Mediocre men walk their way through political campaigns. It is time to end the double standard facing women on the campaign trail

When Donald Trump entered the political arena, he broke all the rules. And his election in 2016 exemplified a frustrating double standard between men and women on the campaign trail.

While men are encouraged to innovate and break the political mould, women are expected to learn the rules as they exist and follow them closely or face heightened scrutiny.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has a difficult road ahead. Canada has never re-elected a woman as premier in any province. She is tasked with defending her record while presenting a detailed plan for her proposed way forward.

Her record and resume are impressive. She’s spent decades in the political trenches, in work specifically aimed at improving the lives of the most vulnerable in society. She’s been clear about her values and has been a compassionate and thoughtful leader for the province.

Doug Ford bested three women opponents last month in a speedy leadership campaign, convincing Ontario PC party membership that he was the best candidate to lead their party through the election. Ontarians will decide over the next six weeks if he is qualified to steer the ship of the entire province.

As the campaign kicks off, Ford has confidently thrown conventional provincial campaign wisdom out the window.

While local media outlets across the province struggle with cut, his campaign has made a calculated decision not to have a media bus follow the leader for the duration of the campaign.

Rather than presenting a fully costed platform to communicate his plans to voters, Ford continues to present oversimplified solutions to complex policy issues on the go.

Ford seems to believe he can wing this campaign. Voters deserve better.

Voters deserve independent media access to party leaders. Voters deserve to know how a particular campaign promise is going to be achieved. Voters deserve to see a document that outlines a vision for the province and a blueprint to achieve success.

A platform is the medium through which a party’s vision for the province, and plan to achieve it, are communicated. Parties spend months connecting with local communities to prioritize issues and policy experts to identify innovative solutions in the development of these documents.

Premier Wynne quoted Michelle Obama this week in a description of what we can expect from her over the course of the campaign:

“Michelle Obama, whom I admire greatly, recommended when they go low, we should go high. I loved that idea when she said it until we ended up with Donald Trump in the White House. So, I’m sorry, but not again. Not here, not in Ontario. I’m not going to go high. I’m not going to go low. I’m going to call that bullying behaviour out for what it is.”

Obama delivered those inspiring words at the 2016 Democratic Convention in support of Hillary Clinton. In the same speech she spoke candidly about responsible leadership.

“I want someone who understands that the issues the president faces are not black and white and cannot be boiled down to 140 characters,” she said. “When you have the nuclear codes at your fingertips and the military at your command, you can’t make snap decisions. You can’t have a thin skin or a tendency to lash out.”

If the tables were turned in that election — and in this one — a woman candidate exhibiting this type of behaviour would have been labelled an emotional, political novice who is unfit to lead.

Why is it that men are so freely awarded the benefit of the doubt while women are constantly challenged to prove themselves in politics?

I hope that in the coming weeks, Ontario will defy the odds.

I hope that the fierce women running and bringing their talents to provincial campaigns will courageously change the political game.

During her performance at Coachella last weekend, Beyoncé took a moment to address the women in the crowd, “Ladies — Are we smart? Are we strong? Have we had enough?”

I’ve had enough of mediocre men talking their way through political campaigns as brilliant and well-studied women are overlooked while they put in the hard work.

Tiffany Gooch is a Liberal strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight and an advocate for increased cultural and gender diversity in Canadian politics.

(Published in The Toronto Star on Sunday, April 22)