Women in Politics
In 2015 twelve members of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet (approximately 30%) were women.
The Harper Government: 77 female MPs ~ 25%.
The Trudeau Government: 88 female MPs ~ 26%.
More women in Cabinet is undoubtedly better for women than under-representation. Government Ministers are more influential than back bench MPs, which is why these figures are tracked by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.
But we need to remember the reason Prime Minister Trudeau’s gender balanced cabinet was newsworthy — it did not happen naturally. Although Canadian women make up about half the population, electing 25% women to the House of Commons was a record when Mr. Harper’s government managed it, just as electing 26% was a record for Mr. Trudeau’s government.
Whoop de doo.
That’s not exactly fair representation, but that is what you get with a First Past The Post electoral system.
That’s why Canada is way down the list “at 63rd internationally when it comes to women’s political representation.”
While Mr. Trudeau is to be commended for attempting to redress that wrong, implementing a gender quota is an artificial fix. One side effect is that such a policy severely limits the pool of cabinet choices when half the cabinet must be chosen from a quarter of the MPs. Whether true or not, whenever a quota system is used, there are always mutterings asking if those who are chosen may not in fact be qualified for the job.
Cabinet Ministers are chosen entirely at the discretion of the Prime Minister. Any MP can be quickly scooped up for a Cabinet position, and just as easily turfed out again, all at the discretion of one man: the Prime Minister.
In Mr. Trudeau’s Cabinet, however, the male members are being chosen from three quarters of the MPs, so there will be no doubt they are worthy of the power and authority they’ve been given. But female members are being chosen from a mere quarter of the MPs. This certainly can be easily used to undermine the public perception of the value of female Cabinet Ministers. The optics of this combined with a quota certainly undermines the idea that Ministers are chosen purely on merit.
The very existence of this quota is entirely at the Prime Minister’s discretion. Which means it us not a permanent fix: it can be discarded at any time. This Prime Minister could easily change his mind about gender parity (just as he did with his Electoral Reform promise). Or the next Prime Minister may as easily choose to exclude female MPs from his Cabinet altogether. Like any policy developed under First Past The Post, this could become a pendulum issue swinging back and forth between Liberals and Conservatives.
Women chosen to serve as Ministers are well aware they owe the PM a debt of gratitude for bestowing this honour on them. When the man with the power tells the Minister of Democratic Institutions that Proportional Representation is not an option, what can she do but go along. Because female Cabinet Ministers surely know the prize can be peremptorily withdrawn at his discretion for any reason. Or none. Such context will most certainly guarantee that some (if not all) women Ministers will be very careful to do as they are told. Will they fight for what they know is right or will they toe the party line to protect their status and position?
On the other hand, if Canada elected women in more proportional numbers in a more natural way, such a quota would hardly be necessary. There would be a reasonably large pool of women MPs from which Ministers can be chosen on merit. If they share a level playing field, women and men could assert themselves with confidence (and hopefully do what’s right). Wouldn’t that be something!
It also seems the claims that Prime Minister Trudeau’s Cabinet is “the country’s most diverse” need also be taken with a grain of salt.
AS Rachel Décoste points out, “The previous Harper cabinet included women, Aboriginals, South Asians, East Asians, Quebecers and a person with a disability. If that’s not diversity, I don’t know what is.” Ms. Décoste goes on to explain:
“For visible minorities, PM Trudeau’s inaugural cabinet is decidedly less diverse than PM Harper’s. The absence of East Asians (Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, etc.) is jarring.
“The presence of black Canadians, the third largest racial demographic, is also deficient. Despite a record four Afro-Canadian MPs elected from a voter base blindly loyal to the Liberals, PM Trudeau shut them out of cabinet.
“Harper did not name any African-Canadians to cabinet. He had no black MPs to choose from. Despite a record four Afro-Canadian MPs elected, Trudeau shut them out of cabinet.”
Instead of relying on the temporary fix of patchwork quotas, the Canadian Government’s continuing failure to reflect the diversity of Canadians in the House of Commons could be addressed in a more stable and balanced manner through adoption of some form of Proportional Representation. As demonstrated in my graph, as a rule it is the countries using Proportional Representation that outperform Canada in both gender parity and overall citizen representation.
Equal Voice thinks it could take the Canadian Government 90 years to achieve gender parity naturally if we continue on as we are. Frankly, if we keep First Past The Post I think that’s wildly optimistic. Any way you slice it, this is simply unacceptable in a representative democracy.
It’s great that the suffragettes fought for our right to vote; but it’s too bad they didn’t win effective votes for Canadian women. On this International Women’s Day, it is important for all Canadian women to understand: if the Canadian Government is serious about gender parity it must begin with Proportional Representation.
This is the thirty-first article in the Whoa!Canada: Proportional Representation Series
• Proportional Representation for Canada
• What’s so bad about First Past The Post
• Democracy Primer
• Working for Democracy
• The Popular Vote
• Why Don’t We Have PR Already?
• Why No Referendum?
• Electoral System Roundup
• When Canadians Learn about PR with CGP Grey
• Proportional Representation vs. Alternative Vote
• #ERRÉ #Q Committee
• #ERRÉ #Q Meetings & Transcripts
• Take The Poll ~ #ERRÉ #Q
• Proportionality #ERRÉ #Q
• The Poll’s The Thing
• DIY Electoral Reform Info Sessions
• What WE Can Do for ERRÉ
• #ERRÉ today and Gone Tomorrow (…er, Friday)
• Redistricting Roulette
• #ERRÉ submission Deadline TONIGHT!
• #ERRÉ Submission by Laurel L. Russwurm
• The Promise: “We will make every vote count” #ERRÉ
• FVC: Consultations Provide Strong Mandate for Proportional Representation #ERRÉ
• PEI picks Proportional Representation
• There is only one way to make every vote count #ERRÉ
• Canada is Ready 4 Proportional Representation
• Sign the Petition e-616
• #ProportionalRepresentation Spin Cycle ~ #ERRÉ
• International Women’s Day 2017 ~ #IWD
and don’t forget to check out the PR4Canada Resources page!