area of politics that used to be relatively unscathed by hyper-partisanship is committees, where MPs of all official parties work together to scrutinize government actions and legislation, carrying out a core House function: holding the government to account.

In earlier times, committees largely flew under the radar and quietly got things done. Their proceedings were not broadcast, and the public and media tended to overlook their work, particularly on lower-profile issues. This allowed committee members to leave partisanship at the door and work across party lines on issues of common public interest.

In 1991, committees began broadcasting their proceedings – a decision that would bring change, though not right away. As of 1998, committee operations were still considered “relatively informal, collegial, and less partisan than the House.” But by 2010, the committee environment had changed drastically. Then-Liberal MP Keith Martin lamented that committees were being infected by “partisanship that has poisoned the environment in Parliament” and said they were becoming “an extension of the boxing ring that is the House now.”

Today, committees are in full view, attracting increasing media and public attention. And as polarization continues to spread through politics, there is cause for concern that committees, too, will be wholly overcome by the same toxic partisanship that dogs Parliament.

Former MPs express worry, frustration with state of Parliament

Canada can prove it’s a leader in deliberative democracy

The realities of the “permanent campaign,” stringent party discipline, and increased use of social media in politics have eroded committee effectiveness. And, the risk of further erosion exists. MPs increasingly treat committees as merely an extension of the overall partisan game, preventing effective scrutiny of legislation and government actions even on issues with potential for cross-party co-operation.

Parties have always been part of Parliament. But in the 21st century, fiercer loyalty is demanded of MPs, giving way to unyielding rivalry with opponents. Contributing to this is the concentration of power in the Prime Minister’s Office, which commands deference and obedience from MPs; and the regular use of time allocation, which allows government legislation to be pushed through Parliament with limited scrutiny and debate. Question Period is not taken seriously as a means for governmental accountability – most Canadians think of it only as “politically charged theatre.” For example, a 2022 GreenPAC report found excessive party discipline and partisanship were key barriers to advancing climate action, based on interviews with current and former MPs.

Several publicized examples of committee work demonstrate the spotlight committees operate under risks generating even more polarization.

In 2019, the governing Liberal Party used its majority in the House to impede the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights investigation into the SNC-Lavalin controversy by blocking witnesses from attending hearings and limiting the time spent probing the scandal.

In 2021, a united opposition was able to place significant pressure on the minority government through the Special Committee on the Canada-People’s Republic of China Relationship. The committee requested unredacted documents relating to the firing of two scientists from the Winnipeg National Microbiology Laboratory in early 2021, which it was investigating. However, the government withheld the documents, citing privacy rights and national security interests. The committee responded with public criticism, going as far as having Iain Stewart, president of the Public Health Agency of Canada, admonished by the Speaker of the House for refusing to produce the documents. In doing so, Stewart became the first non-parliamentarian to be reprimanded by the Speaker in more than a century.

Mendicino is smiling as he points a finger at the camera. He is seated at a long table with other people.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino gestures toward a reporter as he waits to appear before the Special Committee on Canada-People’s Republic of China Relationship on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Feb. 6, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby

More recently, the impact of partisanship on committee operations has been used as an argument in support of calls for a public inquiry into allegations of foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 Canadian federal elections. Richard Fadden, former CSIS director and deputy minister of national defence, argued that the work of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee “will be hampered because of partisanship,” as the committee is “so partisan that it puts into doubt its ability to come to an objective set of conclusions.”

NDP MP Peter Julian similarly referred to hyper-partisanship in committees in his motion calling for a public inquiry, arguing that a committee review would see elected officials scoring political points rather than effectively addressing reports about foreign election interference.

To be clear, not all partisanship is necessarily harmful. Parties play an important role in Canadian politics by aggregating interests, developing policy, and organizing public opinion. It is unrealistic to expect MPs to completely shed their partisan identities in committees.

However, this trend toward hyper-polarization and hostility in Parliament prevents MPs from effectively scrutinizing government decisions. Combined with increased public and media attention on committee operations, it is clear that something needs to change.

There is a pressing need for a more co-operative style of politics in Canada. A good start is an initiative such as the Institute for Future Legislators, which seeks to educate those interested in running for office on the importance of a more collaborative political environment.

Rather than being yet another avenue for party discipline to take hold in Parliament, committees should be a place where MPs have an opportunity to put aside partisanship and work together. The important work they do should not be overshadowed by partisan games and soundbites.

This article is part of the Making a Better Parliament special feature series.

Canada has committed to protecting nature. Are we up to the challenge?TEST

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In December 2022, decision-makers from around the world came together to draft and adopt a global plan to protect and restore nature. The resulting Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) leaves us with some key decisions to make. Will this agreement become a catalyst for positive change or, as we have seen previously, will it be neglected and forgotten?

More than a decade ago, in 2010, governments around the world adopted similar targets. However, none had been achieved by the 2020 deadline. Meanwhile, grasslands have continued to wither, wetlands have shrunk and support for conservation measures has failed to keep up with the growing need for more action. This time, there is an opportunity to do things differently.

Degradation of habitats, and the species that depend on them, has many negative impacts on essential aspects of human life, including the crops we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. Just as the loss of nature affects all of us, so, too, does its recovery. To help ensure targets are met this time – most notably, to conserve 30 per cent of Canada’s land and water by 2030 – all of society must work together for our natural world.

Collaborative efforts have already demonstrated positive results. In January 2023, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) brokered an agreement that included Interfor Corp. and the province of British Columbia. As a result, 75,000 hectares of rare inland temperate rainforest in the Incomappleux Valley is now protected. NCC played a key role by raising $4 million to facilitate the establishment of the conservancy and additional land protection. Funds were provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada through the Canada Nature Fund, as well as by Teck Resources Limited, the Wyss Foundation, the Wilburforce Foundation and individual donors.

This monumental achievement to support the protection of a unique natural habitat happened thanks to trust and collaboration across sectors.

