Candidate Gender Equity Act

An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (gender equity)

Sponsor

Kennedy Stewart  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Defeated, as of Oct. 19, 2016

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-237.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Canada Elections Act to reduce the reimbursement each registered party receives for its election expenses if there is more than a 10% difference in the number of male and female candidates on the party’s list of candidates for a general election.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

Oct. 19, 2016 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members’ Business

October 18th, 2016 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

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.

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members’ Business

October 18th, 2016 / 6:05 p.m.
See context

Dorval—Lachine—LaSalle Québec

Liberal

Anju Dhillon LiberalParliamentary Secretary for Status of Women

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to participate in the debate on Bill C-237, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (gender equity), at second reading.

I would like to begin by congratulating my colleague, the member for Burnaby South, on preparing this bill and on his hard work on this issue.

Bill C-237 proposes reforms to the Canada Elections Act by reducing reimbursements for eligible parties based on the difference in the percentages of male and female candidates for a general election. The bill would allow for no greater than a 10% difference in the number of females and males run by a party in a general election. Any difference beyond this threshold would result in reductions to an eligible party's reimbursement.

I am pleased that the 42nd Parliament ushered in the highest number of female members in Canada's history, with 88 female candidates elected. We also saw a record number of female candidates participate in this federal election. Unfortunately, this record number of elected female members represents only 26% of the seats in this place, placing Canada 60th in the world in terms of gender equality in a lower house.

In light of these figures, I would like to thank my colleague opposite for raising this issue in the House of Commons. Our government is committed to fostering gender equality in Canadian institutions and all aspects of civic life. I am proud that we can have this very necessary debate.

Gender equality is a noble and necessary goal that we support. However, we must decide how best to achieve it. I am not convinced that the mechanism in this bill, imposing a legislated gender quota, is the best way to achieve that goal.

I would like to talk about the government's current electoral reform initiatives and discuss other measures that we as MPs can take that might be more effective at increasing the number of female candidates and women elected to Parliament.

As all members know, the House has struck a special all-party parliamentary committee to examine a variety of reforms to our electoral system, including a wide-reaching and comprehensive study on the use of preferential ballots and proportional representation. Our government would like the view of the committee before introducing legislation.

I would like to point out that Canada's electoral system for the next election is still unknown. It is premature to impose a legislated gender quota designed for the first-past-the-post system.

Gender quotas, such as the one proposed, operate differently under different electoral systems. In fact, of the few countries in the developed world that continue to use the first-past-the-post system, there are none which impose legislated gender quotas on parties, and therefore none which provide useful examples to show how such a quota may function in our current system in Canada.

There are many reasons why it is hard to impose such a quota in a first past the post system. In Canada, one of those reasons is the impact that such a quota would have on internal nomination contests within parties. Aside from the control measures that apply to party financing, nomination contests are usually treated as an internal party matter.

During the previous Parliament, this was debated extensively as part of the debate on the Reform Act, 2014, which amended the provision of the Canada Elections Act on endorsement of candidates to allow parties to choose the people responsible for endorsing candidates, instead of this responsibility always falling to the party leaders.

Under the provisions of Bill C-237, parties could now be forced to impose candidates in some ridings to ensure that their subsidy is not reduced, as it would be if they do not achieve the quota. Despite the pressure to promote open nomination contests, this measure will instead work against the parties' financial interests, their commitment to open nomination contests, and the desire of their riding associations.

I would much rather see my party work with the riding associations to invite more women to run, instead of encouraging the parties to centralize the nominations.

I am sure all can imagine a situation where parties would begin to incrementally stage nomination contests across the country in order to evaluate progress toward the gender quota. The later nomination contests get, the more acute the situation becomes.

We must look to what other like-minded countries are doing, or have done, to work toward gender parity in their legislatures. There is both domestic and international evidence that voluntary gender quotas within parties can be an effective mechanism for increasing the number of female candidates.

