The Value of Female Candidates
OTTAWA—New Democratic leadership candidate Paul Dewar wants to bring back the political subsidy the Conservative government axed after winning a majority this spring — this time with a feminist catch.
Dewar proposed that any party that nominated 50 per cent or more women candidates would receive the full $2-per-vote subsidy, parties nominating 40 to 49.9 per cent women candidates would receive $1.75 per vote and those who nominated between 30 and 39.9 per cent would receive $1.50 per vote.
Parties that did not manage to nominate 30 per cent women candidates — the threshold the United Nations set as the minimum benchmark for a critical mass of women in parliament — would receive no subsidy.
Many will either embrace or dismiss this idea outright, but it's likely fair to first look at its impact before passing judgment.
To begin with, every party would find a way to hit the 30% threshold - they'd be foolhardy not to. Using the last election as a case study, the Conservatives would stand to receive close to 9 million dollars a year had they run 25 more women. Quite simply, they'd find a way to hit that threshold, even if it meant paying for a few backbencher sex change operations.
Once a party hits the 30% mark, they'd get an extra 25 cents a vote for every additional 31 women they run. Again, basing our math on the last election, that values every additional female candidate at $188,000 for the Tories, $145,000 for the NDP, and $90,000 for the Liberals (over four years). That's a pretty strong incentive, and I have no doubt Dewar's plan would lead to more women running for office.
Of course, as with any incentive scheme, there are unintended consequences. To begin with, the easiest way for a party like the Liberals to cash in on that 90k a candidate would be to run nothing but women across Alberta and in other unwinnable ridings. Luckily for the Liberals, there are plenty of unwinnable ridings to choose from.
Other parties trying to cash in may not be quite so lucky. To reach these quotas, many parties (especially the Conservatives) would likely resort to appointing dozens of female candidates in unheld ridings. Sure, having more women in politics is an admirable goal, but is it worth overruling the will of local riding associations? And what about the lack of aboriginals, visible minorities, and youth in politics? This proposal does little for them.
I think there's some merit in an incentive structure that encourages women to participate in politics, but simply setting a threshold on the number of female candidates a party runs is the wrong way to go about it.
A more modest, but more effective, solution might be increasing the rebate female candidates get on election expenses. Right now, any candidate who gets 10% of the vote, gets 15% of their expenses paid back to them. Why not double or triple the refund for women (and other under represented groups)? That would remove some of the financial barriers women face, encouraging quality female candidates to seek the nomination in winnable ridings.
On the other side, Dewar's plan would lead to nothing more than a slew of women appointed in unwinnable ridings.