OTTAWA – For countless women in Canadian politics, Tuesday’s U.S. election added insult to injury: not only did Hillary Clinton fail to shatter the glass ceiling, but it was none other than Donald Trump who thwarted her efforts.
“I think a Trump victory is a disaster, not just for Canada, but for the world,” said former Progressive Conservative prime minister Kim Campbell.
As Canada’s first female PM, Campbell was looking forward to seeing Clinton reach a similar milestone, sending a powerful message around the globe that would help normalize the idea of women in leadership positions.
She was also keen to see Trump go down to defeat.
Campbell was troubled by his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as the stoking of sexist, racist, anti-judiciary and anti-institutional sentiments among the electorate — something that could have a profound effect on the strength of American democracy going forward.
“I think that this is a man who is so ignorant about the geopolitics of the world, so uninformed and incurious that he is extremely dangerous and I think it’s a big challenge for the countries of the world to try and deal with him,” she said.
“They were very frightened before the election, and they must be in absolute despair right now.”
Green party Leader Elizabeth May was similarly blunt.
“It’s clearly horrific,” she said.
May said Trump has promised to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on climate change, a move she’s convinced could end up destroying the whole thing.
“The possibility that the U.S. electorate has just condemned our grandchildren is a significant risk,” she said.
There was also a high degree of disappointment over having come so close.
“I was so confident, you know? A woman president!” Olivia Chow, the former NDP MP from Toronto, said before letting out a big sigh.
“People are not ready for female leaders,” Chow said as she contemplated the result.
“People that are not doing well are looking for someone to blame and it must be the migrants, it must be the refugees, it must be the latte-drinking city worker.”
Nancy Peckford, executive director of Equal Voice, agreed that sexism likely played a role in the result.
“It makes us wonder if the U.S. electorate was ready for a female president,” Peckford said.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel said before she comes to any conclusions about the significance of a Clinton loss, she needs to know one key piece of information.
“To me, the real issue is: how did women in the United States vote?” Rempel said. “Sometimes gender is one axis out of many.”
The election was about overturning the status quo, she added.
“I think there is going to be a lot made about people that don’t feel as if their voices were heard in the current political establishment, and you can’t negate the validity of those voices.”
Maybe so, but that would come as cold comfort to many.
At one election-watching event in Toronto, Elizabeth Littlejohn broke into her boxes of Kleenex. “If a man with 20 years White House experience was running, we would be far in the lead,” she lamented.
Susie Erjavec Parker, who organized an election-watching party in Winnipeg for “nasty women” and “bad hombres” — a nod to insults Trump used in one of the presidential debates — described the mood Tuesday night as one of “nervous trepidation.”
“It’s a shame, because his entire candidacy has overshadowed what should be a historic win for her.”
Hazel McCallion, the longtime former mayor of Mississauga, Ont., sounded a contrarian note earlier in the day, saying Trump had a positive influence on the campaign.
“I think Trump has made his contribution by shaking the establishment in the United States,” she said. “I think it brought forward a lot of people who felt they didn’t have a voice or felt they could accomplish anything and I think that has been good.”
Other women in Canadian politics also spoke of the sexism and misogyny that will be a legacy of the remarkable 2016 campaign.
“I think that there will be real implications from the divisiveness and the toxicity that we’ve seen and it’s going to take some time to get over that,” Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said Tuesday morning, long before the polls closed.
NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson, her party’s critic for the status of women, said Tuesday’s outcome will ring all too familiar for many.
“It will be a very discouraging confirmation of what, unfortunately, too many around the world have experienced — that the underqualified man gets promoted over the highly qualified woman.”