I would like to applaud the NDP in this regard. As I am sure the member opposite is aware, the NDP has had a voluntary gender quota at the party level of 50%. In the last election, the NDP fielded the highest percentage of female candidates of any party in the House at 43%, and more than 40% of the current caucus is female. This is an achievement and it brings the NDP very close to the threshold the member seeks in Bill C-237 to implement between 45% to 55% female candidates without incurring a penalty. It also demonstrates that this level of gender equity can be accomplished without the introduction of a legislative amendment.

Likewise, European nations with the highest percentages of female parliamentarians, such as Sweden, Iceland, and the Netherlands, have largely adopted voluntary gender quotas at the party level with great success. Without resorting to legislative means, these countries have some of the highest levels of female participation in the western world.

This demonstrates two things. First, since we still do not know what Canada's voting system will look like in 2019, it would be premature to adopt a legislative measure designed for a first-past-the-post system. Indeed, as the NDP demonstrated, the issue of gender inequality can be resolved without resorting to mechanisms governed by legislation.

Gender equality and gender parity in every aspect of political and civilian life are objectives that we must strive for in any way possible.

I thank the member opposite for the exemplary work he did to raise this matter in the House. Nonetheless, I hope I adequately explained the reasons why I cannot support this bill at second reading stage.

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members’ Business

October 18th, 2016 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Shannon Stubbs Conservative Lakeland, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-237, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (gender equity).

Today, 87 years ago, women were recognized as persons in Canada. The fight to get the right to vote was led by five trail-blazing pioneering Alberta women who changed history for all Canadians, paving the way for women's increased participation in public and political life.

Tomorrow is the one year anniversary that voters in Lakeland elected me to represent them as their member of Parliament, and I am proud to serve them and to fight for our communities and our priorities.

The Liberals talk about progress for women, gender parity, and equal opportunity, but it is often just a lot of talk. They seem to really care mostly about appearances. They promote quotas for cabinet. The Prime Minister quips about it being 2015.

However, Conservatives really have the strongest track record of promoting and electing women to powerful positions of leadership, and that is something about which we are proud. Conservatives treat men and women equally because of our conviction that we are equal as individuals, as human beings, in dignity, in capacity, and in potential. Women can compete, we can deliver, and we can win.

Quotas were not needed to elect the first female prime minister, a Conservative. Quotas were not needed for my former boss and long-time friend, Deb Grey, to become the first woman leader of the official opposition in Canadian history. She did not want or need quotas. It is very special for me to represent much of the riding where Deb was elected as the first Reform member of Parliament.

As Conservatives, we will not tell women what they should be, what they should aspire to, or what should animate their dreams. If women want to be mothers, we will support them. If women want to be entrepreneurs, we will support them. If women want to do both and anything else, we will support them.

We are the party of the first female engineer MP, the first female minister, the first female foreign affairs minister, and the first female prime minister. As Conservatives, we believe women's individual ambitions and efforts are what matter, not what society expects or progressive collective quotas demand.

Conservatives support women in all walks of life, and that is why the Conservatives, especially Conservative women, have always been trail blazers. In fact, it was under a Conservative prime minister that women finally got the right to vote.

Today, we Conservatives are the only party with official status in the House of Commons to have a female leader, and she is the fourth female leader of our movement. That happened because the Conservative MPs knew that the hon. member for Sturgeon River—Parkland was the best person for the job, not because of a quota or because there was an expectation.

I have been involved in politics in many different ways for many years. My experience is that men, younger, the same age, and often much older, have always supported me wholeheartedly, when I was the youngest volunteer, or a staff member, and now. They have knocked on doors with me, promoted me, donated to my campaigns, and volunteered countless hours to help get me elected in the nomination and in the general election.

My Conservative male colleagues, incumbents and rookies alike, always encourage and lift me, and support me tirelessly. My volunteer board is half women and half men, and 20% youth. The full-time staff in both my offices are all women, but they are the best people for the jobs.

