MP Kramp-Neuman reflects on being appointed Shadow Minister for Women, Gender Equality, and Youth

Hastings-Lennox and Addington Member of Parliament (MP) Shelby Kramp-Neuman has been named the Shadow Minister for Women, Gender Equality, and Youth. Photo supplied.

Hastings-Lennox and Addington Member of Parliament (MP) Shelby Kramp-Neuman is taking on a new challenge with a position in the shadow cabinet of His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. On Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2023, Kingstonist caught up with Kramp-Neuman, who has been appointed the Conservative Party’s Shadow Minister for Women, Gender Equality, and Youth.

Kramp-Neuman’s team had released a media statement announcing the new position on Friday, Apr. 19, 2024. 

In that release, Kramp-Neuman shared, “I am thankful to [Opposition Leader] Pierre Poilievre for entrusting me with the position of Shadow Minister for Women, Gender Equality, and Youth. These often overlooked and underrepresented groups deserve a strong advocate for them at the centre of any decision-making body and it is my goal to build on the important work done by my colleague and friend, the Member from Elgin-Middlesex-London Karen Vecchio, in promoting their interests and addressing their unique challenges.”

Readers might remember that Kramp-Neuman’s father, former Conservative MP and Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) Daryl Kramp, passed away just a few months ago, and she has been navigating that loss while attending a series of tributes to him, along with her own political work.

In response to expressions of condolence and sympathy, Kramp-Neuman said thoughtfully, “I had a whole new appreciation for what empathy was and what grief was — because I really thought I got it, but I really didn’t understand it until now.”

Empathy and even grief may be essential aspects of the shadow minister’s role as she speaks on behalf of many marginalized people in Canadian society. One of the critical roles of the ministry she shadows is advancing equality with respect to sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression, through the inclusion of people of all genders, including women, in Canada’s economic, social, and political life.

Kramp-Neuman was asked how comfortable she is speaking on behalf of marginalized women, trans people, or any of the other different groups she now represents in a significant role.

“Obviously, there’ll be a tremendous amount of continued learning and education for me to acquire, but speaking firsthand and getting real-life stories is critical,” Kramp-Neuman replied, pointing out that this is not her first time on the Committee on the Status of Women; she was an active member for several months in 2022.

“Whether it’s the Red Dress Alert study, the economic empowerment study, or the next study that we’re focusing on, coercive control,” she said, “you’re listening firsthand to people with stories. And when you look somebody in the eye, you can… really get a feeling for what people are going through. I think that will provide me with that additional level of comfort of being able to reflect and advocate for all.”

Women and trans people have disproportionate experiences of poverty, lack of housing, employment insecurity, and hate-based violence. An expected part of being a shadow minister is challenging the Liberal government’s record on these problems. 

Kramp-Neuman acknowledged this, saying, “There’s a lot of different portfolios that are very partisan: you can put your hat on and really play the role of the opposition. That being said, I think there’s room for positivity and growth. My goal is to really be a passionate advocate. I want to be a change maker. I want to celebrate that there has been tremendous progress in Canada, whether it’s towards equality or our work on gender-based violence.”

“There’s a tremendous amount of work that needs to continue to improve equity and equality for all communities, whether it’s through the promotion of human rights or inclusive policies,” she continued. “There’s a lot of complex issues going on right now. And I think that Canadians are really looking  for someone to champion that change, for progress and for women, and for youth in particular.”

Here she paraphrased Franklin Roosevelt, saying, “We can’t build a future for our youth, but we can build a youth for our future — and I really want to focus on that.”

The conversation turned to gender-based violence in schools. Research out of Queen’s University indicates that teachers feel a strong sense of responsibility to respond to gender-based violence, but they need additional training, resources, and practices to address it. Furthermore, learning modules on gender-based violence are among the most requested items on the Women and Gender Equality Canada website. 

Kramp-Neuman said she doesn’t just see this as a provincial Ministry of Education problem, but that the responsibility falls on “all levels of government, and I think on our culture as a whole,” to curb this.

She continued, “Thousands of people are asking questions like ‘Who do I call if my pictures are shared sexually online? Who do I call if I’ve been verbally abused? Who do I call?’… There are thousands of Canadians every single month that are searching for help, that are dealing with violence, both men and women. It’s not a good situation at all, and it lies on all levels of government.”

As a woman in parliament, Kramp-Neuman shared that “thankfully” she had not experienced sexism, or at least had “not had a tremendous amount of negative experience.” 

“From my vantage point,” she went on, “I’ve always been raised that you need to earn respect, and if you are going to acquire a position… you need to be there based on your merit, not because you’re a woman, not because you’re a mom, but because you have the merit to be there. With regards to just earning the respect and being knowledgeable and then creating good habits, my parents always said, ‘Walk like you know where you’re going.’”

However, Kramp-Neuman said, “I’m relatively early in my federal career. So it’s one day at a time — but you know, I just put my head down. I do my work. I don’t get too high, don’t get too low. I just really focus on what I need to do.”

“And I’m not generally an overly sensitive person,” she acknowledged. “I try and focus on what I can control. And I encourage my daughters to do the same.” 

This led to a hard question: did her party encourage her to speak for herself, or was she expected to toe the party line? Did she hold back and put her head down, as she seemed to indicate? 

Kramp-Neuman replied, “The beautiful thing with our party is… [that] with our leader, there’s always room for conversation [and] dialogue… I have to, obviously, reflect my conscience. I have to reflect the will of the majority of people in Hastings-Lennox and Addington, because I’m a conduit for them as a lawmaker and as a legislator in Ottawa. So it’s three-pronged: obviously I respect the views of our party [too]. But if I have questions, I certainly won’t be a wallflower. I’ll ask.”

In 2022, a group of locals in Napanee pulled together to host the first-ever Napanee Pride event. At that time there was tension in the group about inviting the newly elected Kramp-Neuman, because the Conservative Party has not always had a stellar record when it comes to supporting Pride. She was, however, eventually invited.

“There’s many different events across the riding, and sometimes you look and you go, you know what? I really want to be there,” Kramp-Neuman said. “And that event in particular, it wasn’t even a question: I wanted to be there.”

She reflected, “I think whatever has happened in the past, it’s behind us: different parties, different leaders. People evolve. We’re in 2024. Look, we have our deputy leader who is openly lesbian, and I’m completely comfortable that we have other members of our party [representing the 2SLGTBQ+ spectrum]. So I was happy to be there, happy to speak, happy to be part of it.”

When asked if she will attend Pride events in the riding this year, she said it comes down to her schedule. “I know there are quite a few events in the hopper right now, so we’ll definitely cross that bridge when we get there.” 

Asked for final thoughts, Kramp-Neuman reflected that she could share many different messages. “We’re clearly in a cost-of-living crisis, and I know it’s affecting all people, but from my portfolio’s perspective, families, women, youth, and marginalized communities are all being affected. And I think it’s really important that we try hard to show kindness and encourage those good habits in our youth. Look after yourself before you look after anybody else: your mindset, respect, attitude, and responsibility… I would encourage people just to take a step back and take a breath before they make callous statements towards somebody — because, as complex [as things are] right now in Canada, we have so much to be grateful for.” 

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