Mr. Kennedy Stewart (Burnaby South, NDP)
moved that Bill C-237, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (gender equity), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am proud to stand today to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-237, the candidate gender equity act. In this speech I will outline why I think the bill is necessary, how the bill proposes to address identified problems, responses to possible criticisms, who supports the bill, and how I hope the bill will move forward.
At the outset, I would like to say that at the very least I hope we can send the bill to committee as it is an important first step to making our Parliament more gender equal. As I have explained to colleagues, I am open to making changes to improve the bill, with the overall objective of having it made law, and increasing the percentage of women elected to Parliament in the next and subsequent elections.
Despite the very partisan nature of this place, I think we can all say that we felt pride when the Prime Minister announced that his first cabinet would be the first-ever gender-balanced cabinet. It sent a signal to Canadians and to the world that we take gender equity seriously.
I am also happy to hear that the Prime Minister also considers himself a feminist, as do I. In my humble opinion, if we continue down this path, I think it is possible that this Parliament may be considered the gender-equity Parliament by future historians. However, there is a way to go before we would deserve such a label, and a lot has to do with who sits in this place.
Despite electing a record number 88 women MPs in the 2015 election, women currently hold only 26% of the seats in this place, meaning that almost three out of every four MPs is male. As a result, Canada ranks 61st out of 191 countries when it comes to the proportion of women elected to Parliament. That is not a proud record. It positions us behind countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and El Salvador, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
What is worse is that we are dropping like a stone in those international league tables. In 1991, we were ranked 21st in the world in terms of the proportion of seats held by women, but have since been passed by 40 countries who now elect more women to the legislature than we do. Although Canadian women were granted the right to vote almost 100 years ago, it might take us until 2075, which is another 60 years, for women to hold half the seats in our Parliament if we continue at this current rate. Throughout history, only 6% of the seats in the House of Commons have ever been held by women. This needs to change. This is more than mere statistics. These numbers mean something.
If our system was fair, the House of Commons would mirror our society. If the system by which we select and elect MPs was just, the House of Commons would not be forever filled mostly with people that look like you and me, Mr. Speaker, but would better reflect the rich diversity of our country, and half of the seats in this place would be held by women. It is wrong that a certain group, such as straight, old, white males, should dominate our legislature. It is wrong from a justice perspective and from a policy perspective.
The politics of presence matters, and the decisions made in this place directly reflect the perspectives of those who propose and vote on these decisions. With so few women in this place to have their ideas and voices heard, the decisions made here will not accurately reflect the views of Canadian women. This is wrong.
There are two steps to becoming an MP in any modern democracy. The first step requires aspiring candidates to be selected as an official candidate by a political party. The second step requires the official candidate to win enough votes to secure a seat during an election. More and more academic research shows voters are not biased against women candidates. When women run, they are just as likely to be elected as men.
The reason so few women are elected to Parliament is that parties nominate so few women to stand as candidates. More than enough women put their names forward to stand as candidates. Therefore, there is not a lack of supply of women to run in half of the 338 ridings in Canada. This makes sense. After all, we have 18 million women in Canada. Parties need only 169 women candidates to present a balanced slate. I do not think anyone can argue that parties would be unable to find 169 qualified, deserving women candidates.
The reason so few women are selected as candidates is bias within the nomination processes used by political parties. In many cases, party officials and selectors are biased toward selecting men over women, because they think men candidates have a better chance of winning elections. It has nothing to do with merit. The merit argument has been thoroughly discredited in the academic literature. Not only do more than enough women come forward to run for office, they are usually more credentialed than their male competitors. The idea of merit is now seen as a mere cover to disguise patriarchal values, that is, systematic preference for men over women.
However, we do know that men do not have a better chance of winning elections than women, but this perception of winnability stacks the process against women. My own published research, written in partnership with my wife, Dr. Jeanette Ashe, who was chair of the Department of Political Science at Douglas College, shows that in some Canadian candidate nominations, men are five times more likely to win candidate selection contests than women when all other factors are held equal.
While Canada currently has no legislation on the books to promote gender equity in our democratic process, legislatures in over 100 countries have discovered similar biases and have passed laws to ensure more women are elected to office. We need to do the same here by enacting Bill C-237, the candidate gender equity act.
Where other countries have passed intrusive laws or constitutional amendments which, for example, forbid political parties from participating in elections if they fail to put forward a certain proportion of women candidates, Bill C-237 proposes a mild incentive scheme to nudge political parties in moving toward gender parity in their nominations.