When I walk into a room of Conservatives, I know they are assessing me on my merit, work, skills, expertise, knowledge, and character. They judge me on my ability and my competence. They do not fixate on just one of my traits, as if it defines my whole identity or who I am. That is what I prefer. What Conservatives care about is how hard people are willing to work. Conservatives care about action. They prioritize what people do, not what they say or promise.

I know I earned my position in this party and my role for Lakeland, and I will keep earning it. I believe it is my job to do my best at whatever I do. That is what counts.

This bill is undemocratic and it is demeaning. It assumes Canadians are too sexist to choose the right people to represent them, and that parties should be punished for allowing local nomination processes to determine the best local person for the job. This belittles my work and my accomplishments as a candidate, as a member of Parliament, and as a woman, just like all of my formidable Conservative women colleagues and all the strong women here.

I do not want to be treated like a victim who requires a quota to succeed in life. Frankly, the notion that I need legislative coercion to succeed is utterly condescending, and this is the reason why.

My grandmother was the first female mayor of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, elected in 1973. She was a councillor, a journalist, a wife, and a mother of eight. She was always described as expressive, passionate, “voluble and aggressive”, a firebrand. Therefore, my colleagues will forgive me for coming by it honestly.

My Missy Nan never wanted special favours or treatment for being a woman. She told me that the best way to succeed was to work harder and to be more prepared.

As a new opposition MP from rural Alberta, like me now, the hon. member for Sturgeon River—Parkland once said that working women did not need men in Ottawa telling them how to live their lives. Today, as then, I agree. This bill is typical of an ideology that government is always the fix. I would love to see more women run for political office, but the idea that parties should be forced to choose women over men under threat of financial punishment does a disservice to women everywhere. It says that Canadian women cannot achieve success on their own merit.

I want people from all walks of life, all ethnicities, ages, or genders running for office. I want the best possible representatives from every community to be elected, so we must forever be vigilant for freedoms and for our belief in the equal sanctity and dignity of every individual as a human being. The task is monumental.

Before the Taliban took over Afghanistan, girls were allowed to go to school; afterward, they were not. Before the Iranian revolution, women were free to wear what they wanted; afterward, they were forced to cover their hair. It is possible for societies to go backward on women's rights, so we as citizens of free democracies must embolden the inherent equality and liberty of all individuals everywhere. It underlines how privileged and fortunate we are here.

The NDP believes that gender parity of Canadian political candidates is the most pressing issue today when women in other countries face almost unimaginable oppression and harm. In Niger, 76% of women between the ages of 20 and 24 reported marrying before the age of 18, and 28% before the age of 15. In some African countries, women and girls are brutalized by ritual female genital mutilation. In Tanzania, 50% of women are pregnant before they turn 18. Many women in developing countries either die from childbirth or lose their babies. That is why the former prime minister and Conservative government focused Canada's foreign aid on maternal health in the developing world, because while Liberals talk about their support for women, Conservatives act.

I am incredibly proud of the hon. Leader of the Opposition. I first met her in university. I was immediately inspired by her intelligence, her work ethic, and her integrity, and I volunteered on her first nomination campaign. From the moment I met her, I have seen that she always works harder than anyone else. She inspires those around her to do the same. That is how she leads us. She is a constant champion for the rights of all women and girls, and against violence and persecution in Canada and around the world. She succeeded with Plan International to establish the International Day of the Girl.

Just two weeks ago, she addressed a gathering of 11,000 Conservatives in the U.K. about the serious issues facing women and girls around the world. That is leadership. She lifts women up, recognizes their strengths, and promotes their talents.

At the time she was appointed in 2006, she was the youngest female cabinet minister ever, a record later broken by another Conservative, the member for Calgary Nose Hill. She held 10 different senior portfolios under the previous government. She kept the confidence of a demanding leader and has earned her well-respected place here in the chamber and in Canada. She will leave our party in a stronger position and has built an admirable legacy. I consider her an outstanding role model for Canadians, especially women. She is exceptional.

