Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Value of Female Candidates

The NDP may not believe in using financial incentives to encourage environmentally conscious behaviour, but leadership candidate Paul Dewar has come up with a market solution that incentivizes political parties to run 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.

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  • I think you'd have to structure it to automatically adjust if and when it worked. So in the first election, if it elected a 60% female parliament, the following election the benefit would go to men, but would be smaller. That sort of thing.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:33 p.m.  

  • I don't mind the idea, setting aside quibbles on per vote subsidies in the first place. As a strawman it's excellent. An easier sell would be to require large proportions of female candidates contesting riding nomination meetings (irrespective of who wins), and maybe also look at riding membership gender splits. I would argue that's the more meaningful change in increasing the proportion of female parliamentarians.

    By Blogger matt, at 4:12 p.m.  

  • How about treating women as equals?

    Anyone who agrees with this policy has no reason to stop there. How about a rebate for First Nations candidates? Or gay and lesbian? Or left-handers?

    I'd rather the people decide for themselves who they'd like representing them, free from any financial incentives or disincentives.

    If we want more women in politics, let's find out what's stopping them from running and/or what's stopping people from voting for them, and address that.

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 5:02 p.m.  

  • Not only is Robert right, increasing the share of women in parliament is a poor means of promoting gender equity given our political system.

    We have strong parties, and a long-standing tradition of party discipline. Even IF women MPs could better represent female constituents, they would be subject to their party's whip on most votes. It is manifestly stupid for the UN to propose something like this, with no attention to the nuances of different political systems.

    By Anonymous hosertohoosier, at 5:49 p.m.  

  • Getting more women elected to the House of Commons will make life better for a maximum of 308 women.

    I think we should aim a bit higher.

    By Anonymous The Invisible Hand, at 12:13 a.m.  

  • Off topic but is there any word on the Liberal candidate for Toronto Danforth? Is Andrew Lang just going to be made the candidate.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:38 a.m.  

  • Yes, override the will of the local riding associations, especially if they have the temerity to choose to have a male candidate.

    Which would represent feminists' concerns better?

    1)A female Conservative MP or
    2)A male NDP or Liberal MP?

    It isn't who the MP that matters, but the voters in the riding. An elected MP in rural Alberta will represent a far different constituency than an MP who is in downtown Toronto. Reform elected MPs from immigrant constituencies in the 1990s, and were center-right.

    If Paul Dewar wants more women in Parliament, then he should do the honorable thing and resign voluntarily so that a female candidate can run in his place. Lead by example, Paul.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:28 a.m.  

  • A more modest, but more effective, solution might be increasing the rebate female candidates get on election expenses.

    Best. Charter challenge. EVER.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:38 a.m.  

  • Full marks to Anon 11:38, who recognizes that discrimination according to Gender is against the law in Canada, with this situation not qualifying as an exception.

    But thanks to Dewar we no longer need to worry that the NDP might have otherwise been in danger of forgetting how much they want to impose their ideas on you as to how are allowed to live, and all the other terrible Social Engineering ideas have not gone away.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:11 a.m.  

  • Why impose such an ineffective, indirect system?

    Just pay voters to vote for women.

    - Brian from Toronto

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:31 a.m.  

  • Jokes about sex changes aren't cool Calgary Grit.

    Gender Reassignment Surgery can be part of the life path of the Transgender or those with gender identity disorders. It should not be mocked.

    But I suppose such jokes are par for the course for Liberals though.

    On the one hand you tout how socially progressive you are in regards to non-heterosexuals.

    On the other hand, you spread homophobic rumours about your competitors such as Francois Boivin to tap into underground bigotry.

    Man, I am going to be glad when you guys are relegated to the trash heap of history.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:32 p.m.  

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