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Ginny Roth and Sabrina Maddeaux on how the Conservative Party can overcome its female voter deficit

Commentary

On November 17-18, 2023, the Canada Strong & Free Network hosted its annual regional conference in Red Deer, Alberta. As part of the programme, The Hub’s editor-at-large, Sean Speer, moderated a panel discussion with Sabrina Maddeaux, a former columnist for the National Post, and Ginny Roth, a Hub contributor and the national practice lead for government relations at Crestview Strategy, about the future of Canadian conservatism.

The following is an excerpt from their conversation about how Canadian Conservatives can be more responsive to the needs, interests, and perspectives of female voters.

SEAN SPEER: The gap between the Conservative Party and the Liberals among female voters has shrunk in recent months, but one gets a sense that’s mostly a function of broader political changes. I think it’s fair to assume that Conservatives still generally underperform amongst women. As two prominent Conservative females, what’s behind that and what can Conservatives do to make progress with the female demographic?

SABRINA MADDEAUX: I think that the Liberals have been very successful in using issues like abortion as a wedge issue and sowing a lot of fear. I think a lot of women also look to events that have happened in the United States, and unfortunately in Canada, we get a lot of our news from the U.S., and a lot of people tend to look at U.S. conservatism and assume that it’s identical in Canada and transplant what’s happening in some areas of the Republican Party to the Conservative Party here.

However, I think those wedge issues are becoming less effective. I do think that women in general and younger women in particular are waking up to the fact that our so-called “feminist government” isn’t actually that feminist, and they’re not really on the side of women when it comes to anything beyond issuing press releases. I do think there’s that waking up. I think ultimately, women are also people, obviously, and Canadians who are struggling to pay their bills, struggling to afford rent, and that’s also waking them up to the importance of perhaps changing their political allegiances.

GINNY ROTH: I always struggle with this question because I think I’ve been suspicious over the years that maybe I’m not representative of my gender. I will say that I think when Conservatives are losing, sometimes it’s tempting to opt out of the policy conversations that we think we are losing on. Provincially, this always happens: “Don’t talk about health care and education. Conservatives lose when we talk about health care and education.” Then when we are in the wilderness for a while, the braver among us say, “Well, maybe we should have something to say about these really important issue areas that affect people’s lives.”

As we become more attractive to women voters for just basic reasons like affordability and that sort of thing—because, again, women are people at the end of the day, and taxpayers and all that—my hope is that actually we are willing to talk about gender issues a little bit more bravely, and that we have something to say about them because there are still fundamental aspects to being a woman that changes how you experience the world. Women have babies. That is maybe inappropriate to say these days, but there are facts about being a woman that impact how your life is as a Canadian.

If Conservatives can have something to say about that, I think the Harper government’s child benefit as compared to the current one-size-fits-all approach to child care that the Trudeau government’s taken was more feminist. I think it gave women more choice over their ability to shape their lives, how they wanted to shape their lives, whether that might be staying at home with their kids or that might be going to work. I think that’s a Conservative feminist view of the world, and this government’s so-called feminist agenda is clearly not. This is a government that says it puts a feminist lens on its foreign policy, but that can’t condemn Hamas’s brutal rape of women in Israel.

When people see that, the principle falls away, and it’s all talk and all virtue signaling. There’s really, I think, an opportunity for the right messengers in the Conservative Party to have a stronger voice on that. 

I would just add that I think Ana Poilievre—Pierre’s wife, for those who don’t know her—is an incredible spokesperson on this front. I see Rahim [Mohamed] wrote a great column to this effect in the audience. I think she’s a great messenger for that. We’ve only seen the very beginning of the potential in deploying Ana, who is an ideologue herself, who’s a really strong Conservative, and who I think would call herself a feminist on these matters.

SABRINA MADDEAUX: I think you really hit it on the head that we can’t ignore issues like child care because those are the issues that are going to be a deciding factor in areas like the GTA. I know from talking to my peers, they want to hear solutions on that before they decide whether or not to vote Conservative in the next election. I think being a party that represents family values can actually be very advantageous to us because we should be supporting women who want to have children and then being able to make that choice.

I think there’s a really big opportunity if we can message that and come up with some good pro-family policies that help women who right now feel they can’t afford to have children, or if they do, they’re genuinely scared about what that might look like in today’s Canada.

SEAN SPEER: Ginny and Sabrina, you both alluded to the challenge of family formation and the rising issue of delayed family formation. I’d be remiss if I didn’t observe that Ginny recently participated in a really terrific discussion hosted by the Cardus Institute on some work that they’ve done, which tells us that women on average are having fewer children than they say they want, which strikes me as an entry point for Conservative policymaking in order to enable people to be able to make the choices for themselves and their families that they consistently tell pollsters they want.

