Thursday, July 13, 2006

Ladies in Red

Stephane Dion has come out with a proposal designed to increase the number of female candidates the Liberal Party runs in general elections. Increasing the number of women in Parliament is an admirable goal...just as it would be an admirable goal to increase the number of minorities, aboriginals, young MPs, and people from diverse career backgrounds (do we really need a hundred lawyers in Parliament?).

For those interested, here are the number of female candidates each party ran last election, with the number elected in backets.

NDP 108 (12)
Lib 79 (21)
CPC 38 (14)
BQ 23 (17)

It's interesting to note the high success rate of Bloc Quebecois candidates, showing that the party is committed to running them in winnable ridings, rather than merely offering them up as sacrificial lambs. The end goal should be to get more female MPs in Ottawa, rather than just running them for show in hopeless cause ridings. The Liberals could run 28 visible minority females in Alberta to meet their quotas, but it likely wouldn't translate to any more women in Ottawa.

Looking at those numbers, it's clear that the BQ and NDP have done a good job recruiting, and electing, female candidates. And they've done this not through heavy handed measures or appointments but by genuinely giving a damn about the issue.

As for the specific proposals Dion is making, these two take a page from the work the NDP has done and would be great steps in the right direction:

-Appoint a team of advisors from the women's caucus, the Women's Commission, and the Judy LaMarsh Fund to identify and recruit women to run for the Liberal Party and devote dedicated resources from the Party to support this effort

-Rrequire that a proper and thorough search for female candidates must be demonstrated prior to the approval of nomination dates in each un-held riding

When it comes to appointments for things like the Senate and crown corporations, you certainly want to keep gender representation in mind but crown corporations are multi-million dollar businesses and I don't think we should be passing over qualified candidates, just to meet a quota. Ditto for the Cabinet. Any Prime Minister should make a serious effort to ensure that their Cabinet is representative of the country. But does that mean you put Cheryl Gallant in Justice or Carolyn Parrish in Foreign Affairs. I don't think so.

Assuming the restrictions aren't written in stone, a lot of Dion's proposals could work. There is one section which really bothers me though:

-lead a government that will propose changes to the Canada Elections Act to provide financial incentives to all political parties until we reach gender parity in the House of Commons

The way I read this, we will be paying parties to run female candidates. To me, this is completely unacceptable and almost insulting to women. It also raises the question of why we're paying parties to run women but not minorities or other under-represented groups in Ottawa. Is there anyone who would even consider paying parties to run black candidates?

So, to recap:

The intent is there on an issue which deserves debate and action. Dion has put forward a few good proposals to encourage women to run and to aid in the recruitement of female candidates. However, there are also a few heavy handed measures which I think go too far and would create a lot of problems if implemented (I won't even touch the "appointing female candidates" one since we've seen the can of worms appointing candidates can be). I think the best answer to this problem is actually having people in power who actually care about the issue , rather than setting quotas. Paul Martin appointed qualified women to the Supreme Court without having a quota or benchmark forcing him to. To me, that's really the best approach to take.

Also, Riley Hennessy has a good analysis of this topic. And Jason Cherniak has a very..."interesting" proposal.


  • Nice to see Dion jumping on something that Kennedy has been talking about since March.

    I hope the other candidates learn to copy the frontrunner.

    By Blogger Manitoba Liberal, at 2:00 p.m.  

  • " The way I read this, we will be paying parties to run female candidates. "

    Why not! We've basically been paying them to run male candidates for the past 200 years.

    By Blogger Hammering Jow, at 2:06 p.m.  

  • Wow thanks for linking me CG!

    Huge honour I really appreciate it.

    By Blogger Forward Looking Canadian, at 2:07 p.m.  

  • Those Tories ran only 38 women in 308 ridings?!?!?

    That is just horid.

    By Blogger Hammering Jow, at 2:15 p.m.  

  • Dion isn't picking this up from Kennedy, give me a break - it's been talked about as long as I've been an adult.

    The exact same item leapt out at me too, CG - it's a minor disaster waiting to happen, that one.

    Why not! We've basically been paying them to run male candidates for the past 200 years.

    Nah hah - good one. :)

    By Blogger Jacques Beau Vert, at 2:56 p.m.  

  • Way to take a stand. I could buy into some of Dion's stuff in this regard, but only in moderation. In my view the largest impediment for women is their usual role as primary caregiver (not endorsing that status quo, merely calling attention to it), such that gender parity parliamentary reform would be best accomplished via: a) daycare availibility and b) less time demands on MPs. A cynic would note that a daycare exists on the hill and MPs are paid well enough to afford private daycare anywhere in the country regardless of any program the government implements, but the issue is allowing women the time to participate in the party process in advance of a nomination, an end served by increasing daycare i) access, ii) hours.

    By Blogger matt, at 3:08 p.m.  

  • Good post, I agree completely.

    By Blogger Ryan Ringer, at 4:02 p.m.  

  • I'm not saying Dion's right, but I find the counter argument CG provides strange.

    If we think it's a good idea to promote female candidates, why does it become a bad idea when the government does it? And if it is a bad idea for the government to do it, why is it a good idea for us?

    Or is there something about using financial incentives that makes it distasteful? And if so, why are financial incentives not distasteful for everything else?

    If money is distasteful, and you think the rest of Dion's arguments are good, you seem to be saying that the only reason there are not more women in Parliament is because we're not good enough at finding female candidates.

