ACSW Recommendations - Women and Electoral Reform

Wednesday, July 28 2010

The New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women has recommended a mixed member proportional system for electing provincial politicians in order to ensure the percentage of seats won by a party corresponds more fairly to their share of votes.  In a presentation this week to the provincial Commission on Legislative Democracy, the Advisory Council said New Brunswick often gets distorted electoral results that don't reflect the popular will, which contributes to a growing disillusionment with formal politics. Because many of the changes needed for women's equality require political action, this disillusionment hurts women.

The Commission, created last year to recommend electoral and democratic reforms, is studying issues such as the implementation of a proportional representation system, increased public involvement in decision making and fixed election dates. The Advisory Council partnered with the Commission and since last spring has held 14 public sessions and met with about 900 persons on the topic of electoral reform. "Women have a large stake in the work of this Commission," said the Advisory Council Chairperson Mary Lou Stirling. "We applaud the government's initiative in creating this Commission. This exercise has the potential of improving citizen participation and reducing alienation with the political process."

"More than 80 years after winning the right to vote and 70 years since becoming eligible to run as provincial candidates, New Brunswick women are still seeking equality of influence. Women constitute just 13% of members of the Legislative Assembly, a situation that has deteriorated in recent years. Also women do not get their fair share of appointments to provincial government agencies, boards and commissions."

In a mixed member proportional system, some of the representatives would still be elected in the current fashion in single-member geographical districts, and others would be chosen through a proportional representation list system. The Advisory Council recommends that at least 40% of Legislative Assembly seats should be proportional representation list seats. To be eligible for a proportional representation list seat, a party would have to have at least 5% of the votes, a threshold needed to avoid fragmentation of parties.

The Advisory Council also recommended that the government introduce legislation requiring political parties to adopt plans to bring about gender balance with an initial goal of 30% female representation to be reached within 3 election periods. The provincial government and political parties should fund mentoring initiatives designed to prepare women to run for elective office, according to the Advisory Council. 

The Council also urged the government to have more frequent recourse to models along the lines of the Ministers' Working Group on Violence Against Women as a method for engaging the community.

"Legislators and representatives of the First Nations communities should decide on formulas for the allocation of at least two seats in the Legislative Assembly for elected representatives of the First Nations peoples, and for the fair representation of women and men in these seats," according to the Advisory Council submission.

Any future referendum should be guided by strict rules, said the Council Chairperson. Only the government should be able to initiate a referendum, and only after an issue has been debated in the Legislature, the question has been framed with input from an all-party legislative committee and a public education campaign has been overseen by a non-partisan body. Referendum spending should be limited and the referendum question would only be decided if a majority of all voters in a majority of the electoral
districts had voted for it.

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