Celebrating International Women's Day with Laurin Liu

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Leadership Tuesday, March 08, 2016 View Count = 3062

Celebrating International Women's Day with Laurin Liu

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Laurin Liu was 20 years old when she was elected Member of Parliament for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles in 2011. We caught up with her to find out what it's like to serve as a young woman and find out how the male-dominated culture might be changing.

Laurin ceremony- Neal Rockwell

Photo by Neal Rockwell

Tell us about your road to becoming an MP. How did you become interested in politics?

As a teenager, I never saw myself in public life. However, I developed an interest in politics early on, and developed a consciousness of social justice work through my involvement in CKUT community radio in Montreal and campus activism. I also worked on various campaigns for the NDP, including in Westmount-Ville-Marie and Outremont, where I developed a serious interest in door to door canvassing and community outreach. I was also a co-president for the Young New Democrats of Quebec.

I was convinced to run in 2011 by a party organizer. When I became an MP, I realized that it takes all kinds of individuals, from different walks of life, to form a representative Parliament. My experience in politics made me realize that anyone can get involved and make a difference. I’ve learnt that leadership comes in all shapes and sizes. Political parties must institutionalize measures that favour gender parity, so that leadership and elected roles become less daunting to people who don’t fit the mould.

As an MP you were far from the typical stereotype of a politician as an older white male. How did serving as a young woman of colour shape your experience as an MP?

Like any other MP, my primary job was to represent the interests of my constituents. When I first started door-knocking as a new MP in 2011, I noticed that a few people were concerned that as a young woman, I would be less receptive to senior’s issues. But contrary to their preconceptions, it was my constituents’ input that led me table a private member’s bill to make enrolment in the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors automatic (prompting the federal 2012 budget to contain measures to this effect). I had to work to debunk biases held by my constituents and my colleagues about what I was capable of.

Being a young woman in politics also allowed me to speak on issues that directly touched on my gendered experience. For example, I made a statement in the House of Commons on #beenrapedneverreported and tabled a motion in the House to create a national strategy on eating disorders, both issues that are important to me and other women of my generation.



Finally, my identity as a young woman of colour working in a male-dominated environment (in the 41st Parliament, men outnumbered women 3 to 1!) made me realize that supportive work relationships, collaboration and mentorship were essential to my success. I also realized that tough women are sometimes judged unfairly in the workplace, so it’s important not to take criticism too seriously.

Question Period was recently compared to a “1950’s boys’ club” by the Speaker of the House. Does that accurately represent the culture in Parliament?

I’ve noticed that some MPs approach QP in the same way that hockey players approach a match: with the understanding that brawls are an inevitable part of the game. In sport as in politics, I think masculine notions of power socialize politicians to approach conflict with aggression and to win by kyboshing their opponents, when what we should really be doing in Parliament is seeking consensus.

Only 26% of MPs in the current 42nd Parliament are women; a measly reflection of Canada’s diversity. In many instances, women still don’t have a seat at the table. For example, the committee of Foreign Affairs, with a membership of ten MPs, only has one woman. We need to stop shutting women out of portfolios and issues that are typically considered to be in the purview of their male counterparts.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “Pledge for Parity”. Parity is already beginning to define the 42nd Parliament, with the cabinet achieving parity and NDP MP Kennedy Stewart’s recently tabled bill to promote gender parity among candidates. What change or changes do you think will be most helpful to improve women’s presence on the Hill?

We need to make sure women have the support and funding they need to succeed as candidates in winnable ridings, but most of all, parties need to make a formal commitment to running gender parity slates in general elections. I’m very proud of the NDP’s track record of electing women. While they still have a way to go, the NDP has had significantly more success than other parties in this regard. There must be a real movement from card-carrying party members to push their leadership to actively recruit and nominate female candidates.

Some readers may be considering pursuing a life in politics. On this International Women’s Day, do you have any advice to offer women entering politics?

Carpe diem. Whether you’re running for Parliament or for the local school board, there is never a perfect time to run, and there will always be reasons not to. Don’t let those reasons stop you. Ask yourself: Can I be a benefit to my community in this role? If the answer is yes, then you should run. Also, fundraise, fundraise, fundraise.


Laurin Liu - Benjamin DickersonLaurin Liu was an NDP Member of Parliament representing the riding of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles between 2011 and 2015. As Official Opposition deputy critic for the Environment, she represented the NDP at the December 2011 conference on climate change in Durban, South Africa. Ms. Liu also served as deputy critic for Science and Technology and deputy critic for International Trade. During her time in Parliament, she tabled three bills and one motion, including legislation to protect unpaid interns and a bill to make enrolment in the Guaranteed Income Supplement automatic. She is the youngest female Member of Parliament elected in Canadian history. Raised in Pointe-Claire, Quebec, Ms. Liu currently spends her time in Montreal and Ottawa.

Photo by Benjamin Dickerson.



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