Change the players, change the game: On getting more women in Parliament

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013 View Count = 1250

Change the players, change the game: On getting more women in Parliament

Throughout February, we’ll be posting an idea-a-day on the theme of “Redesigning Parliament.” We've asked academics, think-tank leaders, politicians and Samara volunteers to send us their suggestions. Today the amazing Nancy Peckford, Executive Director of Equal Voice, shares her thoughts with us.

1. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Parliament in the 21st century?

Despite the impressive breakthroughs of several female premiers across the country, including Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne, Equal Voice has yet to see a similar kind of momentum at the federal level.  Women’s representation in the House of Commons is just over 24 percent, and while this is a historic high, it is notably behind Ontario, Québec, Alberta and Manitoba where women comprise close to or over 30 percent (Québec’s is at 33 percent--the highest in Canada). Study after study has underscored that the presence of women matters – in both shifting the political culture and in enabling more inclusive public policy discussions. Does it mean that women all espouse the same beliefs? Absolutely not. But when 75 percent of Members of Parliament are men, it is nearly impossible for the remaining 25 percent to always do justice to the diversity and depth of women’s views and experiences.  


"Study after study has underscored that the presence of women matters – in both shifting the political culture and in enabling more inclusive public policy discussions."

Despite this, Equal Voice remains impressed with the talent and commitment of many of the women who are currently elected – from all sides of the House. But in the absence of stronger numbers, the implications are far reaching. For example, of the seven Aboriginal MPs currently in the House, only two are women. Further, only five Aboriginal women have ever served as MPs in all of Canada’s history (vs 23 males). Four women have served as federal party’s leaders – two from the NDP (Audrey McLaughlin and Alexa McDonough), Elsie Wayne as interim leader of the PC Party and current Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. Only two women have ever served as leaders of the Official Opposition in Canada’s 146 years (Deborah Grey and Nycole Turmel). And, as we know, only one woman has ever had the honour of serving as Canada’s first and only Prime Minister – the Rt. Hon Kim Campbell, which unfortunately lasted all of several months. Until we see significantly higher numbers of women elected into the federal arena, women may choose to channel their leadership ambitions at the provincial level.

2. What change would you propose to “redesign” Parliament, and the way it works, so it’s more relevant to Canadians?

When Kim Campbell accepted Equal Voice’s National EVE Award in 2009, she proposed a redrawing of electoral boundaries so that every constituency in Canada would become a two-member constituency (having been elected to the Legislative Assembly of BC from a two-member riding, Ms. Campbell emphasized that this is not an untried approach for Canada). If each redrawn constituency were to be tasked with electing one man and one woman (each elector would have two votes), Canada would have instant parity in parliament [Ed. Note: More from Kim Campbell here]


"The current excitement around six premiers is an excellent opportunity for political parties and Parliament to think about how to better facilitate the participation of women."

Is this approach something Canadians would support? Will we need to go down this road? Regardless, the current excitement around six premiers is an excellent opportunity for political parties and Parliament to think about how to better facilitate the participation of women. Is it really necessary for Parliamentary committees to sit four days out of five? Belinda Stronach, former cabinet minister and MP, has asked whether certain votes can be taken electronically in order to reduce the toll on families, particularly those with young children, who live a significant distance from the nation’s capital or spend extremely long days on the Hill.
 
Further, the current cohort of MPs makes for an excellent testing ground for how we can better accommodate parents of newborns, given that at least two NDP MPs have given or will be giving birth in the coming months. EV has proposed that, at minimum, Parliament arrange for private feeding/nursing facilities outside of the House of Commons for MPs who would like to spend a little time with their infants during marathon votes. A trained on site care-giver should also be made available for short periods when MPs are called into the House last minute. Will these measures facilitate a flood of young mothers (and parents) to Parliament? Likely not but it would signal to all Canadians that Parliament is an open institution willing to evolve – just as Canadians have evolved their own beliefs and expectations about who will make a great Member of Parliament.

Nancy Peckford is the Executive Director of Equal Voice. Born and raised in Newfoundland and Labrador, she previously worked as the Program Director for the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action, as National Lobby Coordinator for the Canadian Women’s Committee to End Poverty and Violence Against Women, and a Program Officer with the Canadian Labour Congress’ Women and Human Rights Department.

Equal Voice is a national, bilingual, non-profit, multi-partisan organization dedicated to electing more women to all levels of political office in Canada.

 

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