The bill incentivizes political parties to run more women candidates by linking it to existing public subsidies for parties.
Many may not be aware that after every election, political parties are partially reimbursed for their election expenses. Taxpayers reimburse political parties for up to 80% of funds spent on research, advertising and other election activities. Bill C-237 proposes that in order to incentivize parties, some of this money should be withheld if a party fails to put forward a gender-balanced candidate list.
The incentive formula is simple and based on subtracting the percentage of women candidates from the percentage of men candidates to give us the extent to which a party's list of candidates is gender balanced. Here is an example. Under this new law, if party A puts forward 45% women candidates and 55% men candidates, the party loses none of its public subsidies. However, if party B puts forward 25% women candidates and 75% men candidates, then the public subsidy is reduced by 10%.
As these numbers show, this reduction nudges parties toward running more women candidates and toward parity. The good news is that we know these measures work. Similar incentivizing laws have been put in place in France, Ireland and Portugal with great effect. It is important to point out that France has a single member system, Ireland has a single transferrable vote system, Portugal has a list proportional representative system, proving this law can work under any type of electoral system.
In terms of how well it works, in the last Irish election, a similar law saw a 90% increase in the number of women candidates and a 40% increase in the number of women elected to the Irish parliament. This works.
It is important that I did my homework before proposing the bill. It is based on my own academic work as well as that of others, and I was assisted by a panel of experts when I did the draft.
I first began writing about political gender equity while doing my Ph.D. at the London School of Economics and continued to publish on this topic in my position as associate professor at Simon Fraser University's School of Public Policy.
I have also been helped by a panel of experts, including professors Rosie Campbell from Birkbeck College; Sarah Childs and Liz Evans from Bristol University; Fiona Buckley from University College Cork; and, Meryl Kenny from the University of Edinburgh. I thank these experts for their assistance in drafting this bill and helping me ensure it in no way interferes with internal workings of parties. That is really important to know that this law in no way interferes with how political parties nominate their candidates.
Under this new law, parties still entirely choose their own nomination rules and processes, and decide for themselves how they will meet these incentive measures.
However, although I have done significant research in consultation, I am not presumptive enough to assume it is a perfect law. That is why I ask my colleagues to support it in getting it through committee so we can work together to make it even better.
I have managed to secure considerable endorsements and support for my bill from organizations and individuals. Supportive organizations include Samara, Leadnow, YWCA Toronto, FairVote Canada, ACTRA, Groupes Femmes Politique et Démocratie, the Canadian Council of Muslim Women. I would also like to thank Jerry Dias from Unifor for expressing his support for the bill.
Donna Dasko, co-chair for the Campaign for an Equal Senate and past national chair of Equal Voice also supports this bill. Ms. Dasko states, “The Prime Minister had appointed women to half his cabinet positions. Now we need to achieve gender equality and greater diversity in the House of Commons and Senate of Canada. This bill will help us move forward toward this goal”.
I have also heard considerable support for the bill from Canadian academics, including Jeanette Ashe, Sylvia Bashevkin, Karen Bird, Amanda Bittner, Marjorie Griffin Cohen, Avigail Eisenberg, Lynda Erickson, Penny Gurstein, Fiona MacDonald, Sharon McGowan, Susan Prentice, and Melanee Thomas.
In support of this bill, Marjorie Griffin Cohen, professor at Simon Fraser University states, “Bill C-237 is an important initiative to spur political parties to act on behalf of greater gender parity in the House of Commons. Canada has a poor record on gender representation, something that only has improved in other countries when measures to ensure equality were put into practice”.
I would like to repeat that we are 61st out of 191 countries in terms of women's representation in our House.
Finally, I would like to thank my parliamentary colleagues for their support, especially my Liberal, Green, and NDP colleagues who have jointly seconded this bill, as well as Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth and Liberal Senator Mobina Jaffer for their public endorsements. It is a truly cross-partisan effort.
Next, I would like to consider and respond to a few potential criticisms of the bill. First, some colleagues have asked whether or not this bill is charter compliant. I want to assure all members that I secured a legal opinion from the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel and that Bill C-237 meets the requirements of our Constitution.
According to the Law Clerk's office, “Bill C-237, if found to infringe subsection 15(1), which in our opinion it does not, could be considered an affirmative action measure and thus saved by subsection 15(2), since it strives to promote consideration of a disadvantaged group—women—in politics and public life. In this sense, the legislation could be seen to have an ameliorative purpose and fall within the ambit of subsection 15(2). It is our opinion that Bill C-237 does not infringe the indicated sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms”.