The Incomappleux conservation agreement marks the latest in a series of conservation gains in Canada over the past year. Others include the Boreal Wildlands (Ontario), the largest private land conservation project in Canadian history; Kenauk (Quebec), which will host an open-air lab devoted to studying the impact of climate change; The Yarrow (Alberta), where sustainable ranching supports conservation; and Kwesawe’k (Oulton’s Island), an island off the north shore of P.E.I., which will eventually be transferred to the Epekwitnewaq Mi’kmaq.

In each of these projects, NCC brought scientific expertise, innovative negotiations, relationship-building and funding together with governments, industry and Indigenous communities to achieve impactful solutions. To illustrate their significance, these achievements together protect a combined area nearly five times the size of the island of Montreal.

More still needs to be done

Further collaborative efforts are needed if the objective of protecting 30 per cent of Canadian land and water is to be reached. That begins by acknowledging that 30 per cent is not an arbitrary figure. Scientists have established this as the minimum required to support the variety of life on Earth and to protect the natural systems that sustain us. NCC has its own plan to double its impact by 2030, but that requires additional agreements reached in a spirit of collaboration.

By contrast, just under 14 per cent of Canada’s land – less than half what experts say is necessary – is currently protected by conservation measures. To more than double our conservation footprint, significant efforts and contributions will be required from across all sectors. Governments alone cannot reach these critical targets.

Indigenous stewardship is the key to global conservation goals

An epic move to protect nature could help unite the country

Unlocking conservation solutions is achievable. Governments, industry and private landowners can establish new, effective, area-based conservation measures. With sufficient resources, Indigenous communities which have cared for these lands for millennia, can and are creating Indigenous-protected and Indigenous-conserved areas.

Timber and other resource companies can be incentivized to participate in solutions, such as relinquishing tenures. The options for conservation in Canada are numerous and varied, and each option needs to be explored. They must be pursued by land managers across the private sector and supported by governments, along with appropriate funding. Most importantly, they must be used equitably, with respect and inclusion. As we have already shown, this whole-of-society approach can successfully maintain, enhance and restore precious ecosystems.

Why your MP’s little newsletter needs to be archived online permanentlyTEST

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How is the average Canadian to know what their elected member of Parliament (MP) is up to in Ottawa?

Canada is a representative democracy – that is, one in which citizens elect representatives to make decisions on their behalf. Every four years or so, we strike a deal with our would-be representatives: tell us what you want to do, we approve or disapprove, and then we’ll re-evaluate how you did when the next election rolls around.

For a country the size and complexity of Canada, this system makes a lot of sense. The average person does not have time to weigh the nuances of every piece of legislation or every funding decision that needs to be made on any given day. So, we outsource most of that decision-making to elected officials who we trust to have our best interests at heart.

One of the things Canadians ask for in return for the power that we bestow upon our elected officials is that they keep us in the loop about what they’re doing on our behalf. Indeed, a basic tenet of democracy is that the people’s elected representatives need to communicate with their constituents. But connecting with everyone in an electoral district is a chronic challenge for members of Parliament, especially as community news outlets close, people’s media consumption splinters and party leaders’ offices co-ordinate messaging. What is the best way for MPs to get information about public affairs to everyone they represent?

One solution to this problem is commonly referred to as the “householder” – newsletters paid for by the House of Commons that Canada Post distributes at no charge to all households in each MP’s electoral district. You may have seen one in your mailbox, though maybe all you saw was your MPs’ smiling face as you tossed it into a recycling bin.

MPs and their staff devote a considerable amount of time to assembling these tabloid-size brochures because householders are arguably the best way to reach all constituents, including those who do not follow MPs on social media or subscribe to their email newsletters.

Typically, a masthead across the top features a photograph of the MP and the MP’s name, under which is a personal message. Roughly four pages in total, the documents are peppered with photographs of an attentive MP mingling with constituents and/or talking on the floor of the legislature. There are textboxes updating constituents about government initiatives and House business, and often a form for readers to share opinions, which can be mailed to the MP’s office, postage-free.

Householders keep MPs in tune with the people they were elected to represent; for example, in House of Commons debates, MPs have been known to reference the feedback they collect via mail-back surveys. They also inform electioneering and fundraising efforts, even if those are not explicitly allowed. That’s because householders are subject to the same restrictions as everything else the House of Commons pays for – for example, they may not be used to solicit party memberships or donations and cannot be used for disseminating campaign material. Otherwise, their content is largely left up to each individual MP, and it is difficult for the public to enforce compliance without a central repository. We’ll get to that in a moment.

Some MPs’ offices are proactive by posting their householders online for anyone to access, or inviting constructive criticism. Sean Fraser, the Liberal MP for Central Nova, is one such MP. His website has a householders section that explains that every household and business in his electoral district will periodically receive a newsletter prepared by his office with information about “key government updates, news, what’s happening in Ottawa, funding announcements and photos from throughout the riding.” There are PDFs of his householders going back several years. Furthermore, Fraser’s website says that he is open to feedback about the content and that he welcomes suggestions.

One of Lethbridge MP Rachael Thomas’s householders.

It is the collection of large and small acts of transparency, like MPs posting their householders online, that helps rank Canada as one of the best democracies in the world. Canadians might therefore expect that making householders readily available to anyone who requests one is normal.

Not so.

The considerable challenges we experienced trying to collect these taxpayer-funded public documents reveal some disturbing truths about the partisan paranoia running amok across Parliament Hill.

Beginning in 2021, we managed to collect householders from 126 MPs in the 43rd Parliament. Some documents were available online. For the rest, we emailed, phoned and mailed the MPs’ Parliament Hill and constituency offices. Then we emailed and phoned some more. Initially, our efforts were interrupted by the snap August election call. In the lead-up to the dissolution of Parliament, there were hesitancies among MPs and staff who presumably worried about the content of householders being weaponized against them by other candidates and parties. Perhaps some worried that they would be criticized for admitting that they did not issue a householder during the throes of the pandemic. We carried on after the election by contacting the many MPs who were returned to office.

