Federal Election Update: How Many Women in Parliament?

Monday, July 26 2010
The new House of Commons will include 65 women, or 21.1 per cent of the 308 seats. By our latest count, that is 34 female Liberal MPs, 14 for the Bloc Quebecois, 12 Conservatives and 5 New Democrats.


This is a very slight increase--two more women Members in a bigger House, and a .2 per cent gain over the previous Parliament. Once again, women politicians appear stalled at about one-fifth, the informal "glass ceiling" which pertains across the country.


( The breakthrough in Quebec last year to 30 per cent is the one exception, but overall, in the last nine provincial elections the numbers of elected women have fallen. Twenty-one per cent is the norm.)


We in Equal Voice, the national advocacy group for the election of more women, campaigned for the last year for an increase in the number of women elected to one-third of the House.


It was a modest goal, which we believed would give women a credible role in running the country, in which, of course, females are half the population. We asked the four federal parties to adopt our target, but once nominations closed it was clear all parties had fallen short of the target. We would not get our 104 in 2004.


The percentage of women elected yesterday in each party reflects the priority given by party leaders to women's equality. The NDP did best at 26.3 per cent, the Bloc Quebecois with 25.9 per cent, Liberals at 25.1 per cent--and the Conservatives at token levels of representation with 12 per cent women.


Canada continues to lag behind other countries in the world in terms of the number of women in its national legislature. Women in Wales recently gained 50 per cent of their Assembly, and women in Sweden are 45 per cent, and in Rwanda 48.5 per cent. Canada ranks way down the list---36th in the country rankings by the number of women in our last Parliament.


On a happier note, several strong, and well-known women MPs were elected or re-elected, including the Liberal's Anne McLellan, Conservative Belinda Stronach, New Democrat Alexa McDonough. Anita Neville, chair of the Liberal women's caucus was re-elected and women's minister Jean Augustine. Judy Wasylycia-Leis, who helped conduct the search for female candidates for the NDP, and Diane Bourgeois who did the same for the Bloc, were also re-elected.


Another bright moment was NDP leader Jack Layton's renewed commitment to fight for electoral reform, which he had promised to do if holding the balance of power.


Layton favors proportional representation, already under consideration in six provinces, as a voting method that better represents the actual makeup of the population. It is very clear that more women would have been elected last night if the NDP had won closer to the 50 seats that it would been its entitlement if the popular vote determined the outcome. Other Opposition MPs supported Layton's motion on PR before the election was called, and we hope it may become law in this minority Parliament--as the Law Commission of Canada has recently recommended.


For now, Parliament continues to be a male club. The blame must lie with party officials at the national and local levels, who act as gatekeepers of the nomination process. Next time around, we will be insisting that the federal parties start much earlier to search for qualified women to stand for nomination. Leaving the recruitment of women until close to the election works to perpetuate the male status quo.

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