One specific argument I have heard recently is that the bill would put smaller parties at a comparative disadvantage. More specifically, if a party ran just one candidate in one riding, the difference between male and female candidates would be 100%.
While this example may sound convincing, section 444(1)(c) of the Canada Elections Act currently requires registered parties to receive at least “2% of the number of valid votes cast at the election” in order to be eligible for a reimbursement. It would be impossible for a one-candidate party to receive 2% of the votes nationally.
A second criticism concerns whether Bill C-237 is inclusive of transgendered candidates and those who do not subscribe to dominant male-female gender binary categorizations.
First, currently candidates running for nominations are legally required to state their occupation but not their gender. Bill C-237 aims to rectify this historical oversight by requiring Elections Canada to include gender on its nomination forms, allowing the possibility for transgender or non-binary candidates to have the option to self-identify when they decide to run for office.
Equally as important, the bill would ensure that parties have an incentive to recruit candidates from these groups, using the 45% male, 45% female, 10% unspecified formula.
In conclusion, I hope this short speech goes some way to persuading members that this bill is worthwhile supporting. To recap, the candidate gender equity act, one, works in other countries like Ireland, France, and Portugal; two, is charter compliant; three, does not interfere with the internal party democracy; four, works under any type of electoral system; five, provides incentives for parties to select more transgendered and non-binary candidates; and six, was designed by experts.
Again, although I have done what I can to ensure I put forward the best possible bill, I am not so arrogant to assume it still could not be improved. I ask the Prime Minister, his gender-balanced cabinet, and my colleagues to support it getting to committee so we can work together to make it better together.
Mr. Mark Holland (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise today to speak to an issue that is incredibly important. I really want to thank the member for Burnaby South for his work with his private member's bill and generally for raising the issue of gender parity, which is so important.
When we think how far we have come since Agnes Macphail was first elected to this place and the progress we made, when we think this is the first gender-balanced cabinet in Canada's history, and when we see the largest number of women ever elected to the House of Commons, that is indeed phenomenal progress. However, the member is absolutely right that it is not enough.
I often get the opportunity, as most members do, to go into schools and talk with students. I ask them to reflect on the name of the place in which we serve, the House of Commons. It is the house of the common people. It is so important that this place reflect and look like the people we represent.
Historically, we have done a poor job, as the member for Kingston and the Islands mentioned, not just in representation of women in this place, but also other demographics and so, thinking about the processes we can engage in to ensure that this is a place that is truly reflective of the Canadian population is essential.
There are a number of processes we are engaged in right now to do precisely that: look at some of the underlying reasons why it is, as an example, women are not participating to the degree that we would like them to participate. What are the impediments? What are the things we can change to make this place more friendly to the Canadian populace as a whole?
We are also certainly engaging in a process that I am very excited to be part of to change our electoral system in looking at the way we vote and how that process engages and enfranchises Canadians. I think that process will no doubt inform this question of gender parity and equality.
Notwithstanding all of that and notwithstanding a deep appreciation for the efforts of the member for Burnaby South, I have a number of concerns with the bill.
I will start with the issue of small parties. In the last election, there were six parties which only ran one candidate. By definition, each of those parties would be in a state of gender imbalance because they only had one person that ran for them. We may say to just have another person run, but the reality for a political party that is small is that it can be a monumental feat to get somebody else to run.
We know in the decision that was passed in Figueroa the importance that courts, and I think Canadians generally, place on the participation of smaller parties. They have a very important role in our democratic process. While I appreciate the member might be willing to do that at committee, it is certainly one big problem that I have today which I think is important to point out.
I also want to think about freedom of expression, generally.
Let us conceive for a moment a situation where a party decided that it wanted all female candidates, as an example. That party would actually be penalized under this mechanism by not being able to run all female candidates.
In general, parties should have the ability to organize their affairs as they see fit. There are many parties, including in this House, which have positions that I disagree with or that conduct a nomination process in a way that I would not concur with, but that is their democratic prerogative. We have to ask what the implications of the bill and these penalties would put on that process.
We also have to think about, as was raised earlier in the debate, the potentiality of where this might lead. If we put in penalties for parties that do not meet certain quotas or certain targets, would we do that across the spectrum to ensure there is equality in representation of all of the different faces that populate Canada? If we do that, what is the implication?