Lots of MPs and their staff were terrific, and enthusiastically supplied the documents electronically or by mail. Yet despite the fact that householders are designed for public consumption, are sent to tens of thousands of households, and are paid for with public funds, we were only able to collect them from 37 per cent of all members of Parliament.

Why did 63 per cent of MPs refuse to make their householders available? In the early stages of the pandemic in 2020, the House of Commons paused the practice, and so some MPs pivoted to email newsletters, various forms of social media and video chats. When the service resumed, staff in MPs’ offices were consumed with constituency casework, and they lacked the usual suite of photographs of the MP mingling with constituents or addressing the House. Some staff told us they were working remotely and did not have access to digital copies stored on a network or paper copies archived in the office. One MP told us that they are bombarded with requests, and staff can only do so much. Many completely ignored our repeated pleas.

But the main reason that MPs are so secretive about their householders seems to be fear of getting in trouble.

Some MPs and their staff asked us to provide more information about how the householders would be used. Others cryptically said they were unable to offer examples, including a minister’s office that ignored our requests to explain why. Some flat out said they would not provide the newsletters. One MP said that he does not participate in any academic research.

Some staff specified that householders are intended exclusively for constituents. As one staffer put it, “we did send out householders during the pandemic, however it is an office policy that we do not give out documents to non-constituents that prevents me from sharing.” One staffer told us to get our local MP to place the request for us – and when our local MP’s office did so, the request was ignored. A few staff promised that the householders would soon be posted on the MP’s website, but never were. One MP even admonished a student assistant, saying that he would not provide his householder because staff had found information about her attending another political party’s event.

One of MP Ruby Sahota’s householders.

Knowing what MPs are saying to constituents matters, as does whether they emphasize community issues or happenings in Ottawa, and what information they choose to highlight. There are 338 MPs, and studying so many of them in such a large country is challenging. We can hardly job shadow all MPs, and there is no historical record of these documents. Further, having access to all householders would enable us to identify to what extent MPs are repeating party messages, or whether they are contradicting each other – which might explain their anxiety in a country riddled with strict party discipline.

There is an easy fix for empowering MPs: be guided by the government of Canada’s “open by default” policy. The Board of Internal Economy, chaired by the Speaker, should direct the House of Commons to maintain a permanent online archive of householders, or to deposit them with the Library of Parliament. Party spokespersons refused comment when The Canadian Press recently asked about the secrecy surrounding householders. As mentioned, Canada’s democracy is among the strongest in the world. However, democracy must evolve; it is a constant work in progress. We should be deeply concerned whenever MPs from all political parties do not want to talk about House business.

It is high time for more accountability and transparency, and for MPs and their staff to stop controlling whether Canadians outside of their electoral district can obtain a copy of their householders. Millions of dollars of public funds are spent on householders each year. The Board of Internal Economy should amend the members by-law to stipulate that an electronic copy of an MP’s householder must be provided to an online House of Commons repository in order to be eligible for funding. We would like to see a requirement that digital copies of householders must be routinely submitted to the Library of Parliament for permanent online archiving. MPs work for the public – their publicly funded communications should be open, transparent and, above all, accessible.

This article is part of the Making a Better Parliament special feature series.

Unintended consequences of the “Rule of Two” in the name of safe sportTEST

The concept of “safe sport” goes beyond preventing harm. It must foster safety and growth for everyone involved. It is important not only for the physical safety and well-being of athletes, but also for their emotional and psychological health. A safe and supportive environment can help athletes achieve their full potential while promoting respect, sportsmanship and teamwork.

Recent cases of abuse in sport have brought a number of concerns about how athletes interact with coaches and staff. To mitigate these concerns, policies such as the Rule of Two are being more strictly enforced.

Unfortunately, the Rule of Two can suggest to athletes that they cannot or should not trust their coach, planting a seed of doubt in their minds regarding their safety. But coaches are not just coaches, and players are not just players. Sports foster relationships and through them bonds are formed, and lifelong memories created.

These policies are often made with a defensive mindset and are reactionary. They tie the hands of coaches, making it next to impossible for them to form the positive and safe relationships they want with their athletes. The unintended consequence means that athletes are robbed of true and meaningful relationships with their coaches, both on and off the field.

The Rule of Two

The Rule of Two is not a new concept; however, it is increasingly becoming mandatory across multiple national sport organizations. It is designed to ensure the safety and well-being of athletes by requiring at least two adults are present during any activity involving athletes. This includes practices, games and other team events.

The Rule of Two applies to one-on-one interactions between coaches and athletes. In these situations, the coach should always have a second adult present, or the interaction should be conducted in a public or open space where others are present.

This is important to protecting young athletes from physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Having at least two adults present reduces the chance of misconduct or inappropriate behavior occurring and allows for concerns to be addressed and reported promptly.

Although the Rule of Two is being implemented to protect athletes, it can also hinder the ability of coaches to form meaningful relationships and connections with their players. The most challenging aspects arise in the context of electronic communication and transportation.

When working with athletes electronically, the Rule of Two encourages coaches and in some cases officials to:

1. Use group texting or group communication apps rather than one-on-one messaging.

2. Rely on speakerphone or hands-free mode in phone calls when speaking to athletes.

3. Always copy another adult, such as an assistant coach or team manager, when communicating with athletes electronically.

4. Limit their communication with athletes to sport-related topics and avoid discussing personal or sensitive information.

5. Avoid communicating with athletes late at night or during other times when it may be perceived as inappropriate or intrusive.

These guidelines should ensure that communication with athletes is appropriate, transparent and does not create an opportunity for misconduct or inappropriate behavior. Additionally, by including another adult, the Rule of Two is upheld and the safety of the athletes is better protected.

Although these guidelines are primarily aimed at protecting athletes, they can also interfere with athletes’ ability to reach out to their coaches off the field. Sports are more than just a game. Coaches try to foster fun, encouraging and trustworthy environments. Athletes often use sports as an escape from reality – a place where they can connect with their coach and teammates to grow and learn.

Many coaches are role models and valuable people in an athlete’s life, seeing them through their highs and lows. Many players form connections with their coaches and begin to feel comfortable opening up to them, whether it’s joking about their day or feeling safe enough to reach out to them for help when something is wrong. Coaches are often trusted people who help athletes find mental health resources and support them in times of need.

