Only 21.1 % of politicians in the world are female. Women are clearly not properly represented in this important profession. In Canada, statistics show the figure is not much better. Canada is only ranked 51st in the world for the percentage of woman in politics behind both Pakistan and Mexico.
This presentation discusses the contribution of Canadian women in politics in the past and present. In addition, increasing the representation of women in Canadian politics in the future will be presented.
Canadian female politicians started to have their voices heard in the early 20th century. Receiving the vote in Canada and the ability for woman to hold political positions was a long fought battle. Many powerful politicians like the ones described in the next slides below helped to carve the face of Canadian politics as we know it today and inspire future female politicians to do the same.
Nellie McClung Agnes Macphail Thérèse Casgrain Kim Campbell Belinda Stronach
Nellie McClung was a chief leader of feminism in Canada. She was born in rural Manitoba, and began teaching school at just sixteen years old. She supported woman getting the right to vote, and attempted to defeat Premier Roblin who strongly disagreed with giving woman the right to vote. She was famous for putting on a political satire in 1914 which depicted reversed roles of males and females, poking fun at giving men the right to vote. Together with Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Edwards, she fought for the right for woman to be elected into the Senate which was called “The Person’s Case.” The British North American Act stated that one must be a person to be elected into the Senate. Nellie McClung argued that women were considered people, and should be given an equal chance to be elected. In 1867, when the Act was written, the term “person” did not include women. Thanks to Nellie McClung’s efforts in October, 1929, the Judicial Committee ruled that women were persons, and could be appointed to the Senate.
Nellie McClung’s efforts made Manitoba the first province to let woman vote in 1916
She opened the gateway for female politicians because woman also received the right to run for office in 1916
She made Manitoba a role model for the other provinces for allowing woman to have the vote and run for office
Nellie McClung “Women who set a low value on themselves make life hard for all women.” -Nellie McClung
Time Line of Women Gaining the Vote In Canadian Provinces Date Event January 28 th 1916 Woman in Manitoba receive the right to vote in provincial elections. March 14 th 1916 Woman is Saskatchewan win the right to vote provincially April 19 th 1916 Woman in Alberta win the right to vote provincially April 5 th 1917 Woman in British Columbia receive the right to vote provincially April 12 th 1917 Woman in Ontario receive the right to vote provincially April 26 th 1918 Woman in Nova Scotia receive the right to vote provincially May 24 th 1918 Woman across Canada receive the right to vote in federal elections. April 17 th 1919 Woman receive the right to vote in provincial elections in New Brunswick May 3 rd 1922 Woman in Prince Edward Island receive the right to vote provincially April 3 rd 1925 Woman in Newfoundland and Labrador receive the right to vote provincially April 25 th 1940 Woman in Quebec receive the right to vote in provincial elections
In Canada the involvement of woman in federal politics first began in 1921. The first woman elected into the House of Commons was Agnes Macphail. She was born in rural Ontario, and started her career as a school teacher. She believed that everyone should have equal rights. She wished to represent the farmers in her region which was her first move into politics. She was elected in 1921, the first election which woman had the right to vote after winning the right to do so in 1918. At first Agnes was criticized for being too fragile and delicate (because she was a woman) to understand the harsh realities of prisons at the time. However, she persisted and she helped overhaul the penal system across Canada. Agnes formed the Elizabeth Fry Foundation to help woman’s rights. She noticed that women were working equally as hard as men, but were not receiving the same payment for it. In 1951, she put forth legislation that made sure women received equal pay for equal work in Ontario. She also helped with farmer’s co-operatives and Old Age pensions.
Thérèse Casgrain had an unlikely start into politics when she gave a speech on behalf of her husband, Pierre Casgrain who was an MP in Quebec. After giving her speech, she was urged to join the women’s suffrage movement. She quickly became a leading feminist reformer in Quebec. She fought hard for Quebec women’s right to vote during the 1920’s and 1930’s until Quebec finally allowed women the right to vote in 1940. In 1942 she was a Independent Liberal candidate for the Charlevoix-Saguenay region, but was not elected. In 1946 she joined the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF). She became the leader of the Quebec branch of the CCF, making her the first female leader of a political party in Canada. In 1967, she became an officer of the Order of Canada. In 1970, she appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Trudeau.