    Or, you're suggesting that we should do things that won't solve the problem, just to look like we care.

    I don't think that's it. I don't think we need a bigger net. I think there needs to be more fish in the water. Financial incentives can make that happen, but just looking harder can't.

    By Blogger Gauntlet, at 4:11 p.m.  

  • gauntlet; The reason to have more female candidates is for equality.

    So you can't abandon equality to achieve equality. Treating one gender of candidates differently by paying parties or those candidates more violates this in my opinion.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 4:44 p.m.  

  • I agree 100% with CG.

    Where do we stop if we start mandating candidates?

    By Blogger Forward Looking Canadian, at 5:34 p.m.  

  • The Dion plan is bunk and pure pandering...worse of's just NOT Stephane Dion.

    Is Marlene Jennings an MP because she is person who, as a lawyer and a social activist, accomplished many great things in her career? Or is it because she is a black woman? The answer is the former.

    If Dion appoints a woman in a riding where a man has won a fair nomination solely based on gender, the message we will be sending is that the only reason the woman is the candidate is because she is a woman. It would do her and women's rights more harm than good.

    By Blogger Anthony, at 7:38 p.m.  

  • right on Antonio.

    We need to judge people on their history, their accomplishments and their vision.

    Not the color of their skin or their gender.

    Nobody should want quotas.

    By Blogger Forward Looking Canadian, at 8:06 p.m.  

  • I'm interested in hearing what female politicians have to say in this issue. Why are they in poltics? What were the major barrier for them, and how can we help propsective female politicians overcome them? I'm hoping one of the female candidates in this race will share some words on this.

    For example, although I can't say I'm a big fan of Belinda Stronach's, some of the sexist comments that have been made about her are truly atrocious. This kind of thing needs to change. Dipstick? Prostitute? To me, this is appalling, and if women interested in politics are regularly encountering this type of thing, no wonder they don't want to be there.

    Also, as Matt pointed out, a rather significant problem is the lifestyle that being an MP requires. A quick look at the list of Toronto city councillors suggests that the city council is about 30% female. I suspect that this is in part because being a local politician does not require moving to a far away city for a large part of the year. Maybe it is also because women are more community-oriented? I'm not sure.

    I'm a female engineering student, and I don't think that choosing candidates based on gender is the way to go. When I get a full-time job, I want to be hired because I am BETTER than the men who apply, and NOT because I'm a woman. We should be seeking out female candidates and encouraging them to run, but this appointing business does not sound good.

    When I hear about the lack of women in politics, all I can think is 'well, I don't blame them.' I certainly wouldn't want to be a politician. I think we need to make politics a job that women want. There is no doubt in my mind that there are many women out there who could do well in politics, but we need to make them want to run for office. We need to hear from women what it is that bothers them about politics. Is it the image of politics? The controversy, the corruption? Are they experiencing discrimination, are they not taken as seriously? Is it mainly the lifestyle?

    By Blogger Laura, at 7:45 p.m.  

  • Dion has good intentions, but I doubt Canadians would take well to circumventing the democratic process by appointing women candidates. The under-representation of women is problematic. But so too is the under-representation of minorities and aboriginals.

    I just posted a series at DemocraticSPACE that looked at women and politics globally, and compared women representation to electoral systems. What I found is that the first-past-the-post system (which we use) produces the lowest share of women representatives (of course, there may be compounding cultural factors, so no conclusive claims can be made). Moreover, the few mixed-member systems out there (New Zealand, Germany, Mexico) produce the highest share of women MPs, even more than pure proportional systems (on average -- List PR systems, however, are used in 85% of the top 20).

    Want more women, minorities and aboriginals? Electoral reform is the best bet. I figure that tweaking our system by just a bit, to an a small element of proportionality, could easily result in a 50% jump in female MPs, bumping us into from 20% to 30-35%.

    By Blogger Gregory D. Morrow, at 1:17 p.m.  

  • There are lots of theories as to why there are more men rather than women in politics, ranging from financial burdens, the primary caregiver role to the fact the drama and nastiness of politics at the provincial and federal level wind up seeming too competitive and too male.

    Truthfully, given the manner in which campaign finance reform has been put into action the financial sums needed to run a competitive campaign are now relatively modest. If a candidate can't pull in a few thousand dollars in fundraising, they're going to get clobered in an election regardless of their gender.

    While if its simply the unwillingness or inability to leave their family, it strikes that most viable candidates that run for elected office have a sufficiently high paying job to pay for daycare as it is. I don't see how a state mandated program in that regard would ameliorate the situation one way or the other. Furthermore, if its a simple unwillingness even if to engage in a job that would remove them from their family/community potentially for long periods of time there really isn't anything one can do about that. Its not like the house sits for a crushingly long time as it is, few employers decide to stop work every couple monthes just for the hell of it.

    As for the whole thing being too male, what are you going to do insist everyone be nicer whom is in national politics? Politicians would smile, nod and then quietly run off to work on their new attack ads, as no one is going to be nicer in politics as long as the public responds to nastiness and personal attacks. Its unfortunate but people will do what it takes to win.

    By Blogger Chris, at 2:33 p.m.  

  • Oh and CG calling Abella qualified is a rather bastardized use of the term regarding her appointment. She's a leftwing idealogue whose written any number of bafflingly poor and unsubstantiated judgement, but given that she's female and a minority she's been pushed along.

    That was a Clarence Thomas caliber appointment.

    By Blogger Chris, at 3:20 p.m.  

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