Teams often have a head coach, an assistant coach and a manager. Suggesting group chats seems both logical and practical to protect athletes. However, when it comes to sensitive topics, such as mental health, possible problems at home, bullying, or hazing, players normally have a strong connection with one coach. It is rare to feel comfortable with every single coach to the point where an athlete would confide in all of them.

Not allowing an athlete to communicate with their coach of preference hinders both the athlete’s ability to reach out and the coach’s ability to help. Additionally, it can be intimidating to have to talk to two coaches about a sensitive topic. By telling coaches they cannot respond to a private message from their athlete eliminates a channel of support for a player when they may not have anyone else to turn to.

In the context of transportation, the Rule of Two means that there should always be at least two adults in addition to the athletes during transportation. At least one of the adults should be a screened and approved coach or official. The second adult can be a parent helper, volunteer, or other designated person. It is recommended that the second adult be of the same gender as the athletes that they are transporting.

This aspect of the rule, however, has potential costs. There are instances where a coach lives nearby to an athlete whose parents do not have the ability to get their child to practice or games and the coach could easily give this player a ride. This would allow the athlete to participate in a situation where they may otherwise could not play.

There are also parents with more than one child who might ask a coach for assistance at times when no other parent or friend can help. Without a coach having the ability to drive a player, there may be instances where the athlete cannot participate in their sport simply due to their lack of transportation.

The Rule of Two is an across-the-board rule, meaning it applies uniformly to youth athletes and adult athletes. The relationships and bonds formed with coaches are different depending on age, and this should be reflected in the application of the rule. As players grow, they often look to up to their coaches as mentors and role models. The power a coach has to positively influence an athlete’s life is significant, especially as athletes discover themselves off the field. The rules need to be modified to accommodate the increased agency that comes with adulthood. Private and confidential conversations are sometimes important – even if they aren’t directly about the sport the athlete plays in.

Independent national body would address violence against athletes

The spectrum of topics spans from a private conversation about a player needing guidance on life decisions, to a player opening up about their sexual orientation, to a player calling a coach because they got into a car accident and need help. Is a coach not supposed to answer that call for help?

It cannot be said enough: coaches are more than “just coaches” to so many athletes. They are a lifeline – at all ages but especially for young adults. There is no doubt that this position of trust is sometimes abused, and coaches have taken advantage of these situations. However, there are also an uncountable number of coaches who have genuinely helped players. This lifeline should not be taken away from them. There must be a way to balance athletes’ safety while still allowing coaches to positively influence their growth and development.

It’s important to understand that often those who advocate for and implement rigorous Safe Sport policies are those who unfortunately have experienced trauma through sports or coaches who abused their power by taking advantage of vulnerable athletes. These policies are reactive and defensive rather than proactive and positive.

Under the Rule of Two, coaches could become fearful, creating unsupportive environments, which in turn could lead to unsafe mental and emotional settings for athletes. More work is needed in pursuing a balance between safety and the development of wholesome and positive relationships between coaches and athletes.

No luck in the draw: A legislator’s conundrumTEST

Newly elected members of Parliament are eager to get started on changing legislation for the better. They burst into the House of Commons with good ideas to make life easier for their constituents. But MPs soon learn that not being in cabinet is a major barrier to advancing their ideas.

Backbench MPs might spend hours consulting on a new policy to introduce as a private member’s bill only to discover that the procedural realities of Parliament mean the ability to advance an item under their name is subject to a random draw. That is, the names of members are put into a box at the beginning of the session and drawn to determine who has priority advancing backbench legislation. For unlucky members, whole parliamentary sessions can go by without a single opportunity to move a bill forward. Some sessions can last several years.

Pity the MP appointed as parliamentary secretary. They and certain others are excluded entirely from the draw. Senators, too, must contend with a practice that prioritizes bills introduced early in the session.

So what if an MP has bad luck in the draw, or a senator has a great idea late in the parliamentary calendar? They will struggle mightily to get good legislative ideas seriously considered. Even making minor changes or technical tweaks to existing laws can be a frustrating process for regular MPs.

It’s a longstanding problem, and a mechanism is needed that could facilitate these sorts of changes and provide members with an effective legislative function. Giving greater voice and value to the legislative proposals of individual parliamentarians is possible, and all Canadians stand to benefit.

Former MPs express worry, frustration with state of Parliament

The virtues of a parallel chamber

In 1985, James McGrath’s celebrated special committee report recommended reforming the House of Commons to empower individual legislators. The power of the prime minister and the Prime Minister’s Office was growing steadily at the time, diminishing the effectiveness of regular MPs. The report aimed “to restore to private members an effective legislative function, to give them a meaningful role in the formation of public policy.” The reality remains, however, that convincing the government to adopt a backbench initiative is no easy feat.

Today, parliamentarians vie for the attention of exceedingly busy ministers to consider a matter, and the minister in turn engages the public service for analysis. Meanwhile, the parliamentary clock ticks away. Between allocated opposition days, winter breaks, summer recesses, and the vagaries of events that steal attention and become the legislative focus of the moment (not to mention minority parliaments, when an election is always in the offing), there is rarely enough time to get through the governing party’s platform promises, much less ideas from the backbench or opposition members. And it goes without saying that from the cabinet’s point of view, any proposal from a regular MP with significant cost implications is a non-starter.

Consider the plight of a legislator with a modest proposal. Say, for example, a backbench MP wants to enshrine and expand in law the Canada Post holiday program that lets families send parcels for free to loved ones serving abroad in the Canadian Forces. Nothing in the law requires Canada Post to continue the program, and the legislator would like this service extended for service members’ birthdays. But the MP is unsure how to achieve this legislatively. None of the relevant cabinet ministers who would need to weigh in is showing interest. The proposal is too low on their priority list.