Looking back in Canadian history, there is one female name whom all Canadians should be familiar with. Kim Campbell was the first and only female Prime Minister in Canada to date. She became Prime Minister in 1993 after Brian Mulroney resigned. Although she was not elected, she had a long career as a politician which allowed her to gain her position. She began her career in politics in 1980 when she became the member of the school board in Vancouver. In 1986, she won a seat in the provincial legislature of British Columbia. In 1988, she was elected in the Canadian House of Commons in Ottawa. She became the Justice Minister for Canada in 1990. In 1993, she was the Minister of National Defence and Veteran Affairs. She was the first woman to hold these cabinet positions.
Belinda Stronach was a famous political figure. She was elected MP for New Market/Aurora in Ontario. She was highly criticized for being an heiress with a coddled career who had everything handed to her. She also received a lot of criticism and media coverage for her looks and personal life a lot of which were quite sexist. She was a Progressive Conservative before switching to the Liberal party in 2008. She served 4 years as an MP from 2004-2008. She was in the running to become the leader of the Conservative party, but lost out to Stephen Harper. In 2001, she was the named the most powerful woman in business by the National Post.
The early 20th century was a turning point for woman in politics. However, to date no Canadian political party has reached gender parity. Also to date, no female Prime Minister has been elected, however, there are still numerous female politicians as role models currently involved in politics.
Elizabeth May is a prominent character in Canadian politics as leader of the Green Party as well as an Officer for the Order of Canada. Although her party has received just under a million votes, they are yet to have a seat in the House of Commons. From a young age Elizabeth was an active community organizer and environmentalist. She graduated from Dalhousie law school in 1983. In 1984 she became active with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. In 1986, she became senior advisor to the Federal Environmental Minister who, at the time, was Tom McMillan. She was elected leader of the Green Party in August 2006. Her continued efforts to promote environmental issues in Canadian politics makes her a widely known politician.
Anita Neville was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. At the University of Winnipeg, she completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in political science. She began her political career by first serving as a School Board Trustee of the Winnipeg School Board (from 1986-2000). She was first elected MP in 2000 for the Liberal Party of Canada to represent the South Centre of Winnipeg. She was then re-elected in 2004, 2006 and 2008. While Paul Martin was Prime Minister, Neville acted as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage. She is a member on the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.
1. What does being a woman involved in politics mean to you?
It is important that there be more woman in the backroom, as you probably know only about 20% of politicians in Canada are female. It is a privilege and opportunity to get the chance to bring my experiences forward.
2. What inspired you to get involved in politics?
I am what you would call an accidental politician, as many politicians are. I started of locally when my kids were in school and being cut off from bussing. I started to lobby with other parents to get their bussing back. After that I was talked into running school board and was elected as School Board Trustee. I didn’t really plan on getting any further involved until the Liberals approached me in 1995 for the Provincial election which I was not successful in. I was reluctant in getting involved because I was not sure if this is how I wanted to live.
3. Have any previous politicians inspired you in your involvement in politics?
I always sort of had an interest in politics; we did a lot of mock activities in high school involving both men and woman in different roles which really inspired me; Jack Kennedy, Martin Luther King, John Defeinbaker, Duff Roblin Pierre Elliot Trudeau. There were not a lot of woman to be intrigued by, but defiantly Flora McDonnell and Charlotte Whitman.
4. If more woman were involved in politics what impact do you think that it would have?
It would change behaviour and some of the bully boy name calling. Women may prioritize issues differently.
5. What does your position as the Liberal Party critic for the status of women entail?
A lot of work. I am currently on a trip in Vancouver on stopping violence against aboriginal females. I am on various Committees such as Economic Well Being, Women in Non-traditional Trades. I am an advocate with the government so notice and attention is not just given to female politicians for the party’s advantage .