There is an issue of constitutionality, I think, that very much remains. We could imagine a scenario where a local riding association is having a nomination meeting and where there is enormous pressure to hit a target and the question on the minds of the people voting in that nomination meeting could be torn between, on the one hand, voting for the person most qualified and, on the other hand, having to meet a quota so that their party is not punished. Could there be a situation where maybe the best person is not chosen as a result? That certainly is a serious concern.
As an extension of that and nominations generally, we want to ensure that the process is set up so all people are encouraged to run, that we not only look at the barriers that stop them from running, but also that we do not build into the system ways that shut down our nomination process or shut out certain individuals because of the structures we put in place.
On that basis, notwithstanding this bill succeeding or not succeeding, we have a lot of work to do. We need to look at the barriers stopping women or other individuals who want to come forward, who are under-represented in this Parliament, and work to fix those barriers. They need to work with us in the upcoming process to reform our democratic institutions and our voting. At the end of it, we want to ensure we have a House of Commons that is truly reflective of its name.
Mrs. Karen Vecchio (Elgin—Middlesex—London, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to stand here today to debate Bill C-237, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (gender equity).
In Elgin—Middlesex—London we have it right. Although I am the first woman to be elected federally in the riding, I am definitely not the first candidate to run for this position. My cousin Luella Watson was the PC candidate in 1997 and the trend for female candidates continues at all levels of government.
To start let me share with the House my run for the candidacy to represent the Conservative Party in the 2015 general election. In December 2014, I was part of a highly contested nomination that included four women and two men. Ms. Catharine Sloan, Ms. Suzanna Dieleman, and Mrs. Kathy Cook were the three other women who put their names forward along with two male candidates, Mr. Dean Kitts and Mr. Bill Denning. This was democracy at its best. All of the women and men who ran in this race were either successful business people or executive level staff for the municipalities or the banking industry. The membership had a choice.
Then moving on to the federal election, I was part of a five-person race that included Liberal candidate Lori Baldwin-Sands and Green Party bro as she called herself, Bronagh Morgan, as well as male candidates Fred Sinclair for the NDP and Michael Hopkins for the Christian reform party. In this situation 60% of the candidates in the federal election were female.
In the surrounding ridings both London North Centre and London—Fanshawe had female candidates representing the Conservative Party and following the general election, three out of the four members of Parliament are female, albeit from three different parties.
My point truly is that this is about democracy. When taking this discussion back to the members of my board, I received great feedback from many individuals. I feel that the bill is not only undemocratic but actually belittles my own victory of becoming the candidate for my party and then the member of Parliament. I do not see myself as a second-class candidate but the bill would potentially make me feel this way and this should not be just about gender. Does my merit and hard work not count?
A survey completed in 2014 over a six-year span by Abacus Data observed the following. Among the 1,850 Canadian respondents in the online poll, 28% of men said they were more inclined to run for office as compared with 15% of women. As one of my board members said, it is upon us to provide opportunity rather than to mandate opportunity. Another member of my board, stated that they want the most qualified person in office, not some token woman there to fill a quota. Another stated that it isn't a quota; it is the best person for the position.
Now here is a breakdown of my own EDA. The president is male. The vice-president is female. The fundraising chair is female. The secretary is female and the CFO is male. The board has a very equal number of men and women and that allows us to have incredible discussions. Let me be straight, with women like Betty Crockett, a true pioneer of the banking industry as one of the first female bank managers, on my board women are listened to. Their experience and expertise is heard. Their ideas are part of a constant discussion.
Now when I look at the provincial level in my riding similar things occurred when comparing them with my federal nomination. Two of the five candidates were women: the mayor of the Municipality of Bayham, Lynn Acre, and the deputy mayor of Thames Centre, Delia Reiche. Both candidates were excellent options but conceded to our current MPP Jeff Yurek, an exceptional legislator at Queen's Park. Would I want to replace Mr. Yurek because he was male? Absolutely not.
I will tell the House on an aside that he is going to be laughing right now because every day I tell him, let us get rid of him. He is an excellent member of the legislature representing the people of Elgin—Middlesex—London, and as the health critic for Ontario. He is an incredibly reliable representative and an excellent counterpart to my role as the federal member. This is about democracy.
It gives people the right to run for nomination, the right to run as a candidate in the federal election, and the right to serve as a member of Parliament if elected. Here in the House, I am proud to stand with our interim leader, the member for Sturgeon River—Parkland. She was elected from a slate where one-half of the candidates were female. Members of our caucus elected her because they believed she would be the best leader.