The MP could move a motion calling on the government to do something, but this rarely accomplishes anything concrete. With some luck they might be able to table their own private member’s bill, but there’s no guarantee the government would support it, and most private members’ bills ultimately go nowhere. Some legislators may seek to make a splash in their own name, but there are plenty of parliamentarians who would simply say, “I don’t care how this gets done, I’d just like it done,” particularly for smaller amendments or technical changes to a statute.

Perspective is important: few will read the statute book years from now and ask whether something came from the government or the backbench, whether it was initiated in the Senate or House of Commons, or whether its sponsor was of a particular political stripe.

A legislative package of many ideas

What could help is a formalized process to collect legislative ideas from parliamentarians to be advanced in one legislative package. Omnibus is a word with negative connotation for some people, but it is important to consider that Parliament often uses big bills for low-profile matters. In the current Parliament, this has occurred for regulatory modernization (modifying 25+ statutes) or civil law harmonization (modifying 50+ statutes). Indeed, there is even something called The Miscellaneous Statute Law Amendment Program, which generates non-controversial bills from time to time that, among other things, repeal out-of-date provisions.

How might it work?

The government could put out an annual call for legislative ideas similar to the call it puts out to all Canadians for its annual pre-budget consultations. A committee could be empowered to bring in an annual bill formed entirely of parliamentarian suggestions. Or caucuses could collaborate so that someone selected in the random draw for private members’ business in the House, for example, advances an initiative that includes measures from all groups.

In whatever form such a bill is advanced, it would be for parliamentarians in both Houses to decide what to keep, reject, or amend, but it would allow for easier consideration of issues that – while off the government’s radar – are important nonetheless to our elected representatives.

The cabinet would, of course, want to carefully consider such a bill, but one suspects the ministers would be more likely to respond to a bill crafted in this manner rather than to individual parliamentarians continually knocking on their office doors.

Let’s face it – some minor and technical tweaks are never going to be priorities, such as updating statutes with older language such as “chairman” to describe positions that can be (and have been) filled by women, or repealing provisions that have been struck down by the courts and never replaced. There are also odd provisions that may warrant revisiting – if an MP is expelled from the House, for example, they lose their pension benefits, but an expelled senator keeps theirs.

Conservative MP Ed Fast speaks during a news conference on his private member’s bill on medical assistance in dying, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, March 6, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

No one entity in Parliament has a monopoly on ideas worth legislating. Ideas initially introduced in non-government bills have been advanced in government legislative initiatives. In recent years these have included measures expanding bereavement leave for pregnancy miscarriages and stillbirths, prohibiting the promotion of antisemitism, requiring sexual assault law training for certain judges, banning conversion therapy, and changing government powers for the seizure and forfeiture of foreign assets. Most of these measures were supported unanimously in one House or the other in some form.

Parliamentarians, particularly those long-serving, have likely encountered issues in the law that required just a small change to make them better for Canadians. There are few avenues available to advance such changes without either expending significant energy and potential political capital, or holding out hope to be randomly selected for private members’ business.

Recognizing one another as legislators and working together co-operatively may allow our parliamentarians to advance good ideas in a more efficient, collective, and collaborative way. Even putting aside partisanship is possible, evidenced by the unanimous support achieved for some of the measures described above. For new MPs, such a process could give them a meaningful role in shaping public policy, just as they’d hoped.

This article is part of the Making a Better Parliament special feature series.

Finding remedies for lamentable endometriosis care in CanadaTEST

Recently as I was preparing to participate at a conference on endometriosis in the U.S., I mentioned I was Canadian to one of the organizers. “I’m so sorry,” she replied.

Canada is known by advocates around the globe for having some of the worst endometriosis care in the developed world, a situation made worse by gatekeeping at the family medicine and generalist OBGYN levels, a stubborn lack of expertise on how to treat this complex illness, and some of the longest specialist wait times on record.

In fact, the waits for diagnosis and surgery can be so long that some Canadians opt to travel to the U.S., Romania and other countries to get surgery, which they typically pay for out of pocket.

Endometriosis is not only an extremely painful condition, but it is also more common than many people realize: between one and two million Canadians and about five per cent of the global population are affected, the overwhelming majority of them women and girls. (Because of poor data collection practices, there are also untold numbers of trans and non-binary people, as well as cis men, with this disease.)

My own struggle with the medical system began at 11, when I got my first period during the summer before starting Grade 7. The pain was simply breathtaking. Yet, everyone around me — including multiple doctors — said it was normal.

“It’s just a bad period,” they repeated as they handed me prescriptions for the birth control pill and naproxen.

As I discovered two-and-a-half decades later — and as I detail in my new book, BLEED: Destroying Myths and Misogyny in Endometriosis Care — what I had been experiencing all that time was indeed not normal. At age 35, I was diagnosed with stage-four endometriosis, a condition in which tissue similar to the uterine lining grows outside the uterus.

Endometriosis lesions commonly grow on the ovaries, bowel, and bladder. Picture pouring a bottle of glue into a person’s abdominal cavity and watching as their organs fuse together.

In rarer cases, lesions spread to the lungs, the brain and even the skin. Some people with lung or diaphragmatic endometriosis routinely black out from catamenial pneumothoraxes — in other words, their lungs collapse in sync with their menstrual cycle.

People I interviewed for BLEED described the pain using terms like “burning,” “twisting” and “worse than giving birth.” Marit Stiles, the new leader of Ontario’s NDP, told me in 2021 that “stabbing is a good way to think about it.”

There is a daunting volume of misinformation on endometriosis and its various “cures” to be found online. The reality is that most patients only find some degree of relief once their lesions are surgically removed. Finding surgeons with experience doing this procedure is challenging, chiefly because there are so few of them. Add to that the fact that although it has likely been around for thousands of years, the scientific community still doesn’t agree on what causes endometriosis.

There are a lot of reasons why endometriosis care is so abysmal in Canada, and none of them are simple.

There are systemic reasons, like doctors’ routine disbelief of women and gender minorities, especially if those people also happen to be Black, Indigenous, poor, gay, fat, mentally ill, young, old and/or otherwise different. Endometriosis patients report visiting doctors dozens of times before their pain is taken seriously. This is exacerbated by the fact many medical institutions were designed long ago by men, for men. The realm of gynecology remains no exception.

