International Women’s Day 2017 ~ #IWD

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!

Diversity

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.”

Trudeau’s Cabinet Isn’t As Diverse As You Think

Kathleen Wynn, Elizabeth May, Andrea Horwath, Catherine Fife, Bardish Chagger, Lorraine Rekmans
Canadian Politicians:  Kathleen Wynne, Elizabeth May, Andrea Horwath, Catherine Fife, Bardish Chagger, Lorraine Rekmans

Electoral Reform

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.

Canadians Deserve Better -Proportional Representation - on Canadian Flag backgroundThis is the thirty-first article in the Whoa!Canada: Proportional Representation Series

#ProportionalRepresentation Spin Cycle ~ #ERRE

Proportional Representation Series So Far:• 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?
• Stability
• Why No Referendum?
• Electoral System Roundup
• When Canadians Learn about PR with CGP Grey
• Entitlement
• 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!

Breaking The Cycle

Catherine Fife, NDP MPP
Catherine Fife, NDP MPP

One seat shy of a majority government after the 2011 Election, returning Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty enticed the undefeatable Conservative Elizabeth Witmer into resigning her provincial parliament seat and triggering a by-election.  Instead of gaining the extra seat needed to regain his majority, the Kitchener-Waterloo riding went handily to Catherine Fife.  During the campaign, Fife asked citizens to deny the Liberals another majority.  That was the first time in my life I heard any Canadian politician publicly take issue with the fallacy that majority rule  under our winner-take-all system is somehow a good thing.

After nearly a decade of a mind numbing Liberal Majority, Ontario voters were more than happy to hand the NDP’s Catherine Fife a resounding win in a riding that had been staunchly blue since Mike Harris devastated the province with his so-called “common sense revolution.”

Premier Kathleen Wynne, Liberal
Premier Kathleen Wynne, Liberal

Barely into the term, Dalton McGuinty stepped down from his position as leader of the Liberal Party and Premier of Ontario. Governing in a minority government is not at all like running the majority governments to which he was accustomed. He was succeeded by Kathleen Wynn, who became Ontario’s first female Premier.

In the year since, Premier Wynne took the job, the Liberal Party has lost a total of 5 seats. From my perspective, that’s a very good thing, because it widens the gap between minority and majority government quite nicely. Minority governments are the closest to democracy you ever get in a winner-take-all system. For years Canadian political propaganda has maintained the fallacy that majority government is a good thing, but voters are starting to appreciate we’ve been sold a bill of goods. The reality is that it’s not a good thing — for us.Sir Winston Churchill

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Sir Winston Churchill, addressing the British House of Commons, November 11, 1947.

Rhetoric vs Reality

They tell us our First Past The Post electoral system is a representative democracy… but is it?

We get to cast a vote, but some of our votes are worth more than others, because some votes elect an MPP, but most of them don’t. Who represents the majority of Ontarians that don’t elect anyone? Most of us have no representation in the Provincial Legislature.

They tell us majority government is efficient, and it is because it’s effectively a dictatorship.  A majority of seats translates to 100% of the power, which means the majority government can pass any law it likes.  The only thing that can stop it is public opinion.

At the Federal level we’ve been lately reminded just how undemocratic a majority government can be.  The Harper Government bundles together large numbers of disparate laws in so-called “Omnibus Bills.”   These massive documents are fast tracked though Parliament at such dizzying speed many of the MPs who vote for them haven’t actually even read them all the way through.  This is not a democratic process, it just gives the appearance of being one.  As a writer, I can’t believe any law that goes through our legislative process intact and becomes Law without so much as a change in punctuation can possibly have received proper scrutiny.

But that is why it’s efficient — because it is undemocratic.

Democracy requires hard work and negotiation, cooperation and consensus.     People have to actually listen to each other.   And it’s not easy to balance everyone’s needs and represent the whole constituency;  getting there takes time and effort.   Democracy is not efficient.

They tell us majority governments make for stability, but that simply isn’t true. While the Majority Party can make any law it likes, when it gets voted out the New Majority Party can change everything back to the way it wants things.  Far from being stable, this creates a policy pendulum swinging back and forth.

Although Ontario is wonderfully multicultural, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario is not. Although two major Ontario political parties are led by women, there are far too few women sitting in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.   Like most Canadian winner take-all legislatures, the seats in the provincial legislature are predominantly filled by old white men.   Which leaves a great many citizens feeling excluded.

Unrepresentative government is unaccountable government.  When a government doesn’t represent all of its citizens, it’s the public good that suffers.

An inequitable electoral system makes for an unaccountable government. When all of our votes don’t count, and those that do don’t count equally, only a few citizens have the power to vote them out.   And that’s not fair.  Or democratic.

what happens next?

There will be a new provincial election in the next year or two.

Tim Hudak (cc by laurelrusswurm)
Tim Hudak, Ontario Progressive Conservative Party Leader

Tim Hudak, the leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party, has made it abundantly clear he won’t be happy unless he gets a majority.   Consensus doesn’t seem to be a word appearing in his vocabulary.  In the past, Ontario has been governed alternately by Conservative and Liberal Parties. Mr, Hudak doesn’t believe there is a need to work with other parties because he’s certain his turn is coming.

Is it?  Or is it time to break the pattern of unhealthy electoral mood swings?

Kathleen Wynne assumed the Liberal Leadership because, unlike Mr. McGuinty, she understands government by consensus is a good thing.  Andrea Horwath’s NDP is well aware of the inequity inherent in first past the post electoral systems. That’s certainly why NDP policy supports electoral reform to Proportional Representation. 

There is a way to make a meaningful change to how Ontario is governed.  A way to upgrade our inequitable 19th Century electoral system to a stable proportional system that would elect a government to represent all Ontarians.

Proportional Representation is both fair and democratic.  And there is no time like the present for Ms Wynne and Ms. Horwath to come together and give Ontario a solid proportional system fit for the 21st Century.  It can’t come too soon.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath
Andrea Horwath, Ontario NDP Leader

Image Credits

Cathering Fife, Kitchener-Waterloo NDP MPP photograph by laurelrusswurm released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) License

Kathleen Wynn photographed by Joseph Morris amd released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) License

Public Domain photograph of Sir Winston Churchill found in Wikimedia Commons

Tim Hudak  Ontario Progressive Conservative Party Leader, photograph by laurelrusswurm released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) License

Andrea Horwath, Ontario New democratic Party Leader,  photographed by Ontario NDP and released under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License