As we start moving toward a leadership race many names are circulating, including many excellent female candidates. At the end of this, regardless of the gender of the leader, we need the best leader to lead our party. This is not about men versus women. It is about leadership for our communities, our ridings, and our country.
Let us look at some of the women who currently sit in the House of Commons representing their ridings. I believe that the member for London—Fanshawe was not elected because she was a woman, but because the people in her riding believe in her. The same goes for my colleagues in London West, Sarnia—Lambton, Haldimand—Norfolk, Simcoe—Grey, Milton, Essex, Repentigny, Saanich—Gulf Islands, and South Surrey—White Rock. These are representatives from all parties, currently sitting and elected to the House.
I believe that if we asked each and every one of them, they would say that they were elected, not because of their gender, but because they were the best for the job and their constituents believed in them. We are talking about people making some people eligible for a job; therefore, making some people ineligible for a job.
As with my own nomination race, and I believe that of many others, it was about growing support in one's riding, selling memberships to make people eligible to vote, and getting the vote out. Why should this be any different for men than it is for women? Why should we make men ineligible to run in to order to meet our quota?
All of this being said, I do know that statistics indicate that we need a minimum of 30% sitting at a board table to make a real difference. In a country where our population is 52% women and 48% men, would the simple math not put women in the majority for making the decisions of Canadians when voting? This is truly just a general idea, but that would go for party politics and federal elections.
Going back to my own nomination for the party, I believe that the two male candidates had female campaign managers, and the three female candidates had female campaign managers as well. Now there was a total imbalance if we are looking at it to be gender-based. Even the nomination committee had a majority of females on the board, three out four members, and not once because of their gender, but because of the talent and expertise and what they had to offer to the nomination process.
I fully believe in gender equality, but this is undemocratic. We need the best people for the job, female or male.
As everyone knows in the House, this job is the furthest thing from normal. Some days we start breakfast with stakeholders, followed by committee meetings, and one-on-one meetings in our office. We do question period and debates, and continue with our day, many times late into the evening. Last week, for instance, we were here until 12 a.m. on two nights. On weekends, we attend community events, meet with constituents, and hopefully get to sleep in our own beds.
For me personally, I know that I would not be able to do this job if it were not for an extremely supportive family. My job has changed my own family's life. The other day, my husband Mike's boss asked him how he was managing with his new life. While I am here serving my constituents and country, my husband is home, working full time, grocery shopping, organizing and helping with the children's needs, keeping in contact with both my parents and his own, and attending events in my absence.
Every day that I am here, I miss my children, but with current technology, I get to speak with them and watch what they are doing at the time. It is not an easy decision to go into politics. All of us make sacrifices, and that is probably why the results from the poll only had 28% of men and 15% of women who would enter politics.
At the end of the day, our job is to encourage people to run for public office, not to mandate it.
Ms. Sheila Malcolmson (Nanaimo—Ladysmith, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured in this moment to thank the people of Nanaimo—Ladysmith for supporting me, working hard for my election, and electing me. I have many allies throughout the riding, and it does make all the difference around who prevails. For us, with the nomination and election, it was almost a two-year campaign. I am thankful.
I am going to talk first about the imperative for the bill. In 97 ridings across the country in last fall's election, voters had no opportunity to cast their ballot for a woman from a major party. That is a significant gap. Even if people wanted to vote for women who had a chance of forming government, they did not have that opportunity.
Election after election, the uneven addition of women to ballots throughout our country means we are not electing enough women to Parliament. That is why we are getting these tiny incremental gains. This is supposed to be the parity Parliament. We have 26% of women elected, with 52% of the population being female, and we have only made a 1% improvement from 2011. Canada, embarrassingly, ranks 61st in the world. We have to get to almost page 3 of the international list before we can find our country's name. I want us to change that.
At this rate, Equal Voice, which is a terrific advocacy, non-governmental organization, calculates that it will be 89 years until we reach gender parity in Parliament. That is a change that is painfully slow.
That is why I think this is a problem. When Parliament does not reflect us, then sometimes it is possible for voters to disconnect from the parliamentary process. It might be that a parliament that does not reflect the country perhaps has priorities that are a little different from what people sitting around the kitchen table would like to see. That is perhaps why we do not have universal child care in our country. That is perhaps why we do not have affordable universal pharmacare. That is perhaps why we do not have a good palliative care program.