There are economic reasons. In the U.S., pharmaceutical companies dump $10 billion a year into doctors’ pockets. You can see it in action in that U.S. government’s Open Payments database. Canadian doctors receive incentives from the pharmaceutical industry, too, but are not required to disclose this information. Meanwhile, as a ProPublica investigation noted, just one meeting over lunch with a pharmaceutical rep is enough to influence the prescribing practices of some doctors. Might that explain why hormonal contraceptives remain the number-one treatment for endometriosis, despite ample evidence – including from the influential American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists – that they do not stop the disease’s progression?

Beyond and within each of these issues lie more nuanced and complicated reasons why endometriosis care is failing patients, both globally and locally.

What are Canadian policymakers going to do about it?

Spain just announced menstrual leave for people with painful periods. That could serve as a helpful place to start. Since endometriosis pain is often most acute during menstruation, giving people with painful periods access to a bank of paid days off would help address absenteeism and enable patients’ greater economic participation.

Provinces should improve curricula so that all students, including boys, are better taught about the female reproductive system. If more people possessed a more comprehensive understanding of how cis women’s bodies work, it stands to reason leaders in industry and government might make decisions leading to better treatment options.

However, I would argue the greatest onus lies on the healthcare system itself, and the programs where medical professionals are trained, to bring much-needed improvements.

First, GPs and generalist gynecologists need to better collaborate with their patients. Right now, more than 60 per cent of GPs report feeling “uncomfortable” diagnosing and managing endometriosis. In the absence of definitive knowledge, doctors should listen to their patients, admit to what they don’t know, and be curious about finding answers. They should also embrace their roles as referral givers; in Canada, there are only a few endometriosis specialists, and it takes years for patients to reach them. GPs and gynecologists can help accelerate access.

To address bottlenecks, patients need healthcare portability. With so few endometriosis specialists in Canada (and really, around the world), many patients get locked into years-long battles with their local healthcare authority as they beg to have surgery covered out-of-province. Giving patients timely access to a qualified specialist in another province — or even another country — could dramatically change the lives of more than a million people in Canada alone.

Alleviating the bottleneck also demands new ways of incentivizing medical residents to pursue advanced training in minimally invasive gynecologic surgery (MIGS), which is a critical requirement for effective treatment of endometriosis.

Excising racism from health care requires Indigenous collaboration

Proper funding for women’s health research could save lives during pandemic

Federal and provincial governments should fund multidisciplinary endometriosis centres where patients can access specialists alongside complementary services such as pelvic floor physiotherapy, which can significantly reduce pain before and after surgery. For example, as one endometriosis surgeon in Italy told me, patients with suspected or diagnosed endometriosis have direct access to these kinds of centres, with no referral required.

Endometriosis is a thief. There are the personal costs; it robbed me of career opportunities, peace of mind and tens of thousands of dollars spent on ineffective treatments. It costs the Canadian economy of more than $2 billion a year in lost productivity and wages. It steals ambition, fertility, and life enjoyment from five per cent of the global population, and picks the pockets of spouses, friends and caregivers. As a disease that overwhelmingly affects women and other people of marginalized genders, endometriosis is a threat to equality and social progress.

Canadian healthcare regimes, medical schools, and practitioners already have the tools needed to disassemble many of the obstacles encountered by endometriosis sufferers. What’s missing is the courage and will to take action right now and to develop workable, realistic solutions to helping millions of people in pain regain their lives.

Who won and lost with the Canada Emergency Response BenefitTEST

The federal government launched the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) on April 6, 2020, as part of its $82 billion in aid for Canadian families and businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

By April 19, 2020, the Canada Revenue Agency, which administered CERB, had received 6.73 million unique applications, representing about one-third of the Canadian workforce. Between April and September of that year, CERB provided support to 8.9 million individuals, including 4.3 million women (48.5 per cent of total recipients) and 4,700 gender-diverse people (0.05 per cent).

The program assisted many Canadians. However, it also had serious gaps that adversely affected, or did not help, some of our most vulnerable citizens, partly because it was based on outdated conceptions of work and gender. Government assistance in future crises should be available to all workers, targeted toward the most vulnerable to prevent further devastation.

Despite CERB being administered over the course of five months almost three years ago, Canadians cannot seem to forget about it, amid concerns over repayment, praise and critique from analysts, and a recent audit of Canada’s COVID-19 benefit payments.

Pervasive fallout from COVID-19 – including rising rates of homelessness, food insecurity, fractures in health-care infrastructure, and precarious employment – continues to affect Canada’s most vulnerable people despite the rollout of what seemed to be responsive and successful programs aimed at easing the brunt of the pandemic crisis.

Gender analyses of CERB have provided steady commentary on the program’s efficacy. However, ongoing long-term analyses of how an income-replacement strategy has affected individual and social resilience, as well as pandemic recovery, is critical for ensuring inequality does not continue to expand.

Equitable wins from CERB

Statistics Canada reported in 2021 that CERB was successful in getting money into the hands of low-income, vulnerable Canadians during the first wave of the pandemic. More than half of workers who qualified for CERB and who were in the bottom 10 per cent of the employment-income distribution scale received CERB payments in 2020. About 50.4 per cent of eligible young men aged 15 to 24 benefited from CERB payments, compared to 53.9 per cent of young women aged 15 to 24.

Among visible minorities, as represented in 2016 census data, 41.4 per cent of those who had employment income of at least $5,000 in 2019 – a condition for receiving CERB – got benefits, compared to 32 per cent of individuals who do not belong to a minority group. Visible minority individuals were also more likely to receive CERB for the entire maximum 28 weeks.

Women who belong to visible-minority groups – with the exception of Black women – were slightly more likely than their male counterparts to have received CERB (42.3 per cent compared with 40.5 per cent). Eligible First Nations, Métis, and Inuit workers all were more likely to receive CERB payments, compared to non-Indigenous workers.

