Federal election 2015

Three new policy questions arising from Up for Debate

Laura Payton, who moderated the Up For Debate event, deconstructs three things that emerged from interviews with four leaders on women's issues

women's debate

Four federal leaders addressed violence against women and child care on Monday evening during an event set aside to focus on topics broadly defined as women’s issues.

Up for Debate (which I moderated) was intended to be the first federal leaders’ debate on women’s issues since 1984, but after Conservative Leader Stephen Harper didn’t answer the organizer’s requests, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said he wouldn’t take part, either. Instead, journalist Francine Pelletier interviewed Mulcair, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Green Leader Elizabeth May and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe. The organizers of the discussion, representing 175 women’s groups, played clips from the interviews before a live audience and a panel of experts.

The leaders addressed a range of topics, including sexism on Parliament Hill. May says electoral reform would introduce more female MPs and reduce what she called a testosterone-driven culture. Fewer than a third of MPs in the last Parliament were women. Much of the discussion was about child care.

Related: Our primer on child care, one of our explainers on the big election issues

After the debate, three questions remain:

1. What did Trudeau mean when he referred to misogyny in music and communities with less present fathers?

Trudeau was asked what he thought drove young men to yell obscenities at TV journalists or issue online threats against feminists. He said he didn’t know “where exactly to point my finger,” but noted there are “an awful lot of factors” that shape behaviour.

“There is a lot of misogyny in certain types of music. There are issues around pornography and its prevalence now and its accessibility, which I am really wrapping my head around now as a father of kids who are approaching their teen years, and there is also the shifting parental roles, as well. There are a lot of communities in which fathers are less present than they have been, or might have been in the past, and there’s a need for engaged, positive role models.”

Trudeau told reporters on Tuesday that he wasn’t talking about any community in particular, and added in a written statement that he wasn’t referring to any particular type of music, either.

“We need to make sure we are combatting misogyny in all its forms, wherever it’s found,” he said in Montreal. “Whether it’s in fashion magazines or popular music or popular culture, we have to work together.”

Trudeau says Canada needs leadership from Ottawa, as well as from parents and teachers, “to make sure that we are actually changing mindsets and shaping a culture that gives zero tolerance to violence against women.”

    2. What exactly will Trudeau’s “social infrastructure” fund cover?

    Trudeau is promising a $20-billion social infrastructure fund, which he and the party have said in various background documents is to cover “significant new investment in affordable housing and seniors’ facilities,” as well as “facilities used by communities to express and promote their culture” and recreational infrastructure.

    In his full interview for Up for Debate, Trudeau said funding for daycare centres and women’s shelters would also come out of that fund.

    The fund would start at $6 billion over the next four years, eventually hitting “almost $20 billion over 10 years.” Infrastructure funds tend to be set up as pools of money, to which communities can apply.

    A Liberal background document says the party won’t “impose pre-determined costs or models on other orders of government, but work collaboratively with each of them on funding agreements.”

    3. Would the NDP let the provinces set the price of daycare?

    Mulcair has made child care the centrepiece of his election platform, pledging to negotiate agreements with the provinces to provide one million daycare spaces for $15 a day. Getting firm details is tough, since so much would have to be worked out with the premiers, but, in his interview, Mulcair allowed, “It’s not one-size-fits-all.”

    “For example, the province of Ontario has two full years of kindergarten. We’ll take that into account. I’ve said that every step of the way. And provinces are different one from the other, some of them might want to have a differentiated gradated pricing . . . That’s going to be up to them, but we’re going to sit down [with them],” he said.

    The NDP said on Tuesday that Mulcair meant, under its proposed program, that the provinces could set any price for daycare up to $15 a day, but no higher. The party plans to spend $595 million on daycare in the first year, ramping up to $2.5 billion in 2019-20.

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