Electoral Political Remains a Man's Game. For Shame.

By Melanee Thomas on Sep 29, 2008

In the midst of running what seems to be an endless sequence of statistics demonstrating persistent gender differences in political engagement in Europe (read: what dissertation research will do to you), I must admit to deliberately avoiding local Canadian stats on women's involvement in the current federal election.

That is, until today: Equal Voice, a multi-partisan advocacy group dedicated to increasing the number of women in politics, released the final tally of female candidates today. Here's the good news: two parties, the Liberals and the NDP, are running over 33% women candidates, meaning that over one-third of their candidates are women. Two other parties, the Bloc and the Greens are just under 30%.

Here's the not-so-good news: the Liberals have never run so many women, arguably because they're electoral fortunes have been rosier in more recent elections. If Donald Savoie's view of most Canadian politicos is correct, one of the only reasons why women's numbers are up with the Liberals this time around is because men don't want to play the political game if they're not guaranteed a win. Many of the women the Liberals are runnings are sacrificial lambs. 

The NDP's numbers aren't a surprise as they've had a gender parity clause in their nomination procedures for a number of years. When competitive ridings are examine, the NDP does better than the Liberals, with nearly 40% of the New Democrat women candidates in winnable ridings compared to 28% for the Liberals. 

The most depressing numbers come from the Conservative (quel surprise), who are running just under 20% women candidates and only 15% of those women are in winnable ridings. 

Why does all of this matter? It depends on one's view of representation. Those who argue that MPs are just delegates from their constituency would suggest that a man could represent the views of the women in their constituency as well as any woman could. Fair enough, I suppose, though this representation view forgets that the plurality of political opinions found in Canada are often replicated at the local level. 

What matters more, in my view, is the fact that women tend to hold significantly different policy positions than men.  Women, on average, prioritise the welfare state over tax cuts and are more dovish in foreign policy than men. Vicariousness matters as well: women tend to be more engaged in politics when they see other women doing politics at the elite level. 

Who's in government also matters: the Harper government completley eliminated many Status of Women Canada programs, ignored policy recommendations for immigrant and at-risk women stemming from SoW funded research, and completely eliminated the section of the Statistics Canada website relating to women. This all directly relates to how well I can do my job, and I thank my lucky stars I learned what StatsCan collects on women before Harper was elected. 

What does this all mean? I must admit, as someone paying attention to gender differences, I cannot help but conclude that 1) gender representation matters and 2) some parties do this WAY better than others. Do I think right-wing parties in Canada represent me as a woman? They might have, back in the old Flora MacDonald days of the Progressive Conservatives, but they certainly do not now. Do the Liberals? Not when they think they can win/only when they think they can't. The NDP does OK, as long as they enforce what's on paper, and I honestly don't think the Greens or the Bloc have really given this issue much thought. 

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The BC NDP has a tough

The BC NDP has a tough program to get more women and minorities elected: http://www.canada.com/victoriatimescolonist/news/story.html?id=51a57259-9171-42eb-867b-8ed1e40e09ca

This program kicked in when a recent by-election was called. A great deal of local gnashing of teeth ensued.

I'm not sure I like that policy, actually.

Selecting individual ridings as "reserved" for a type of candidate could easily become a codified version of the latent sacrificial lamb policy. I much prefer the federal NDP's nominations policy, which can be interepreted as ensuring riding associations do a full, comprehensive search of their communities for all possible candidates. If a local association wants to nominate a standard politician (white, male, affluent, educated, older), they need to demonstrate that an effort was made to find candidates from historically under-represented groups and how/why those efforts failed.

Candidates for the NDP

"Selecting individual ridings as "reserved" for a type of candidate could easily become a codified version of the latent sacrificial lamb policy."

I think you're right; the process of selecting reserved ridings is open to manipulation. I tried to figure out whether these would be sacrificial lamb candidates by looking at the NDP vote shares in the reserved ridings from the last election, but the ridings have been redistributed. From a quick reading, however, it appears that the reserved ridings include both safe NDP seats and no-hopers too. In the long term, this policy could go a long way toward getting more women (and minorities elected), albeit with the high cost of ticking off local organizations.

"I much prefer the federal NDP's nominations policy, which can be interepreted as ensuring riding associations do a full, comprehensive search of their communities for all possible candidates. If a local association wants to nominate a standard politician (white, male, affluent, educated, older), they need to demonstrate that an effort was made to find candidates from historically under-represented groups and how/why those efforts failed."

Isn't this policy pretty weak - and even more open to manipulation?

It depends on central party enforcement....

... and if we're trying to protect or strenthen local party organisations, then the federal NDP policy could be viewed as weak. If we're prepared to accept a degree of oversight and veto from the central party, then this policy is fairly strong.

In practice, the strength of the nominations policy depends on which province we're looking at: it's crap in Saskatchewan, where there's bound to be a fairly high degree of resistance to central control in nominations due to strong provincial and local organisations. It's probably the same in BC. In Alberta, my experience has been the reverse. Edmonton Strathcona has nominated a woman and/or a visible minority in the most recent elections when it's been competitive for the NDP. 

What I prefer about the federal policy is that, if applied, it gets local associations thinking about expanding the nominations process to historically underrepreseted groups, conceivably that expansion the norm rather than the exception. I don't think targeted ridings do that. 

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