The federal government’s GBA+ summary for Canada’s economic response plan argues that CERB applicants were equally split between men and women, but acknowledges that employment recovery trends in 2020 were slower for women. Youth, newcomers and racialized Canadians applied for CERB in high numbers, reflecting the fact that they were disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

CERB eligibility criteria expanded later in April 2020 to include workers who received a nominal income of $1,000 over a four-week period. It also extended benefits to self-employed and part-time individuals, many of whom were women, which contributed to assisting low-wage workers who hadn’t already applied for EI.

CERB was also not subject to a family income test and was therefore evaluated on an individual basis, which increased how many women were eligible for the benefit, particularly women living in two-person households with a sizeable income difference between spouses, as is often the case in families with young children.

CERB has also received praise for being easy to apply to and largely accessible. So why, then, has it received criticism from analysts?

Most vulnerable left out

One-third of unemployed Canadians received nothing from CERB during the first wave of the virus. Some 175,000 Canadian workers did not meet the eligibility threshold of earning at least $5,000 in 2019. Most gig workers, for instance, do not make more than $5,000 annually and were therefore ineligible for CERB despite unsafe working conditions, including proximity to others that might be ill. Gig workers now represent 13 per cent of Canadian adults. Statistics Canada also reports that more than one-quarter of Canadian gig workers rely on their gig earnings for more than 89 per cent of their total annual income.

Some workers faced unemployment during 2020 without being officially laid off, which barred them from accessing government support. Those who had not lost their jobs but had their hours cut (but still made more than the $1,000 cut-off) could not apply for CERB. This particularly affected those who had to work more than one job, which is typical for many low-income workers. Interviews with single mothers in British Columbia show that while income replacement was welcome, they still struggled to access food, PPE and other scarce necessities at the height of COVID-19’s first wave.

An estimated 1.8 million migrant and undocumented workers on the frontlines of the pandemic did not qualify for any direct financial support. Sex workers overwhelmingly did not qualify for CERB – either because they did not meet the $5,000-a-year income threshold or they did not file a tax return because of the fear of criminalization or their immigration status. Racialized, migrant, trans and Indigenous workers were particularly vulnerable to losing out on CERB for these reasons.

CERB also had an unintended consequence for many already on social assistance by raising their earnings and making them ineligible for other temporary income supports, deepening poverty for disabled Canadians, for instance.

This left community resources to fill in the gaps, but often not until vulnerable Canadians were experiencing homelessness, food insecurity or other crises.

Gendered consequences of CERB accessibility

An early-pandemic RBC report found that CERB disproportionately affected women’s return to work. Many women, especially in service industries, had to make the choice between $2,000 monthly payments from CERB or returning to part-time, high-risk work in retail or services with the increased risk of exposure to the virus. The choice to collect CERB payments was a prudent one in many cases, especially considering many schools remained closed; yet it remains a gendered consequence of CERB. Women tend to work fewer hours than men and disproportionately work part-time, often citing child care as the reason. Notably, the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic caused people to associate women with child care more strongly.

Countries such as Germany and France have implemented policies that are favourable to job-sharing and part-time work. However, most part-time work arrangements in Canada are not capable of delivering a quality living standard. Employment norms and practices that have made it easier for women to transition to a part-time job or to take leave have inadvertently contributed to weakening women’s position in the labour market, thus widening the gender wage gap. Part-time employment also typically does not afford these workers the kind of benefits and entitlements that full-time workers get, which puts part-time workers and their families at a disadvantage during a health crisis.

Researchers have found that reductions in working hours and job losses during the COVID-19 pandemic may strengthen or revive traditional gender norms in the household over the long term. Women exiting the workforce also risk an erosion of skills – which has the potential to exacerbate the gender wage gap.

Care of dependents is gendered. The care economy is shaped by gender roles that assume a male breadwinner, who is the main wage-earner, and a female caregiver. Despite erosions to the standard employment relationship and the male-breadwinner/female-caregiver model, labour and social policies have not changed to reflect this. As Leah Vosko and Lisa Clark write in Chapter 2 of the book Gender and the Contours of Precarious Employment, this standard gender model has contributed to improving job security and wages, and augmenting control over the labour process only for a select few, mainly male industrial and white collar workers. Jobs in these sectors to which many Canadians aspire – in part because they come with relative security and recognition from policymakers – are more and more difficult to get, especially for women, youth, newcomers and low-income people.


Programs that value care work, that ensure easy and equitable access, and that are uniquely designed to support vulnerable households were needed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. In crises, government assistance should be available to all workers and targeted towards the most vulnerable to prevent further devastation. CERB attempted this but ended up with some critical gaps. Recognition of work that is overwhelmingly feminized is also humanizing because it validates the difficult choices that Canadians had to make in the context of the pandemic.

More comprehensive work needs to go into how Canadian governments can truly respond to vulnerability, especially as global crises continue to affect individuals, households and communities here. As it stands, CERB was a significant policy win for many Canadians, but a focus on recognizing non-wage work and making financial assistance more universally accessible – and not dependent on outdated conceptions of work – are needed to ensure Canadian society recovers after a future crisis.

A proper hybrid Parliament would help expand gender-sensitive representationTEST

(Version française disponible ici)

The COVID-19 pandemic forced dramatic changes in parliamentary business. Some Canadian legislatures simply stopped meeting. Others experimented with new ways of conducting business, such as the House of Commons’ hybrid sitting agreement, which provided for remote sitting and voting options for MPs.

Equality advocacy groups – such as those representing women, disabled communities, and racialized communities – pushed for these types of adaptations well before COVID-19. Adapting processes to allow more flexibility can enhance the participation and representation of under-represented groups, which is the goal underpinning a diversity-sensitive Parliament (DSP) approach, as Sarah Childs called it in 2016.

The pandemic, therefore, forced an opportunity for institutional experimentation that “can and should be an opportunity to fast-track decisions, processes and working methods that are conducive for parliament to remain, be or become a gender-sensitive institution,” as the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), a global organization of national parliaments, has said.

