Madam Speaker, debating a matter as important as gender parity in politics in order to defend this fundamental right should be an honour and a privilege. Sadly, however, I am somewhat embarrassed to note all the missed opportunities over the years. Therefore, I hope that we will get the job done this time and that all members of our respective parties will seize the opportunity to turn words into action.
Madam Speaker, the fact that I am addressing my comments to you, a female speaker, gives the impression that the problem is practically solved. Without taking anything away from you, that is not the case. We must continue to work very hard so that there are more women working in various capacities in this Parliament.
No one questions article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “all human beings are born free and equal”. Therefore, we must acknowledge that political parties should be instrumental in upholding and applying this fundamental principle.
With the election of a Liberal government came a few glimmers of hope. The gender-balanced cabinet was probably the most tangible sign of that. When our Prime Minister saw fit to sum up the facts and his thoughts by quipping that it was, at the time, 2015, I hope I was not mistaken in reading between the lines that the answer was self-evident and the question no longer bore asking. Unfortunately, the question does bear asking, and we must not back down from asking it because women currently hold just 26% of the seats in the House. We are clearly still a long way from achieving the ultimate goal of parity.
I would like to put a fine point on the situation by sharing one figure. Is Canada in 10th, 20th, or 30th place? No, Canada ranks 60th in the world on the proportion of women in Parliament. Without new measures like Bill C-237, it is unlikely that we will achieve parity before 2075. Looking ahead to 2075 means relying on statistical projections, but without meaningful measures to bring about equity, there is little reason to believe we will hit that 2075 target.
Stereotypes are hard to break and I am making it my duty to dispel myths such as the one where women are not interested in becoming actively involved in public affairs, or that they are less interested than men. Nothing could be further from the truth. For example, during the 2011 federal election, more women turned out to vote than men, or 59.6% to 57.3%. Back home in Trois-Rivières, if further proof is needed, the majority of volunteers involved in my election campaign were women. The issue is not whether women are interested in becoming politically involved, but rather ensuring that the political parties are not an obstacle but rather an incentive for women to become involved in our democratic institutions.
We need to put measures in place to encourage the political parties to recruit more women candidates. That is the foundation of the entire structure of equitable representation of men and women in this Parliament.
One might wonder how the NDP has always successfully managed to recruit more women candidates than the other parties and have more women elected to the House of Commons than all the other parties. Quite simply it is because in our approach to this issue we go beyond the rhetoric and we put policies into practice that are conducive to having more women candidates and electing more women. It is one thing to ask women to run in the ridings, but we must also ensure that these women can run in ridings where the success rate or the chances of winning are also equitable.
By establishing proactive policies on this issue, our party is getting results, getting more women involved in politics, and promoting balance between men and women in the House.
For instance, we introduced our policy of freezing candidate nominations until the riding associations could prove that every effort had been made to recruit women, and that approach was successful. In 2015, 43% of NDP candidates were women. That is nearly 50-50. We are not quite there, but it is pretty close to gender parity. While 43% of our candidates were women, 41% of the elected members in our party are women. That means 41% of the NDP members in House are women. This is the result of our party's concrete policies.
Bill C-237 goes even further and addresses a key element: it interferes with political party financing to give parties an incentive to recruit more female candidates. This serves to confirm the desire to affect representation in the House and improve gender parity.
Under the provisions of the bill introduced by my colleague from Burnaby South, political parties will receive less in public subsidies when women do not make up at least 45% of their list of candidates. For instance, if a party has 25% female candidates and 75% male candidates, its post-election rebate would be cut by 10%. Of course, this version of the bill also offers the various political parties the opportunity to freely choose the rules and measures they wish to use to achieve the desired result.
Our proposal would correct the systemic under-representation of women in politics and introduce gender parity. Our democracy would be stronger and would better respond to our aspirations if the House of Commons was more representative of the makeup of Quebec and Canadian society.
Some international experiences show in no uncertain terms that my colleague's bill is a step in the right direction. It must be said that, compared to other democracies, Canada is lagging behind. Eleven democracies have adopted laws similar to our proposed legislation, which makes public funding of parties conditional on gender parity.
In France, parties lose a portion of their subsidies if the spread between the percentage of male and female candidates is greater than 2%. Oddly enough, when this incentive was increased in 2008, the number of women elected rose by 46%. Ireland is another example. In 2012, Ireland passed legislation whereby annual public funding of parties would be cut by 50% if both men and women did not make up at least 30% of their candidates. In just one election, this law led to a 90% increase in the number of female candidates and 40% in the number of women elected.
A number of studies show that Canadian voters do not discriminate against candidates based on gender. In Canada, a woman who seeks public office has about the same chance as her male colleagues of being elected. Therefore, we have to ensure that women enter the race.
Therefore, I am asking once more why only 26% of the members of Parliament are women. We could think about this at the same time that we consider an entirely different matter, one that has been debated for weeks and months, and which we will continue to debate, namely the long awaited reform of our voting system. If we had a proportional voting system, the lists of the different parties might result in gender parity and also, why not, correct the balance between cultural communities.
I would have liked to talk about our international obligations with respect to sustainable development because expecting the countries we are helping to meet particular objectives is at odds with a lack of effort on our part to meet those same objectives.
My time is running out, so I will conclude by saying that I hope all parties in the House agree that under-representation of women in our political institutions is an impediment to our democracy. It is our duty to do better when it comes to increasing the proportion of women in Parliament.
If this Parliament's priority is to ensure gender equality, I encourage all members of the House to support this bill and help improve it in committee.