Equal Voice in Politics
This issue addresses the inequality in representation in our political system and thus the fairness in our political systems. Many sectors (gender, race) of Canadians do not have adequate representation.
Equal Voice is a national, bilingual, multi-partisan organization dedicated to electing more women to all levels of political office in Canada.
Equal Voice regards the equal representation of women in Canada’s Parliament, in our provincial/territorial legislatures, and on municipal and band councils, as a fundamental question of fairness for women in terms of their access to Canada’s democratic institutions.
In the News: Women in Politics
1) Global recently ran a very well done news item asking senior staffers at the Saskatchewan Legislature about women’s involvement in politics in elected office and in political roles. It is informative no matter what province you’re from. Among those interviewed is Premier Gary Wall who has been a member of Equal Voice since the inception of the Saskatchewan chapter.
2) Interview with Julia Gillard, the former Australian Prime Minister by Equal Voice’s chair, Raylene Lang-Dion.
3) This Op Ed ran in the Vancouver Sun on March 24, 2014 and was written by Grace Lore who is a member of Equal Voice BC Steering Committee. She ponders the recent but perhaps tenuous phenomenon of women at the heads of provincial governments and what might be at the root of this.
Opinion: Revisiting the rise of women in Canadian politics
Between November 2008, when Eva Aariak — the only woman elected to Nunavut’s 19-member legislature was sworn in as premier — and January 2013, when Kathleen Wynne became premier of Ontario after taking over as Liberal leader, six women in five provinces and one territory rose to the top.
Three — B.C.’s Christy Clark, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Kathy Dunderdale, and Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne, as the Canadian women leaders before them (Rita Johnston in B.C. and Kim Campbell federally), became premier/prime minister by winning the leadership of their party and not by seeking an electoral mandate.
Unlike Johnston or Campbell, their successors won subsequent elections, defying the polls and all expectation in the case of Alberta and B.C. The “rise of women in Canadian politics is unmistakable and unstoppable” The Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson wrote (Sept. 11, 2012); Kelly McParland of the National Post asked “what happened to discrimination?” (Jan. 28, 2013).
A year after Wynne became the country’s sixth sitting female premier, it is time to re-evaluate the seeming triumph of women in politics. The claim that political equality has arrived seems, at best, premature. In addition to under-representation in other political offices (only 25 per cent of Members of Parliament and only 16 per cent of mayors are women, for example), women’s success in the role of premier has not been sustained. In October 2013, Eva Aariak lost her seat in the Nunavut legislature. After that election, less than 14 per cent of the territory’s representatives were women and none was the leader.
Dunderdale, Newfoundland and Labrador’s 10th (and first woman) premier resigned on Jan. 24. She had faced low opinion polls and challenges from within her Progressive Conservative party. Criticisms both from within her ranks and from her political opponents frequently seemed based on expectations arising from her gender: she was accused of lacking empathy, her communication style was deemed too abrupt, and she was seen as too aggressive.
Less than three months later much the same story played out in Alberta. On March 19, Progressive Conservative premier Alison Redford resigned her post. Redford had been facing growing challenges from her caucus, including the resignation of one veteran MLA and one member of the front bench. Legitimate concerns abound with Redford condemned for excessive spending on personal entitlements. As was the case with Dunderdale, however, some attacks on Redford were undeniably about gender. One opponent, denied a cabinet position by the premier, argued “she is not a nice lady” who frequently had “temper tantrums.”
It is far from clear, however, that being nice strengthens political leadership, particularly in the conflictual parliamentary and party system used in Canadian provinces. In contrast, the female front-bencher who resigned denounced gender criticisms of the Alberta premier. When asked whether Redford’s supposed bully style played a role in her decision to sit as an independent, she replied she would not engage in the sexist discussion. For her, the problem was within a party that had been unable to evolve.
In a coincidence of events, media stories containing allegations of Redford’s bullying have appeared alongside a social media campaign to “ban bossy.” Launched by Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg and her Lean In organization, Ban Bossy argues the term discourages girls from speaking up and taking charge. Attacks on both Redford and Dunderdale indicate women leaders still face demands that they be nice or empathetic rather than assertive or bossy. More concerning, both cases demonstrate the power of such attacks in removing women from positions of power.
Female premiers now remain to lead the country’s three largest provinces (Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia). In Quebec Pauline Marois, is in the middle of an election and slightly behind in the polls. In Ontario, Wynne continues to govern uncertainly with a minority and a late spring or summer election looks likely. In B.C., Clark, while securing her government a four-year mandate in an unexpected 2013 election victory, has faced marked sexism, from comments on her cleavage to media questions on what it’s like to be a MILF.
Should Marois lose the election on April 7, female premiers will drop to two. If she fails to produce a majority, her tenure as PQ leader will be uncertain. Although an election date is not yet set, the same is true for Wynne. In other words, just over a year after Wynne’s victory made it six, the number of female premiers could be cut to two and may, by the end of summer, drop to one.
The likelihood of a new female premier in most provinces is small. In Newfoundland and Labrador, three men and no women have entered the race to replace Dunderdale.
It’s too early to speculate on potential leaders for the Alberta PCs, but Dave Hancock has been sworn in as the interim premier. Danielle Smith heads Alberta’s official Opposition. Only if her Wild Rose Party can do in 2016 what none other has done in more than 40 years and replace the Conservatives, the province may have a second female premier.
In Quebec, both the Liberals and the Coalition Avenir Québec are led by men and although Françoise David holds the top spot in Quebec Solidaire, it only has two seats and polls suggest little growth, although she was received well in the March 20 leaders’ debate.
Ontario’s third party is led by NDP Andrea Horwath but the Liberals’ more obvious main competition, the Progressive Conservatives, are led by Tim Hudak.