Andrew Bates

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Outtakes: New minister on priorities, youth and women in the workplace


New minister of labour Kellie Leitch, pictured left, with Alice Wong, Minister of State for Seniors, in 2011. Photo courtesy KellieLeitchSimcoeGrey/Flickr

New minister of labour Kellie Leitch with Alice Wong, Minister of State for Seniors, in 2011. Photo courtesy KellieLeitchSimcoeGrey/Flickr

I wrote a profile for the Today today on new federal Minister of Labour and the Status of Women, Kellie Leitch. Most of the phone conversation was about the 42-year old Ontario MP’s life and experience growing up in Fort McMurray. But there was some time, as well, to talk to her about her new portfolios as well as the duty of a parliamentarian to recruit the next generation of youth in politics.

On plans for Status of Women ministry:

There are a number of things that we’ll be focusing on, but particularly the government’s work on ending violence against women and promoting economic security for women. That will be the beginning focal point in addition to advocating for an increase in promotion of womens’ leadership and increasing their involvement on corporate and public sector boards.

This is important work, and I think all Canadians recognize it. We need to make sure that we’re focused on developing leadership opportunities for women.

On whether she’s noticed any intersections between gender and her political career:

I haven’t, but recognize, I come from a professional career, where … less than 15% of the individuals in my profession were women. My sister’s a civil engineer, she stands on a jobsite where I think she’s the only woman who’s there amongst literally hundreds of workers.

So I don’t dwell or even think about that: I think that we live in a very free and open democracy where people can aspire to be whatever they like to be, and I want women to take on the same mindset that I have and that I’ve been encouraged to have since I was a child and my sister has the same, which is, you can be whatever you want to be, just put your mind to it.

Plans for labour ministry:

The government’s priorities have been and continue to be a focus on creating jobs and growth, particularly, in the case of labour, focusing on making sure we have a productive workplace to help grow our economy. So the labour portfolio and labour program develop, administer and enforce all the workplace legislation and regulations.

My goal is to make sure that we are focused on having fair, safe and productive workplaces, so that Canadians know, and individuals who are coming to Canada to work in Canada (know) that they have a safe workplace and one where they can be productive and help grow our economy.

Leitch welcomes a class group to Parliament Hill. Photo courtesy KellieLeitchSimcoeGrey/Flickr

Leitch welcomes a group of students to Parliament Hill. Photo courtesy KellieLeitchSimcoeGrey/Flickr

On low youth turnout:

I was fortunate in my riding, just because of the circumstances, we actually had a higher-than-average voter turnout compared to the country and compared to the previous outings of the electorate. I try to encourage all the young people in my riding by going to high schools, going to junior high schools about what a privilege it is to be able to vote. We are very fortunate as Canadians that we live in a free and open democracy where you actually have the opportunity to vote.

I had spent some time in Afghanistan and Lebanon, some other places where young women don’t even get to go to public school, let alone vote. Young men, they find it challenging to get out to vote because they have a different opinion than the government’s leadership …

I do what I can to encourage the young people in my riding to appreciate that they live in a free and open democracy and they can participate, and I encourage them to participate in things with me so that they understand what the democratic process is, and they understand they can be involved at a number of different levels to contribute to public policy and also activism.

On getting youth participating directly as volunteers and candidates:

A little bit of the onus needs to be put on current parliamentarians. We have lived the experience, we know what the component parts of it are, on educating young people, women and men, on how they can participate. A lot of Canadians have no idea what the nomination process is for a specific party. Most young Canadians don’t even know how to contact a political party in their area or who would be the activist.

We have a responsibility, those of us that are involved as parliamentarians, but also those individuals who are involved as party activists, to continually be reaching out and, if nothing else, educating young people so they can make a choice to participate or not. I find that a lot of young people in my riding, they just don’t know where to start. And once they start, they’re fabulous.

My staff on the hill … all of my staff are under 24. They’re young people, they’re active, they’re interested, and I encourage them to go out and recruit and educate other young people so that we can have as many young canadians, whichever party it is, to get involved. I think they way you do it is by leading by example and being active.