News Editor & Managing Editor
Former PLQ leader Dominique Anglade hugs her family after announcing her resignation from politics. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press.
In May of 2020, Dominique Anglade was appointed as the leader of the Parti Libéral du Québec, occupying the position for a mere two and a half years. Anglade made history by becoming the first woman of color to lead a political party in Quebec. However, just over a month ago, Anglade announced her resignation as the leader of the PLQ and of the Official Opposition. Fulfilling her duties as a member of the National Assembly for Saint-Henri-Sainte-Anne, Anglade’s official departure occurred on December 1st.
Marc Tanguay, the member of the National Assembly of the LaFontaine riding was instantly appointed as the interim leader of the party. Although seemingly inconsequential, Anglade’s departure is another example of the glass cliff phenomenon at play.
In Getting on Top of the Glass Cliff: Reviewing a Decade of Evidence, Explanations, and Impact (2016), Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam argue, “that glass cliff phenomenon refers to the tendency for women to be more likely than men to be appointed to leadership positions that are risky and precarious” (Ryan et al.). Although similar in shared aspects, the glass ceiling refers to an entirely different phenomenon. In Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Structural, Cultural, and Organizational Barriers Preventing Women from Achieving Senior and Executive Positions, Johns argues, “that the glass ceiling is a metaphor for the invisible and artificial barriers that block women and minorities from advancing up the corporate ladder to management and executive positions.” (Johns). Nonetheless, both address discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or gender within the workforce.
Leading up to the 2018 Quebec provincial election, the PLQ was the majority government and had garnered a vote share of approximately 42% in the previous election. At the head of the party was Philippe Couillard, who had led Quebec for the past four years. In a shocking turnout, the PLQ saw their vote share and seats reduced by more than half. Couillard immediately stepped down as the leader and explained that he was leaving the spot to “a new generation of Liberals.'' Ultimately, Couillard’s departure was catalyzed by the CAQ’s surge in popularity and, conversely, the PLQ’s rapid decline. When Couillard chose to step down and hand off the party to a new leader, it was under the guise of shifting the blame onto someone else.
Dominique Anglade was appointed as the leader of the PLQ in 2020. As seen in the results of the 2022 provincial election, the party experienced a greater, more catastrophic loss than in the previous election. However, this underlines the glass cliff phenomenon. The blame is shifted onto Anglade, when in reality, Couillard chose to step down when he knew that the PLQ was losing its popularity in Québec. Anglade, a woman of color, was appointed as leader of the party, imparting her with a negative connotation after the expected disaster.
However, the glass cliff phenomenon was posited long before Anglade was subjected to it. In fact, the glass cliff phenomenon is also interchangeably referred to as the Kim Campbell phenomenon. In 1993, Brian Mulroney, the reigning prime minister and leader of the Tories, was experiencing a rapid decline in polls. The party was suffering, and it was clear that their chances of re-election were slim to none. After Mulroney officially stepped down from politics and his position, Kim Campbell was appointed as the first woman prime minister of Canada. However, the party experienced a massive loss and were crushed by the Liberals. Kim Campbell, the only woman prime minister in Canada to date, was given a poor reputation and image. Mulroney put the future candidate and leader on a glass cliff, only to make them fail and assign the blame to them.
More importantly, the glass cliff phenomenon is not only applicable to elected political leaders. Shortly after the 2019 federal election, the leader of the Green Party, Elizabeth May, resigned from the position. Shortly after, Annamie Paul, a woman of color, was appointed as the leader of the party. In the 2021 federal election, the Green Party experienced a massive decrease in vote share, by nearly two-thirds. Consequently, the blame was shifted onto a woman of color, yet the Green Party saw a rapid decrease in popularity after Elizabeth May departed. This imparted Paul with the negative connotation of being a terrible politician. Just recently, Elizabeth May stepped back up as the leader of the Green Party. Importantly, it is not only women who are put on the glass cliff: women of color are also subjected to it.
Ultimately, women are negatively connoted in Canadian politics, largely due to the glass cliff phenomenon. The glass cliff phenomenon is not explained through the captain not going down with their ship, but rather it is blatantly setting someone up to fail and take the blame. And in Canadian politics, men usually set up the glass cliff for women and minorities to fail.