I am a Conservative. I believe in democracy, personal responsibility, freedom, and equality as the fundamental values of civilization. This bill would simply use taxpayer dollars to interfere in local democratic processes. So I say to women, as Nellie McClung once said and my mentor Deb Grey reminded me often when I worked for her and continues to now, “Never retract, never explain, never apologize—get the thing done and let them howl!”

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members’ Business

October 18th, 2016 / 6:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Sheri Benson NDP Saskatoon West, SK

Madam Speaker, it is my distinct privilege to rise in the House today to speak in support of Bill C-237, sponsored by my colleague from Burnaby South. It is a bill whose time has come, and I encourage all my colleagues to support sending Bill C-237 to committee.

Studying this bill at committee will send a powerful message to the electorate that says that this session of Parliament has the courage and conviction to assess and remedy why in 2016 our Parliament is not representative of the electorate. It will send a message that we have finally moved beyond blaming individual women for not running for office, and it will examine how the current structures, systems and institutions present barriers to women seeking to be elected as members of Parliament.

Bill C-237 would make it possible for more women candidates to present themselves in the electoral process and therefore help more of them get elected. As they say, one cannot win if one does not play, and so it is in electoral politics, one cannot be elected if one is not able to run.

We know from research that it is not the electorate that does not vote for women candidates. Women candidates win elections at the same rate as men candidates. It is not the electorate but political parties that fail to nominate a representative slate of candidates to the electorate.

We also know from research that women candidates need to work harder and have to spend 10% more money on average than men candidates to get elected.

Many of my colleagues hear the phrases “gender equity in candidacy” and “financial incentive” in the same sentence and instinctively shy away. They have a fear that somehow levelling the playing field could have a disruptive implication on the system, and it will. The system will be fairer for all candidates. Personally, that type of disruption I look forward to.

The bill is not about limiting the number of male candidates. I will repeat what the member for Burnaby South said earlier and clarify that the threshold of 45% of candidates identifying as female was chosen to allow for the flexibility to choose the most qualified candidates.

The bill is not about marginalizing other minority groups seeking representation. I would suggest it could seek to address one aspect of an issue that has many intersections and could potentially serve as an incentive for political parties to nominate more indigenous women and women of colour.

Finally, the bill does not seek to minimize the hard work that every woman currently in the House has put into getting elected. Rather, gender equity in candidates is about recognizing that women face barriers within political parties that their male colleagues do not

The bill offers the opportunity for this Parliament to acknowledge systemic discrimination within the current candidate selection process and provide a remedy to address it. Without dismantling the barriers that prevent women from running, we cannot truly encourage or expect qualified women leaders to participate in our democracy to their fullest capacity.

Being able to sit in the House of Commons as a woman was a hard-won achievement for each and every one of my female colleagues, from the very early stages of winning their respective party nominations, through all the different aspects and phases of a long campaign. However, many women who had the courage to even begin the process have found themselves pitted against a whole array of obstacles that makes winning even the nomination an uphill battle.

In a post entitled “Where are all the women (candidates)?”, Kate McInturff from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives lays out just a few barriers that women face.

She discusses work and life balance, how elected office at any level demands long hours on an irregular schedule, and how for women with young children and dependent family members, this poses a real challenge. She says:

Women still perform double the number of hours of unpaid childcare work as do men, they are three times as likely to take time off from work for family reasons and they are more than ten times as likely to cite childcare as a reason for not working full time. Even if you can manage a full time schedule and find a childcare spot, there’s still the problem of what to do when there’s a council session that runs until 11pm or a community consultation on a Sunday.

The second is that women are told not to be bossy. She says:

Study after study demonstrates that, as a society, we don’t always respond favourably to women stepping into public leadership roles. Female politicians, in particular, are often portrayed as overly aggressive...At the same time, female politicians are subjected to questions about their hair and clothes that have no parallel in interviews with male politicians. Or they get what [is]...referred to as “the princess treatment”—all hair and no policy.

