Last October, a record number of 88 women were elected to the House of Commons in Canada. Despite this new record, women still only comprise a mere 26 percent of the House’s 338 members.
NDP Burnaby South MP and former SFU political scientist Kennedy Stewart condemns these numbers: he noted that this percentage ranks Canada at 61st out of 191 countries, behind nations like Iraq, Afghanistan, and El Salvador. Even more upsetting, the country ranked at 21st in 1991, meaning that while other nations are progressing, Canada is falling behind.
In response to these numbers, Stewart is sponsoring a controversial bill, the candidate gender equity act, to bring gender equity to Parliament. First put forth in February, the bill would, according to Stewart’s press release, introduce “a financial incentive for political parties to run more women candidates and move towards parity in their nominations.”
In particular, Stewart criticized the Conservative party for running female candidates in only 19 percent of ridings. He compared this to the NDP and Liberal parties, who ran female candidates at 43 percent and 31 percent, respectively.
According to Liberal MP Anita Vandenbeld, “[l]egislative solutions [. . .] 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.”
The bill was drafted with advice from “numerous prominent female scholars,” according to The Vancouver Sun, and was endorsed by Green Party leader Elizabeth May; however, the bill also faces many opponents. Included in this group is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, despite his move to appoint a gender-balanced cabinet upon election.
Also in opposition is Conservative Surrey MP Dianne Watts, who called the bill “truly offensive,” according to a transcription of the Parliamentary debates. Watts agreed that having more women in politics could have a positive effect on government, recalling her days as the first elected female mayor of Surrey in 2005. Having a female majority on council when she became mayor was “influential” in the success of dealing with issues such as child development and homelessness, she said.
However, rather than implementing quotas, she believes politicians need to do more to encourage and mentor young women. Watts pointed out that Surrey had no such quotas when they achieved a female majority.
She also expressed her belief that men who identify as feminists, such as Stewart and Trudeau, should focus on issues related to “their own gender,” such as domestic violence and sexual assault. “To have a guy stand up there and offer to give me something he thinks I need is not OK,” she stated.
Despite the controversy surrounding the bill, it will be debated again after the summer break.