6. Do you think woman need to work harder than men to be respected in a political position?
No question. More woman should be valued for what they can do. If you look at Harper’s portfolio, the woman tend to have more junior portfolios. More woman should be valued for the diversity of their experiences.
7. Have you ever felt like you have been treated differently at any time in your political career because of your gender?
No question. No question. Defiantly by the nature of assignments and the comments made. I don’t want to be specific, but just the other day someone said, “It is amazing that a grandmother could accomplish this.”
8. Other countries are setting up quotas and incentives to get woman involved in politics, do you think this is something Canada should consider ?
I think incentives are a good way forward, I don’t necessarily agree with quotas. NDP’s are the most successful in this. Liberals have made a commitment that one third of their candidates are female. The Conservatives have not made any commitment. Financial incentives are something I think could be given, like more money back from tax rebates if they have more.
9. Do you have any advice for women who want to get involved in politics?
Get involved. Get involved at any party at any level. You can walk on the street, canvassing, writing brochures or through electronic activities. Getting involved with specific events for politics or meeting with politicians. I often, not always get young females coming into my office and asking how they can get involved. You can also follow women on Face Book or Twitter.
Ruby Dhalla received her Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry with a minor in Political Science. She was a member of the Young Liberals Party in Winnipeg. Ruby Dalha has represented Brampton-Springdale for the Liberals in the House since 2004. Dhalla was the first South Asian women to be elected into the House of Commons. Dhalla was appointed to the Standing Committee on Health where she drew on her experience as a Chiropractor to give first person insight on issues in the medical field.
On May 5 th 2009, the Toronto Star ran a headline on a scandal involving Ruby Dhalla. Dhalla underwent a large controversy when two of the caregivers hired to take care of her mother made claims that they were illegally employed. The two caregivers said that they had been underpaid and mistreated. They claimed to have had their passports and birth certificates removed from them when they were hired and were also forced to work long hours and do many extra jobs such as washing their cars and chiropractic offices. Due to these allegations, Dhalla resigned as Youth and Multiculturalism critic on May 6th. She believed that the allegations were a direct threat on her reputation. However, she remains in Parliament despite the accusations.
Leona Aglukkaq was the first Inuk to become a member of the House of Commons. Prior to becoming involved in federal politics, she was a MLIA for the district of Nattilik. She served various positions across the territories before her move to become an MP. She acted as the Deputy Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, the Deputy Minister of Culture, and the Deputy Minister of Human Resources. She was elected on October 30 th 2008 to represent Nunavut. She continues to fight for the Inuit issues she was raised with and believes in. She currently is the Minister of Health.
Helena Guergis started in politics as the assistant-executive assistant to the Progressive Conservative Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) Joe Tascond. She went on to become the political advisor to Janet Ecker, Minister of Education and Finance. In 2003, she ran for the Conservatives in region Trinity-Spandina. However, she ran again in 2004 in the area of Simcoe-Grey, and was re-elected twice in 2006 as well as in 2008. She was part of the Conservative Party until controversy struck in 2009 when she was forced to leave and became an Independent.
Stephen Harper ordered the RCMP as well as the Commons Ethics Commisioner, Mary Dawson, to investigate suspected criminal activity which Helena Guergis was involved with. Her husband Rahim Jaffer had supposedly been running his business through her political office. Guergis was forced to leave the Conservative Party without just cause on April 9, 2010. Her right to being innocent until guilty was broken, as well as, the right to know what she was being charged for. However, upon investigation, no evidence was found supporting that Helena had participated in any Criminal wrongdoings. Were these charges a sexist comment from our own Prime Minister?