The Canadian experience demonstrates, however, that hybridity will best serve equity goals if it’s adopted at full capacity, with appropriate resources for all aspects of legislative business (including legislative votes, debates on the floor, committee work, caucus meetings, and more).

Calls to use technology for greater flexibility in the parliamentary workplace pre-date the COVID-19 pandemic. Within a DSP approach – advocated widely by scholars, NGOs, and international organizations such as the IPU – parliamentary structures and operations are prime sites for innovations such as remote sittings and voting, which could in turn improve under-represented groups’ ability to participate fully as legislators.

Permanent hybrid models for parliamentary business can promote diversity in representation by increasing flexibility for those many Canadians combining work and care responsibilities, such as those looking after young children, elders, or ailing family members. Women and racialized minorities with strong intergenerational family settings may benefit most from such arrangements.

Gudie Hutchings, MP for Long Range Mountains in Newfoundland and Labrador, in question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Dec. 2, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

A hybrid House of Commons also diminishes the need for MPs to travel as frequently to and from their constituencies. Such travel can be onerous for some MPs, particularly those representing Canada’s rural, remote, and Northern regions, from which a greater proportion of Indigenous representatives are drawn. Hybridity is also consistent with the Liberal government’s efforts to enhance representativeness in Parliament, such as appointing gender-parity cabinets, the first female finance minister and the first gender-equal Senate. Remote sittings and voting facilitate the participation of MPs from a variety of under-represented communities.

From a representational point of view, one of the key lessons of the pandemic is that the adoption of new technologies must be applied to all aspects of parliamentary business for it to benefit women and marginalized groups. Parliamentarians must have full access to parliamentary votes, floor debates, committee meetings, and caucus if they are to be effective representatives. Indeed, the experience of the Senate is instructive in this regard, as research by Elizabeth McCallion (co-author of this article) compellingly demonstrates. The Canadian Senate has for some time been regarded as a site where women’s substantive representation finds favourable conditions. Women are virtually half of all senators; women speak substantively in favour of women’s policy interests in Senate committees more than men senators do; and women senators are sometimes known to step in as critical actors when women’s rights are threatened.

Senators have recognized that the social consequences of the pandemic were deeply gendered and thus required a gender lens on the public policy issues that were raised by the pandemic. These include concerns about the place of women at the front line of health care and the service industry, the challenge of child care during school and daycare closures, and the “she-cession” (a recession mainly affecting women). McCallion’s research into the Senate’s activities during the pandemic found that many Senate committees that previously spoke little about women’s interests, such as those studying national finance and foreign affairs and international trade, turned their attention to the differential effects of policy on women during the pandemic.

Manitoba senator Mary Jane McCallum at her East Block office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Feb. 16, 2023. McCallum is a First Nations woman of Cree heritage. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby

However, senators’ overall opportunities to talk about women were severely curtailed during the pandemic. Committee meetings were paused and then limited due to pandemic restrictions and a lack of available translators. Remote sittings of Parliament put tremendous pressure on translation staff – a women-dominated sector – who faced critical occupational health and safety issues around work hours, inappropriate equipment, and other demands. McCallion’s study found that the committees that talked about women most during the pre-pandemic period were the ones who met the least during the pandemic.

This is a clear-cut example where government investment in proper hybrid Parliament infrastructure would improve the quality of legislation. This way, senators could resume committee meetings with the same frequency they had before pandemic measures interrupted their schedule. Enabling a complete schedule of Senate committee meetings would ensure that there are more parliamentary venues where women’s policy preferences can be addressed.

Making remote and hybrid options available permanently would require working through various hurdles, however, as shown in research by Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant (a co-author of this article). Some parliamentarians have argued that the decline of face-to-face interactions eroded informal networking and mentoring, which are important for onboarding new legislators and creating supportive and empowering networks for legislators from marginalized communities.

At the same time, informal interactions in Parliament are experienced differently across groups and can sometimes be harmful to women and marginalized communities. Informal interactions in legislatures can engender the same drawbacks as in other workplaces, including “bullying, silencing, micro-aggression and harassment.” Canadian research has been clear that sexual harassment and abuse of staff and MPs is an important problem in politics.

The virtues of a parallel chamber

Will the West Block chamber change Parliamentary culture?

Behaviours such as heckling in the House of Commons were also easier to control in virtual sittings, another behaviour that disproportionately affects women. A 2016 Samara study reported that more than one-third of women MPs reported being targeted frequently by heckling compared to 15 per cent of men MPs. Describing their experiences, women MPs reported “being shouted down to the extent that someone sitting beside me had to rise on a point of order as they could not hear what I was saying.” They also reported losing interest in proceedings, feeling silenced, and avoiding participation because of heckling. Remote work options can feel safer and less alienating for some parliamentarians, who can form networks and connect with mentors through channels other than in-person meetings.

Hybrid arrangements have been opposed politically by some, too. House of Commons Conservatives, for example, have been vocal critics of the arrangements, arguing that remote sittings diminish the accountability function of the House. In truth, good governance requires balance and trade-offs. In the discussion of a hybrid Parliament, we have to weigh involved, in-person discussion with access to Parliament for marginalized groups with limited mobility.

A diversity-sensitive Parliament would strike a balance, using remote video and voting technology to facilitate accessibility and meaningful policy consideration. Parliament should invest in refining and optimizing technology for hybrid parliaments to strengthen democratic governance in Canada.

This article is part of the Making a Better Parliament special feature series.

The role of municipalities within FederalismTEST

How do municipalities fit into Canada’s federal structure? How do cities manage policy aims with limited revenue-raising powers.  On this episode of the podcast, we explore the relationship between municipal and federal, provincial and territorial governments.

Moderated by Tomas Hachard, independent researcher, author and former manager programmes and research for the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance (IMFG), our conversation on municipalities features Enid Slack, Director at IMFG, and Kennedy Stewart, Director at Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Public Policy Research and the former mayor of Vancouver.

This episode was recorded during an online event held by the Canada School of Public Service and is the fifth installment of a partnership between the school and the IRPP’s Centre for Excellence.