We know that women disproportionately end up looking after their families, both at the beginning and the end of life. If we could get them here in these seats, they might help us to adopt the policies that would take the pressure off everyone.
This is perhaps why first nations kids are so embarrassingly discriminated against at budget time. Even now, we have had the human rights tribunal say that Parliament over decades has had the wrong priorities.
In turn, these lack of policy supports may well be keeping women out of both community life and off the ballot, so there is an interesting circularity of this argument. When woman are squeezed by family obligations, they decide not to run, and then they do not get into these seats and they do not vote for front-line family support issues.
Parliament was conceived well before women had the right to vote, and it has been fairly static for over 100 years. Parliament has just not innovated, and the bill is an innovation. Therefore, I appreciate the people who are here for the discussion and are willing to bite into this to see how it could work.
Much has changed in the hundred years. We got the federal right to vote in 1918, the right to run for office in 1921, the Persons Case in 1929, admission of women into the army in 1980, and inclusion of women's equality in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. Also, just a few years ago, we got changing tables added in the parliamentary bathrooms. We innovate where we can. All of these changes reflect the evolution of our society.
There is a lot of attention being paid to the gender-based cabinet, and I applaud the Prime Minister for appointing men and women equally to his cabinet. It is not the first time that this has happened, though. In 2008, Quebec made that commitment. In 2015, Premier Notley, in Alberta, made the same commitment. That did not get more women on the ballot. It was a good move, but we want to at least have a chance to elect women. We want equal opportunity.
Canada still has no laws in place to promote gender equity in our democratic process. How can we make it change? I have a list of programs, such as Equal Voices' Daughters of the Vote, which is a fantastic way to get young people thinking early about what it would look like for them to be sitting in these seats. I applaud that work.
Second, we can support women in nomination and election processes, and I am very grateful for the people who got all of us here to the House.
Third, proportional representation would help. In countries around the world and in almost every western democracy people are elected using proportional representation. They all elect more women than we do.
Fourth, when I was at the United Nations this spring, I heard a fantastic presentation from Italy, a country that was so proud that because it had legislated gender equity on candidate slates, it went from 21% women in just one election to 31% women. That is 21% to 31% just by virtue of getting a balance on who was on the ballot.
My colleague's bill is not that kind of legislation, but it does tell us what our options are.
Turning to my colleague's bill, Bill C-237 would give parties incentives to nominate more women. It would not take away freedom. It would not tell anybody how to do it or even whether to do it. However, if they do choose to nominate an equal slate, then they would have a financial incentive to do that. The fine print is 45% female, 45% male. Members will notice that the math adds up so there is a 10% fluidity there, whether that is transgendered or gender-fluid, people who just do not identify, that gives them flexibility.
Again, this would be an incentive for people to put gender equity measures in place. They would determine how and whether to do it. This would also work in any voting system: first past the post, proportional representation, anything.
The idea of linking public subsidies to gender equity measures is not new. Canada had a royal commission in 1991 that recommended just this thing. This has since been implemented in quite a few western countries.
If we do get to this point that we are electing more women to Parliament, what might the impact be? We could enact policies that would appoint equal numbers of women to our crown corporations and agencies. We could establish a national action plan to end violence against women, something that embarrassingly the country has not done yet. Even Australia and places that we do not think of in this way have already made this connection. We can support more work on domestic violence. We can take action to close the pay gap between men and women. We can ensure safe and equal access to reproductive rights and reproductive health care. As well, we can address those policies that might be keeping women off the ballot or out of participating in public life: daycare, home care, palliative care, early childhood education support.
The United Nations Security Council did a study a few years ago on peace, security, and women. Part of the conclusion was that when women's groups were able to influence negotiations or push for a peace deal, an agreement was almost always reached. Agreements reached with the participation of women were 35% more likely to last for 15 years or longer. We want to have women involved internationally around the table, and advocating for peace and security as well.
I was so honoured to be part of the Canadian delegation at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. I am grateful to the Minister of Status of Women for including me in the delegation. We heard from every woman leader all over the world that we had an unprecedented opportunity in the world right now to bring gender equality. It is not just about Canada. As well, we heard again and again that women's rights and social justice were key to global sustainable solutions. If we empower women, if we end violence against women, and if we bring and educate young girls into the system, we would solve some of the difficult problems this planet faces, whether environment, food security, or anything. We need all hands on deck, full participation, all intellect, and all diversity and opinions to solve the problems that face us.