Olivia Chow was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to Canada at the age of thirteen. She began her political career as a School Board Trustee in 1985. She later became a City Councillor in Toronto from 1991-2005. On City Council, she was a strong advocate for transportation and the homeless. She was well known for riding a bicycle everywhere including City Hall. She made two unsuccessful attempts being elected into the House of Commons. In 2006, she was elected as the Member of Parliament for the Trinity-Spandina region in Ontario. In 2008, she was re-elected for the same position. Olivia Chow is married to Jack Layton, the leader of the NDP.
Michelle Simson is the MP for Scarborough Southwest, Ontario. She was first elected as an MP in 2008. She is a member on the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. For sixteen years she was vice president of a leasing firm in Scarborough before her break into politics. She is Treasurer of the GTA/Ontario Liberal Caucus as well as the co-chair for the National Liberal Caucus Communications Committee. She also is also a founding member and Co-chair on the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care (PPCC). Before being elected in 2008, she was the President of the Ontario Women's Liberal Commission and well as a member of the Ontario Liberal Party Executive Council.
1. What does being a woman in politics mean to you?
Women are currently grossly under-represented in Canada's Parliament, a situation that will remain unchanged unless and until we can engage more women in the political process. As one of just over 20% of sitting female MPs in the House of Commons, in addition to representing my constituents and their interests in Ottawa, I feel a certain obligation to raise the profile of women in federal politics to hopefully attract more to our political arena. I have found that with more women "at the table" the tone and discourse changes dramatically, that consensus tends to rule the day, as opposed to playing petty partisan games that do little, if anything for Canada.
I became very interested and engaged in Canadian politics in my late teens when Pierre Trudeau became our Prime Minister. To that point, I felt our political leaders were old, stodgy and boring.....in other words, uninspiring. Trudeau, while not chronologically young perhaps, but possessed an energy and pizzaz unrivaled by any Canadian politician in our history. He created a frenzy in his travels across the land, had what the media described as huge "sex appeal" and was a remarkably intelligent man.
I had the pleasure of seeing him once, in person, during a visit to Ottawa and that encounter made a lasting impression. His love of our country and ability to articulate that was truly inspirational to me at the time. As a rather ironic coincidence, when I took my seat in the House of Commons for the very first time after being elected in 2008, my seatmate was none other than Justine Trudeau, his son.
3. Do you have any advice for young women who are interested in becoming involved in politics?
My first piece of advice would be for anyone, regardless of gender to start by joining and volunteering in their local riding associations, regardless of political stripe. A good working knowledge of the "party machine" is absolutely critical if one is even contemplating running for federal politics.....you have an edge with that knowledge.
Once involved, do not believe everything you see and hear in the media with respect to "parliamentary soundbites". Many women have based their negative views of Canadian politics on "clips" they see on TV of the daily Question Period, which tends to be scripted and more theatre than anything else. The real work is done in committee and can be extremely satisfying. That doesn't mean to say it can't get difficult. You have to have confidence and a very thick skin to get through some periods in a Parliamentary session.
Before running for office, I also believe a bit of a career track record and life experience is extremely valuable.....you bring this experience to the table, which makes things substantially easier during an election transition period.
Finally, if a woman contemplating a run in politics has a significant other (spouse, life partner, etc) it is absolutely essential she have the unwavering support of that spouse. Politics is unduly hard on personal relationships at the best of times. Long hours, longer separations, travel all strain family life. Without that support going in, either the relationship will fail or the political career will suffer.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, I have found my first two years as an MP extremely rewarding, something I shall never regret doing. I have met thousands of constituents and am proud and humbled to represent them in Ottawa.
The future of woman in politics is a mystery. Hopefully the representation of women increases. Females need to be empowered and feel inspired to be leaders and to be seen and respected as equals. Strong female characters in politicians allow for younger generations to look to these females and aspire to be like them. Hopefully one day we will be able to elect a female Prime Minister. Young females interested in getting involved in politics need to get involved as much as possible, so that hopefully one day we will be closer to gender equity. The involvement of females in politics has drastically evolved since the twentieth century, with many powerful and culturally diverse women entering the political scene and changing Canada.