Finally on violence, she says:

From the time they are teenagers, girls are subject to harassment in public. That’s a lesson young women are learning about the risk of being in public.

And it’s an accurate lesson.

Again, the presidential race in the U.S. provides compelling and distressing evidence that women are objectified, ridiculed, dismissed, and subjected to unequal and disrespectful treatment. Lest we feel too smug, closer to home, the female premier of Alberta has been subjected to death threats, misogynistic slurs, and other threats of violence. This has to stop.

The statistics on this issue are familiar to all of us. It is 2016 and women still hold only 26% of the seats in the House of Commons, an all-time high. It is clear that we must do better.

This past International Women's Day, I had the privilege of participating in the women in the House program. It was a pleasure to have two students from McGill University and the University of Toronto shadow me on March 8th and 10th respectively.

The young women who shadowed me in March were bright and capable, and they have much to offer in service to their communities and to this great country. I want to make sure I do whatever I can to level the playing field so that these young women can one day take their seats in the House of Commons. However, at the current rate women are being elected to the House of Commons, a gender-balanced House is not projected until 2075. I am sure that none of my colleagues think this is desirable or acceptable.

Of course, the unequal playing field in the candidate selection process is not the only form of systemic discrimination to which women of Canada are subject. As vice-chair of the Special Committee on Pay Equity, I am extremely disappointed that this so-called feminist government has decided to make working women wait another two years for a fundamental human right. This is completely unacceptable. There is no reason to postpone fairness. Canadian women have been waiting for decades to receive equal pay for work of equal value, and it is way past time for the government to correct this injustice.

This is just another example of how women are systemically discriminated against. It is realities like the widening wage gap that make bills like Bill C-237 necessary. It is only logical to assume that higher numbers of female candidates will lead to more female representation and with that, perhaps, a Parliament that feels a greater urgency to tackle long-standing gender-based issues such as the wage gap. The time has come for the government to stop talking about its feminist values and start acting like feminists. Supporting Bill C- 237 would do just that.

Bill C-237 is not about guaranteeing 50% women in the House. The bill is not about guaranteeing anyone a seat in the House of Commons. The bill is about offering the electorate the opportunity of electing a House of Parliament that is more representative and reflects them in the House of Commons. Canadians are not holding women back from being elected. It really is the systems and structures of our political parties that are.

It is naive to say that somehow institutions and systems like political parties will somehow magically evolve over time to be free of sexist and racist barriers. There are limits to voluntary measures and good intentions.

As my colleague from Ottawa West—Nepean stated in her excellent speech to the House on Bill C-237:

In virtually every case where countries have achieved gender parity in Parliament, it has been done using mandatory legislated measures, regardless of the electoral system. In Canada, at the current rate, even with party leaders who have a strong commitment to electing more women, we will not achieve parity for another 90 years, unless we make some changes, which in my view cannot be left solely to the goodwill of political parties.

I am proud to say that the NDP has always had the highest percentage of female candidates, and that is because we have worked very hard to remove the barriers to women's participation, but we can and must do even better.

It is my hope that my colleagues will vote in favour of sending this legislation to committee so that the day will come sooner rather than later when we will elect a truly representative Parliament.

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members’ Business

October 18th, 2016 / 6:35 p.m.
See context

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to this bill introduced by my colleague from Burnaby South. This issue is important to me because I truly believe that we need to have more women in politics.

I will provide a brief overview of the situation in Abitibi—Témiscamingue. It was not until the 28th election in Canada, in 1968, that we had our first female candidate in Abitibi—Témiscamingue, Aurore Charron-Labrie.

In 2011, I was the first woman elected to be the federal member for the riding of Abitibi—Témiscamingue. Sadly, we have also had only one female provincial member and that was Johanne Morasse. We do not have a strong history of female elected members in my region. I am pleased to have changed that.

