Our former colleague Aaron Wherry wrote of Maryam Monsef in the early days of this early Parliament. His profile is below. This week in the House, the Peterborough-Kawartha MP delivered her first speech.
Here it is, for the record:
Maryam Monsef’s story was remarkable enough before she was appointed minister of democratic institutions and bestowed the lifetime title of “honourable.” She arrived in Canada as an 11-year-old refugee, leaving Taliban-controlled Afghanistan with her mother and two sisters. In being elected to represent Peterborough–Kawartha, she became the first Afghan-born MP in Parliament’s history and she is now the first Muslim Canadian to have a seat at the federal cabinet table (and also, at 31, the youngest member of Justin Trudeau’s cabinet).
“People don’t forget Maryam when they meet her,” says Lynn Zimmer, executive director of the YWCA in Peterborough, where Monsef served as a board member for four years. “She leaves a strong impression. You go away and think, ‘What an amazing young woman, she’s going to go places.’ And not in an ego-driven way either. Just, she has a sense of responsibility and she wants to make a difference.”
A prominent activist in Peterborough, she worked with various community organizations and, in 2010, she co-founded the Red Pashmina campaign which has raised $150,000 for women in Afghanistan. She boldly ran for mayor at 29—and nearly won, finishing a close second to incumbent Daryl Bennett. She won the Liberal nomination in May, narrowly edging out a former city councillor to represent the Liberals in an important bellwether riding. She is described as a quick study who is not afraid to ask questions and who puts an emphasis on process: she consulted with more than 100 people before choosing to run for mayor. “Listening to Canadians, I think it’s a hallmark of [Prime Minister Trudeau’s] leadership style and it reflects mine,” she says.
All of which could serve her well in the nuanced world of democratic reform. Befitting the theme of change, the Liberals have a substantial agenda for reform. In addition to a number of parliamentary changes, the Liberals are promising two major moves: a new process for appointing senators and a new method of voting to elect MPs. The former could fundamentally reorient the Senate as a deliberative body. The latter—even if the Liberals settle on something like a ranked ballot—will at least revive pitched arguments about the efficacy of the federal electoral system.
“I don’t take any of this for granted,” she says. “I know what an incredible privilege this is. I know that the democratic institutions that we are fortunate to have here in Canada. There are many places in the world where people are sacrificing so much and struggling so much to have what we have here. And perhaps having experienced the alternatives in another part of the world will also be helpful to me in this portfolio.”