Canada Votes 2015

Gender parity in politics still a pipe dream, but Trudeau offers women hope

More needs to be done to ensure women are represented in the House of Commons
Photo: Joseph Morris

As the election results started coming in fast and furious Monday night, I revelled in the satisfaction of watching a government that played dangerously divisive wedge politics get trounced across the country.

I also waited to see how many female candidates would be elected. Would gender parity continue to be a pipe dream or would any significant advances be made for women?

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A healthy dose of schadenfreude emanated through the air as the Tories, who had steadfastly refused to hold an inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and had closed 12 of Status of Women’s 16 regional offices over the years, lost their hold on power.

First the bad news

From a total of 1,428 candidates fielded by the five major parties, a measly 473 were women. That represents a relatively small 33 per cent of the total.

Out of the 473 women who ran, 88 were elected. That represents 26 per cent of women MPs in the House of Commons, the highest ever and a “record breaker” according to a number of overenthusiastic headlines.

Since the previous record was 25 per cent, go ahead and put the noisemaker down. No one’s throwing a party for a lousy 1 per cent. When one considers that women represent 51 per cent of the total Canadian population, the gap between what is and what should be is unsettling.

Out of the 88 women elected, the Liberals won the lion’s share with 50 of those seats, translating into a Liberal caucus that is 27 per cent women. The NDP elected 18 women (representing 42 per cent of their caucus), the Conservatives elected 17 women (17 per cent), the Bloc Québécois elected two women (representing 20 per cent), and the Greens elected 1, which represents a whopping 100 per cent of their caucus since Elizabeth May was the only one from her party elected.

While it’s encouraging to see a record number of women who have no parliamentary experience joining the ranks of new MPs, it’s also very disappointing to see competent and principled NDP incumbents, such as Peggy Nash and Megan Leslie, lose their seats in the inevitable anti-Harper pro-red-by-default wave that swept the country. These are strong progressive women that we desperately need in politics. Here’s hoping they’re not going anywhere.

Thomas Mulcair proudly reminded Canadian voters that the NDP ran the most women candidates in these elections (43 per cent) and we need to demand the same (or better) from all political parties in the future, whether through forced quotas or public shaming and comparisons. Many will be looking to see if Trudeau keeps his electoral promise that half of his cabinet will be women.

Now the good news

Despite the trepidation I still feel at Justin Trudeau’s inexperience, his hesitant politics on Bill C-51, and his affinity for over-the-top public theatrics, I genuinely trust his ethics and progressive stance on equality.

Trudeau has unequivocally stated on Twitter that he’s a feminist. He’s advocated for personal freedom when it comes to reproductive rights, arguing the government has no place mandating what women can and cannot do with their bodies.

It is no accident that pro-life movement Campaign Life Coalition immediately issued a suitably bitter statement after his win, saying the organization “regrets” the Liberal majority.

Trudeau adamantly defended Muslim women’s right to dress as they please, placing the focus on their free choice, which is ultimately what feminism is all about. In addition, he promised to “build a renewed relationship with indigenous peoples on a nation-to-nation basis,” which will include “a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.”

Trudeau has also proven in the past that he does not suffer sexism and sexual harassment lightly, and exhibited zero tolerance with his own caucus members, when he swiftly suspended and subsequently expelled Liberal MPs Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews after they were both accused of sexual misconduct.

This gives me hope that, despite our painfully slow progress towards gender parity in politics, we are at least now dealing with a prime minister who better reflects the concerns and values of most Canadian women.

A bit of relief

I don’t share in the nostalgia for Trudeau’s family past. I’m not infatuated by his good looks and charm. I appreciate his positive message of hope during the campaign and on election night. I appreciate that his party elected the largest number of Muslims (nine in total – four of them women) and Aboriginal people (10 in total – three of them women) of all parties, fulfilling a desperate need for more diversity in the House of Commons.

More needs to be done for true cultural, religious, racial, and gender diversity to become a reality, and for all Canadians to feel truly represented.

Still, as election nights go for a Canadian woman focused on intersectional feminism and gender parity in politics, I’ve experienced worse.

All statistics provided by Equal Voice National, Canada's only national multi-partisan organization working to support the election of women to all levels of government since 2001.

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