As Equal Voice says, women got the right to vote 100 years ago. It should not take another century for women to have an equal voice.
Ms. Anita Vandenbeld (Ottawa West—Nepean, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Burnaby South on bringing forward Bill C-237, the candidate gender equity act, and initiating a very important conversation about how to achieve gender parity in politics in Canada.
Having spent much of my professional career working with women around the world, I have studied best practices in how to increase women's representation in parliaments. Legislative solutions, such as those outlined in Bill C-237, including financial incentives or penalties to encourage political parties to nominate more women, are considered by UN Women, UNDP, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and other major international organizations to be commonly recognized methods to achieve greater gender parity. In fact, I facilitated an international round table in Oslo on financing rules for women in politics in 2009, and this was one of the key recommendations.
Many countries around the world are going much further than this bill in their legislative frameworks. Today, Canada ranks 61st in the world when it comes to women in Parliament. We rank behind countries like Sudan, Iraq, and Cuba.
In virtually every case where countries have achieved gender parity in Parliament, it has been done using mandatory legislated measures, regardless of the electoral system. In Canada, at the current rate, even with party leaders who have a strong commitment to electing more women, we will not achieve parity for another 90 years, unless we make some changes which, in my view, cannot be left solely to the goodwill of political parties.
I am proud to speak in Parliament with men and women who are fighting for gender parity and equality. More women are serving in this Parliament than ever before. We have an unprecedented cabinet that reflects and represents all Canadians. The political parties took new measures to encourage more female candidates to run, and many of those who were elected worked tirelessly to establish new support networks and systems.
However, as a nation, we are not leading the way and we cannot trust that we will improve things voluntarily or that we will always have the right leadership.
Women have never held more than 26% of the seats in the House. We have not seen a dramatic increase in representation since 1993. It is true that we have seen progress, but we cannot just assume that progress will be inevitable. If we choose to settle for the incremental, then we risk losing everything we have accomplished.
Globally, in the period following the 1995 Beijing Declaration, there were significant increases in women's representation, largely as a result of the introduction of quotas and other temporary special measures in many countries. However, since 2010, many countries have reached a plateau between 25% and 30%, and in some regions they have even regressed. Canada is falling further and further behind as countries outside of Europe and North America begin to advance beyond the 30% mark.
Confronting inequality demands the deployment of unequal measures. As a demographic, women in Canada continue to become highly educated and still continue to make only 73¢ for every $1 that men make. Women in Canada have less access to money networks from which to fundraise for political campaigns, but studies have found that elected women in Canada outspend their male opponents by about 10%. This means that women in Canada need to work harder and spend more money than men to achieve the same results.
Financial incentives to political parties for nominating more women would only be rectifying an existing imbalance. This is the reason that in 2003, under the Chrétien government, the Liberal women's caucus was so active in ensuring that nomination contests were included in the spending limits and disclosure requirements in the 2003 electoral financing legislation.
I am proud of our government's historic and ongoing commitment in this area. It introduced legislation that had a real impact on women during the election. The importance of the 2003 election financing act cannot be overstated.
During the last election, 29.7% of candidates were women. These same women won 26% of the seats in Parliament. Studies conducted by Equal Voice showed that, when a woman's name appears on the ballot, she is elected almost 50% of the time. Canadians are not what is holding women back. The problem is getting women's names on the ballot in the first place. Elections are not where women face the greatest inequality.
Women have a disproportionately small number of opportunities and unique financial constraints. They lack access to informal political networks. Despite all proof to the contrary, they have to overcome the preconceived idea that they will not be elected. They tend not to volunteer and tend to be discouraged by what is still a very male-dominant political culture .
It is true that Bill C-237 does not propose a solution to all of these problems. It is not all encompassing. In fact, it is by necessity minimalist in its scope. However, it does initiate an important conversation, and it would be a true disservice for us to allow that conversation to end without being studied at committee.
As I travelled the globe, talking to women on five continents, managing a network with staff spread over eight countries, the barriers faced by women were the same, differing only in degree. Women, even in Canada, still carry a larger responsibility for caregiving than their male counterparts. That is why the procedure and House affairs committee is studying how to make Parliament more family friendly.
We have heard from several witnesses who have indicated that measures such as a more efficient work schedule, better child care facilities, and reducing heckling would lead to more women on the ballot. Women still face stereotypes and biases in the media that men do not face, and female leadership characteristics are not given the same weight as male leadership styles. Part of this is because of the lack of strong female role models in powerful positions, something that is finally starting to change now that the Prime Minister has appointed a gender-equal cabinet.
