Ottawa Sun by Nancy Peckford 29 August 2015
Much ink was spilled this week on the refusal of certain federal party leaders to participate in a national debate on women’s issues, namely Stephen Harper and Tom Mulcair. One hundred and seventy-five not-for-profit organizations had endorsed the idea, big and small. They argued that, without a focused debate on issues including violence, economic security and opportunities for female leadership, all women voters are being shortchanged.
But it was not to be. In the wake of a deeply divisive, four-year Parliamentary session in which instances of all-party consensus were the notable exception, not the rule, Canada’s leading political parties could not rally behind this initiative. Is this a disappointment? Absolutely. Is it surprising? Not so much. With only 25% of members of Parliament in this last Parliament being women, the reality is that politics is still dominated by (mostly) male leaders playing a zero sum game, especially during an election. As the external world has emphasized the value of teamwork, collaboration and new leadership styles, federal politics has not kept up.
This is not to say, however, that political parties aren’t customizing their party platforms to respond to women. The robust debate between Conservatives and Liberals over which child tax benefit plan is most favourable to families is one that parents, and mothers especially, are paying very close attention. The NDP’s proposal to introduce a $15 per day national childcare program speaks to the heart of many households whose childcare bills are often double their mortgages. Investments in health care, infrastructure, the knowledge economy, as well as the adept management of Canada’s resources, not to mention whether or not to run a deficit, are issues in which women have a really big stake.
But what’s the most effective way to ensure women’s diverse perspectives are duly heard and debated in Canada’s Parliament? Elect more women. With nominations nearly complete for the five leading parties (including the Green Party and the Bloc), women candidates will likely constitute approximately 32% of those running. This is just one point more than in the 2011 election. Taking into account the remaining nominations that have yet to be held, between one third and one quarter of Canada’s ridings will have no female candidate on the ballot for any of the major three parties (CPC, NDP and LPC). In Nova Scotia and P.E.I., it’s half of all ridings. In Alberta, it’s more than 40%.
The percentages of women running, by party, are 19% for the Conservatives, and 32%, respectively, for the Liberals and the Green Party. Only the NDP are featuring more than 40% women candidates.
In Canada, we’ve grown accustomed to a relatively low percentage of federally elected women. As a consequence, many wonder if electing more women will make a difference. The answer is a resounding yes. Numerous international studies have found that with greater percentages of women comes increased attention to issues such as violence, health care, family planning, and corporate accountability.
But it doesn’t end there. The infusion of different leadership styles actually can change politics. In late 2013, the U.S. government was on the brink of financial paralysis without a Congressional agreement regarding its debt obligations. Elected women from both sides stepped in and brokered a deal that Congress passed at the last hour. The women of the U.S. Congress (who remain a distinct minority) were widely credited by their male counterparts as the reason the U.S. government averted a major crisis.
More women equal a more diverse Parliament, and better debates not just during elections, but afterwards. In this campaign, think carefully about your choices at the ballot box. Support women in your area who are running, if not with your vote, with a cheque, a sign or by word of mouth. We will all be the better for it — and our democracy will be too.
Nancy Peckford is National Spokesperson for Equal Voice, a group dedicated to electing more women to all levels of government in Canada.