Maybe to put two policy areas on the table and have you talk a bit about the potential for Conservatives to speak to female voters: the first would be delayed family formation, and the second would be I think the growing interest in educational curriculum reform and parental rights. Are these two entry points for Conservatives, both big “C” and small “c”, with female voters across the country? And, if so, how so?

SABRINA MADDEAUX: Yes, both are huge opportunities. We were just talking about, there are so many young women who want to have children and start families, or maybe they’ve had a child, and they would like to have more children, but they don’t feel they’re able to do so. As someone in my mid-30s right now, I don’t have kids yet. I have two cats. When I think about when I’m going to start a family, I’m still a renter. Where’s my family going to live? Am I going to be able to afford enough space for them? What does that look like from a work perspective, especially if you end up having health concerns that mean you have to take time off? Are you going to be able to access health care? These are all questions that are coming up in women’s minds, and there’s a huge opportunity to have real Conservative answers to those. 

I think also when you’re talking about what’s going on in the education system and parents’ rights, women are very concerned about that because they feel they’re losing control of how they’re raising their children, and they feel things are being hidden from them. This is actually a conversation I have with a lot of my female friends in Toronto who do have young children. They might be women, who have traditionally voted Liberal or NDP, but what’s happening in school scares them, and they are talking about that around the kitchen counter. I think it’s a larger opportunity than a lot of people might realize, and a bigger liability for the Liberals and the NDP than they realize for sure.

GINNY ROTH: Yes, I think there are two parts to the school piece. There’s a sense of a loss of control and a feeling that the role of the parent is so important to our society and our culture and yet is just not reflected in the policymaking of elite institutions. 

There’s a sense as a parent that you opt out of the education system for a number of years between when you’re in it and when you have kids, and there’s stuff that happens in those intervening years. Then when you start to pay attention, your kid is in Grade 1, Grade 2, and you go, “Wait, this is not what I thought school should be.” People think of school as a public service. They don’t pay for it, in most cases, in the vast majority of cases. They’re experiencing a loss of control over what their children are hearing and learning from teachers and other school administrators. There’s a sense that the cost of this public service is that you have to relinquish control to ideas and perspectives that you may not want shared with your child. 

It’s also a sense that I think there’s so much focus on things that don’t matter and not enough focus on things that do matter. We’ve been talking about the federal government, but there’s obviously a huge role for provincial governments to play in making curriculum.

I should just say in Alberta, kudos to Jason Kenney for making massive leaps forward in the direction of trying to bring some curricular reform and changing years and years of atrophy on not teaching kids about history or not teaching kids properly about math. Really the basic stuff that you would expect Canadian children to be able to learn and expect of their school system. I think all those things taken together create an opportunity for a counter message, which is basically about common sense.

The role of the federal government in saying, “We’re going to stay on the side of common sense.” The role for the provincial government of really stepping in and saying, “We’re going to restore common sense with the policy levers that we have, whether that’s more choice in education, which I’m very much in favor of, or reforming curriculum.” 

Yes, I think moms are a little bit closer to that experience with their kids, and it hits a little closer to home. I think there’s been a number of years of latent change in these formative institutions that Conservatives have not played a big role in, and are now waking up to real concern around. We have an opportunity to influence them, and we should.

SABRINA MADDEAUX: When we speak about younger women and younger mothers, these are women who have grown up in a generation where they’re used to things being individually tailored, a lot of bespoke opportunities, a lot of choices. I think the messaging around, “We’re going to provide you more choice and empower you to make choices. Whatever those might be for you, whether it’s in health care, schooling, or child care, that’s a huge opportunity. We’re not going to tell you what to do, but we’re going to provide you the freedom to choose what you want to do for your family.”

Joanna Baron: Accusing Israel of genocide is a gross distortion of the facts

Commentary

The point of accusing a Jew of stealing, so the saying goes, is for the pleasure of observing him turning out his pockets to prove the allegation false. So it goes with allegations that Israel is committing genocide in its war against Hamas in Gaza, which have been brought into sharp focus by South Africa’s application against Israel under the Genocide Convention in the International Court of Justice. Israel has pledged to accept the court’s jurisdiction and defend against the allegations, reportedly drawing on eminent retired justice (and Holocaust survivor) Aharon Barak as an ad hoc judge on the International Court of Justice’s Panel.

Genocide is deemed the “crime of all crimes.” Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew and jurist, lobbied for genocide to be named a crime under international law after observing Winston Churchill’s speech describing Nazi atrocities against the Jews (and Poles, Roma, disabled, Russians, and more) as a “crime without a name.”