Recruitment and training are essential for women in politics, and several parties have implemented measures to ensure that women are being recruited, including mandating that women be included in the candidate search committee, or refusing to allow a local association to hold a candidate selection meeting unless there are women on the ballot. Many parties also have specific funds to raise money for women candidates.
The electoral system itself also presents a major obstacle to more women getting elected. The 10 lowest ranked countries in the world in terms of the number of women elected to public office are all countries that use a first-past-the-post system. That should be a major point to consider if and when consultations are held on changing Canada's electoral system.
Despite all the other reforms that can improve women's representation, the evidence continues to show that, regardless of the type of electoral system, there are limits to the effectiveness of voluntary measures by political parties. The most common argument against mandatory legislative solutions is autonomy of political parties. However, the overwhelming evidence goes against this.
Sweden is the only country I am aware of that has achieved parity by relying only on voluntary measures. In that case, the parties have willingly adopted a zipper system, where every second candidate must be a woman, something that is not possible under our current electoral system.
This bill is not about putting Canada ahead of everyone else. It is about helping Canada to catch up. Financial incentives are one of the least intrusive measures that can be used to achieve political equality. Under this approach, the political parties will still be free to select candidates and make appointments.
Equal representation is more than a matter of justice or optics. Equal political participation is a pre-condition for policy and principles that are truly democratic and inclusive. This is not a matter of symbolism. I have seen women the world over risking the security of their own person, their families, their bodies to take their place at the table and I have personally experienced what a difference it makes having women in the room. Different experiences, different perspectives, must have a voice at the table or they will not be represented.
I believe that Bill C-237 is a positive contribution to the ongoing dialogue that will lead to a future where women's voices will be equal to men's in this House and in the country.
Ms. Dianne L. Watts (South Surrey—White Rock, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak on this private member's bill, Bill C-237, the candidate gender equity act.
Let me begin by clearly outlining what this bill would do. Clause 4 of this bill would change the Canada Elections Act to require political parties to run an equal number of male and female candidates. If the party failed to keep the difference between male and female candidates to fewer than 10%, then the party would be punished by being provided with a reduced subsidy following an election.
We want to encourage more women to seek office. I do not think there is any doubt about that. Of course we want to see women in positions of power who are engaged in business, politics, in the private sector, and in the public sector.
When I heard my colleague say that we now have women role models because the Prime Minister appointed a gender-equity cabinet, I would argue that there are many women, not only in this House, on both sides of this House, but within the private sector and the public sector who are excellent role models.
When I ran in the federal election, there were five candidates, four women and one man. As the first elected female mayor of the City of Surrey, along with a majority of women councillors, in fact, my political party had more female candidates than male candidates. We were all elected as a majority of women since 1996.
I have had the privilege over the years to work with many young women. In fact, I felt that it was incumbent on me as a woman to make sure that younger women and younger girls had the opportunity, and had every opportunity we could afford them; and incumbent on me to make sure that we were empowering them and encouraging them to pursue their dreams, and to help them reach their full potential.
In fact, I am sure that all of my female colleagues in this place, regardless of political affiliation, would agree that we all have a distinct privilege of being in positions where we can provide support, mentorship, and guidance to women, not only within our own country but around the world as well.
All of my female colleagues stand in this House today not because a political party was required to fill a female quota to get its expenses covered, but rather because they earned the respect and the trust of their constituents who believed that they were the best candidate to represent them in Ottawa.
I want to see more women stepping forward in politics, not because a political party wants to make sure its expenses are covered to the full amount, but instead because they believe they are the best people to represent their community. I want to see people from all walks of life, regardless of age, ethnicity, or gender, representing Canada in this House.
The Conservatives appointed the first Canadian female cabinet minister in 1957. Half the candidates who ran for the position of Conservative interim leader last year were female. At present, the Conservative Party is the only party with official status in the House of Commons that has a female leader.
All of these successful women got to where they are because they were the best for the job, not because there was a female quota to be filled. Furthermore, this bill would erode democracy by forcing political parties to have a hand in local nomination races. This would do nothing to encourage parties to run the best person to represent the people in the riding.
It is for this reason that I cannot, as a woman, support this bill. I support the efforts of women who want to make their lives better, whose lives we should help make better, but I cannot support a bill that would force me and my colleagues into a quota system. It is not democracy, and that is not progress.