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Bring in quotas, financial incentives to get more women to run, says House committee

After studying barriers facing women in politics, the Status of Women Committee also suggests calling for a crackdown on gender-based heckling.

By CHARELLE EVELYN      

 

The House Status of Women Committee, chaired by Conservative MP Karen Vecchio, tabled a report on women in politics April 10. A dissenting report from Conservative committee members rebuffed the idea of setting quotas for women in political parties. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Federal parties and riding associations should set goals and report publicly on their efforts to recruit women as candidates, as well as set quotas for the number of women they field as candidates, recommends a new House committee report, which also suggests giving parties financial incentives to get more women to run.

As well, House of Commons leaders should make strides to crack down on “gender-based heckling” and create a more family-friendly work environment, according to the Status of Women Committee.

After a nine-meeting study spanning June to February on barriers facing women in politics, the committee said in a report tabled April 10 that registered parties should be encouraged to set “voluntary quotas for the percentage of female candidates they field in federal elections and to publicly report on their efforts to meet these quotas after every federal general election.”

That suggestion was one of four observations appended to the majority Liberal report, which included 14 direct recommendations ranging from pushing the government to support data collection on the barriers minority women and women from diverse backgrounds face in electoral politics, to creating a “financial incentive for all registered parties” to nominate more women as candidates.

Tying money to fielding more women candidates is something the NDP has been pushing for years, including with an unsuccessful 2016 private member’s bill from MP turned Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart. Last year, NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau (Berthier-Maskinongé, Que.) tabled a notice for an opposition motion highlighting that women have “never held more than 28 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons,” despite making up more than half of Canada’s population.

The motion, which has not been debated, called on the government to “implement legislative changes that would give each federal party financial incentive to ensure that women make up at least 45 per cent of their candidates in the 2019 federal election.” Mr. Stewart’s bill proposed changes to the Canada Elections Act that would withhold some of the money federal parties get reimbursed following an election if “the difference between the percentage of male and female candidates on the list of candidates of a registered party for the election exceeds 10 per cent.”

NDP vice-chair Irene Mathyssen had her own dissenting report, calling for more action to address parental leave for MPs in the House of Commons. The Hill Times file photograph

Throughout the study, which included testimony from 43 witnesses, the committee was told that “efforts to recruit female candidates may be insufficient and that political parties, electoral district associations, and search committees can play an important role in the recruitment of female candidates.” Once elected, women face different challenges than their male counterparts, the committee heard, including “a lack of gender-sensitive and family-friendly facilities, gender-biased media treatment, and gender-based violence and harassment.”

The committee said the government should consider “making changes to encourage gender equality and diversity in electoral politics; to ensure more transparency and consistency in nominations processes; and to require registered parties to publicly report on their efforts to recruit female candidates from diverse backgrounds after every federal general election.” It called for more funding to groups and projects that support political engagement of diverse groups of women.

The committee’s observations also included suggestions that the chair, Conservative MP Karen Vecchio (Elgin-Middlesex-London, Ont.), ask Speaker Geoff Regan (Halifax West, N.S.) to “consider studying initiatives that could prevent and discourage the use of gender-based heckling” in the House. It also observed the necessity of family-friendly initiatives such as parental leave for Parliamentarians, voting and participating in parliamentary work remotely, and access to full- and part-time child care.

The Procedure and House Affairs Committee has produced two reports during this Parliament on ways to make the House of Commons more family friendly, and the government signalled in the 2018 budget it would make changes to the Parliament of Canada Act to make it possible for MPs to take maternity and parental leave. But while the Liberals changed the law to make room for the current rules to be changed, they haven’t been yet, and Government House Leader Bardish Chagger (Waterloo, Ont.) told CTV News last month she had asked Mr. Regan to add the issue to an upcoming Board of Internal Economy Committee meeting. The powerful group of seven MPs, chaired by the House Speaker, determines legal, financial, and other administrative matters for the House.

Using quotas ‘delegitimizes the democratic process,’ say Tories

Conservative members of the committee issued their own dissenting report, dismissing the concept of quotas, saying that they undermine a woman’s merit.

The majority report said that the use of quotas have “successfully increased women’s representation in electoral politics in a number of countries,” such as France, Mexico, New Zealand, Rwanda, and Spain.

The committee didn’t indicate what those quotas should be in the Canadian context.

It noted that it heard different opinions about the practice, including that quotas can “reinforce the idea that women are elected because of their gender and not because of their ability or competence.”

This underscored the Tories’ outlook. “Women are strong, powerful, and free to positively impact Canada’s political realm and have the intelligence and work ethic to gain their rightful place in public office,” their report said, calling for an increase in mentorship as an alternative to implementing quotas.

Using quotas “delegitimizes the democratic process,” Conservative committee members said, also noting that the diversity of women and their ideologies wasn’t addressed in the majority report.

“Sadly, not all parties appreciate the diversity that exists within Parliament,” Conservatives said. “Some women are mistreated by female members of other political parties because they fail to adhere to the same ideologies.”

In September 2017, Liberal members of the Status of Women Committee walked out on a vote to confirm Tory critic Rachael Harder (Lethbridge, Alta.) as chair of the group, because of her anti-abortion views.

Conservative status of women critic Rachael Harder, a member of the committee, wasn’t accepted by the Liberals as the group’s chair in 2017. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

In her own dissenting report, NDP vice-chair Irene Mathyssen (London-Fanshawe, Ont.)—the party’s only member of the committee—said that the majority Liberal report “fails to demonstrate understanding” that discrimination related to the political participation of women “is endemic in all levels of government.”

The NDP included its own recommendation that the House make regulations around MPs’ attendance if they can’t attend a sitting because they’re pregnant or caring for a newborn or newly adopted child. The committee should also have advised the government to “restore core funding for national women’s organizations” that was previously cut from the Women and Gender Equality department, formerly the Status of Women Canada agency.

cevelyn@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times