With the proportion of women in parliament at an all-time high – 26% and with agender balanced Cabinet, Canadian women might feel like – at last – we are making progress.
That is, until someone points out that of parliaments around the world, Canada ranks 64 th in ranking of women MPs. We rank behind all the
Scandinavian and European nations, behind New Zealand, but also well behind Rwanda and Afghanistan.
Before I ever joined a political party and was involved in non-partisan environmental work, various political parties would try to recruit me to be a candidate. I had a high level of sales resistance. Now as leader of the Green Party, the shoe is on the other foot as I try to convince women to run for parliament as
part of our movement.
It is not easy.
Part of the resistance is clearly social conditioning. We are socialized – even in the 21 st century – not to push ourselves forward. Women invariably say to me, words to the effect of, “Well, I am flattered you would ask, and I am happy to help in the campaign, but I am sure you could find somebody better.” While my anecdotal experience is not empirically sound, it is worth mentioning that as I make phones calls to persuade men to run, not one man has ever said “I am sure you could find somebody better.”
It is very true that when women do run, we do well. In fact, women running for the Greens do as well or better than our male candidates. So there is no societal prejudice against voting for women. The problem is convincing women to run.
Analyzing the reasons why it is hard is the stuff of much academic research, as I have found as a member of the Special Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform. We have the mandate to make Trudeau’s pledge that 2015 will be the last election held under First Past the Post, a reality. And one of the principles to be observed in finding a new voting system is to improve the diversity of parliament in terms of gender balance and inclusion of underrepresented groups.
So the question is: can a change in our voting system result in electing more women?
Well, it is very clear that countries that have proportional representation have far higher levels of women in their parliaments. But it is harder to say why that is. Is it the culture of the country? Is there a case for causality?
Australia give us a good bit of evidence that proportionality increases the number of women elected. The Australian lower house is another version of majoritarian voting (like First Past the Post) called Alternative Voting, or Ranked Ballots. Their Senate is elected using a form of Proportional Representation, called STV-Single Transferable Vote. The number of women in their lower House (26.7%) is far less than in their Senate (38%). Same culture, same society, same values. But a difference in the voting system results in more women.
Why is this?
Well, going back to why I didn’t want to go into politics when the NDP and the Liberals and even the Progressive Conservatives used to ask me, I wouldn’t have said “I won’t run until we have a different voting system.” What I did feel strongly was that the toxic atmosphere of partisan politics made me feel I could make a bigger difference on issues I cared about by staying out of the fray.
As a political party leader, I have come to realize that FPTP creates incentives for really aggressive, low blows and reinforces politics as sport — a gladiatorial contest between rival combatants. When Harper prorogued parliament for the second time in 2011, I headed out on a national road tour I dubbed “Saving Democracy from Politics.” Now I am doing it for real.
The Electoral Reform Committee mandate could be called “Saving Democracy from Politics.” Elections should not be about negative attack ads and spin doctors.
Elections should be about issues. And elections should be about delivering what voters want. It is long since time that Canada joined most of the world’s modern democracies and adopted fair voting. And I will bet my bottom dollar that we will have more women elected in a more collaborative political environment.
Footnote Comment from Claire Martin:
Full disclosure: I was one of those women Elizabeth made a phone call to, in very early 2015, after having been friends for a while – and yes – I took some persuading to run. But run I did, and the experience was incredible. I don’t regret it for an instant. And as proof that Elizabeth does indeed try to get more women elected, here’s a photo from the beginning of the election of local (Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland, BC) Green candidates – we outnumber the men 2:1. #micdrop