The definition of genocide is not contested. It is articulated in Article II of the Convention. The crucial aspect of genocide, as the crime of all crimes, is the intention to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. Only if that intention is established is the legal test for genocide met in respect of the specified acts, such as killing or causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of a national or ethnic group. These acts must serve the intention or the purpose of destroying a specified group.

To be clear, nobody with eyes can deny that a horrifying humanitarian catastrophe is happening in Gaza. This is substantially due to the fact that Israel is fighting an enemy which launches rockets from apartment balconies, holds hostages in hospitals, and establishes command centres out of UN schools. It is Hamas, not Israel, that insists things be so; if the war could be fought along conventional battle lines away from a single civilian, Israel would gladly do so. Hamas, being the weaker actor, insists on the dirtiest possible mode of combat to capitalize on Israel’s moral instinct to minimize civilian loss.

On the question of intent, South Africa’s legal submissions bear the measure of a feeble undergraduate political science paper. The claim highlights statements made by Benjamin Netanyahu, Yoav Gallant, and Isaac Herzog. Some of the statements cited are simply false. For example, the claim quotes one “Danny Neumann,” a “former Israeli Knesset member,” in calling for the complete destruction of Gaza. No such former member exists; the claim appears to originate from a website called the Middle East Eye. (Danny Neumann appears to be a former footballer). 

The other statements are plucked out of context in ways that are so immediate and clear that it is difficult to conclude the claim is anything other than intentionally misleading. The claim cites Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech on October 8th that “We will operate forcefully everywhere.” The full statement, though, makes clear that the objective is against Hamas, and in the very same sentence there is a plea for Gazans to flee from places where Hamas is known to operate: “All of the places which Hamas is deployed, hiding and operating in, that wicked city, we will turn them into rubble. I say to the residents of Gaza: leave now because we will operate forcefully everywhere.”

Similarly, President Isaac Herzog’s statement that “It’s an entire nation that’s responsible” refers to the vile antisemitism on display on October 7th when crowds cheered at the bodies of dead civilian women paraded through the streets of Gaza. But at the very same press conference, Herzog explicitly rejected the proposition that Gaza’s civilians are legitimate targets while highlighting the fact that Hamas is known to shoot missiles out of schools, mosques, and even private homes and that this cannot immunize them from military response.

Finally, the claim cites defence minister Yoav Gallant’s October 9th comment that “We are fighting human animals, and acting accordingly.” It’s clear that this was in reference to Hamas, not the Palestinian population. Gallant has tweeted more than 72 times since clarifying this.

The conduct of the IDF shows no nexus with an intent to target Palestinian civilians. The IDF has made over 50,000 phone calls and issued over 14 million text messages and 12 million voice messages warning civilians to leave specified areas. Where possible, they monitor areas to confirm civilians have left before beginning air strikes. They have distributed detailed maps with evacuation routes to relative safety. They have facilitated hundreds of truckloads of humanitarian aid daily. As for Hamas, despite dragging the Gazan population into certain war with Israel on October 7th, they have proudly boasted about their refusal to build a single bomb shelter with the millions of dollars in international aid they receive, asserting this is the “UN’s job.”

The term genocide became a crime against humanity in the aftermath of the Nazi Holocaust, the most meticulously pre-meditated and evil crime in history. Invoking the crime of genocide against the people whose horrifying fate led the international community to coin the term bears a particularly charged valence. To be sure, not all genocides are as straightforward or explicitly intentional as the Holocaust: the Nazis’ obsession with exterminating Jewry, even at the expense of their own military objectives, has been called “redemptive antisemitism” and, one hopes, remains a high water mark of human cruelty and depravity.

Nonetheless, shoehorning the war in Gaza—a war Israel did not want, did not initiate, and yet must fight for its own existential survival—into the same category as the biggest crime in history constitutes a sort of Holocaust denial via conceptual dilution. It also is the most malicious gaslighting against Jewish people I can imagine.

Why is this happening in 2024? Why the double standard for Israel? For example, one can readily find videos of Islamic genocidaires literally whipping Masalit tribe members in Darfur as they lead them to their slaughter, while news of Pakistan forcibly displacing over 350,000 Afghan refugees came and went with hardly a ripple compared to the worldwide protests and antisemitic attacks in the wake of Israel’s response in Gaza. Then there is the Chinese oppression of the Muslim Uyghurs, which continues apace absent, again, a fraction of the outrage directed toward Israel. In the meantime, the UN General Assembly could not manage to pass a single resolution condemning the October 7th massacre. Let’s not allow the UN’s pathological obsession with the Jewish state to turn its judicial body into a moral horror show.