Let us now look at the elections held after fairly major changes were made to the electoral boundaries in 2004. There were no women candidates in 2004. In the 2006 election, which was my first election campaign, there were two women, and that represented roughly 30% of the vote. In 2008, there was only one woman, representing about 10% of the vote. In 2011, for the first time, women garnered more than 50% of the vote with two candidates. I have to admit that I was a big part of that because I garnered more than 50% of the vote, or 51.22% to be precise. For the first time, we got 50% of the vote. Finally, in 2015, women had just over 70% of the vote. It was the first election where there were equal numbers of male and female candidates. We can see that it took some time to happen.

I would now like to go back to some comments made by different speakers, which shocked me.

First of all, people talked about quotas, but my colleague's approach is completely different. Knowing that quotas tend to be polarizing, he decided to propose a mechanism that rewards parties whose slate is more than 40% female. That does not prevent parties from not having female candidates. It is not a quota because it does not prevent a party with no female candidates from nominating a candidate in a riding. This approach includes a financial penalty because that can be an incentive. Nevertheless, it is not a prohibition. It is not inconceivable that a party would do so. Unfortunately, it happened in France, where there was a similar measure, and the UMP decided to pay the fine and not worry about it.

This is not a quota system. It is a system that offers a reward to motivate people without forcing them to do anything. Parties still have room to manoeuvre as they see fit. If they are not concerned about the financial aspect, they can do as they please. I think this is a better approach than imposing quotas, which would have further polarized the debate.

I also heard some of my colleagues mention the impending electoral reform, the reform of the voting system, saying that this bill is premature. In every potential voting system, the parties still have one candidate per party. In every voting system that appears worth considering in the discussion on electoral reform, we are talking about a system in which the parties have candidates to fill the positions. Therefore, no matter which voting system we end up with, my colleague's bill still applies.

I would now like to talk about one interesting example, because I think it is worth mentioning. I am the vice-chair of the Canadian branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. We regularly receive people from other countries who come to speak to us. I would like to talk about a situation in Rwanda, because it was the first country to have more than 50% women MPs.

During the 2013 election, women won 64% of seats in the Rwandan parliament. It is important to mention. Here is an article on the subject:

Kigali, Rwanda – The 2013 Rwandan Parliamentary elections ushered in a record-breaking 64 per cent of seats won by women candidates. The Government of Rwanda, with the UN as a key partner, has been pursuing gender equality since 1994. The political participation of Rwandan women has been facilitated by a constitutional mandate and the work of key institutions, notably the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, the Rwanda Women Parliamentarians Forum (FFRP), National Women’s Council (NWC) and the Gender Monitoring Office (GMO). Rwandan women have created a remarkable political space for themselves in just twenty years.

It is important to take the time to understand the situation. These women probably have many other concerns. They are sometimes victims of violence and might even live in poverty. Indeed, the daily life of a woman in Rwanda is probably not easy.

Still, the people of Rwanda decided that it was important to work on gender parity in their parliament. They decided that in order to give women's issues greater priority within their parliament, they had to introduce concrete measures. That worked, because women managed to secure 64% of seats, and that happened in a country like Rwanda.

There are still people who would have me believe that this is not important, that we need not take any action on this, and we need not be concerned about it, even though this is Canada and we have the ability to do something. It makes no sense. Even Rwanda was able to do it.

Action must be taken in this regard. There are real-life examples where this has worked. The Rwandan Parliament changed its way of doing things. I am impressed every time I talk to my Rwandan colleagues, who sometimes visit me in Canada through the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. They have come a long way, despite everything that has happened in the history of Rwanda. They succeeded against all odds.

In 2015, only one-third of the election candidates were women. In 98 ridings, there were no female candidates running for any of the three main parties. Nevertheless, the NDP decided to take a practical approach to recruiting female candidates, and 43% of our candidates were women, as opposed to only 31% of Liberal candidates and 20% of Conservative candidates.

I mention that because, at this rate, if we do not take more concrete measures, we may not achieve gender parity until 2075. That is 60 years from now and even that is not a given.

Can we afford to wait another 60 years to achieve parity when a country like Rwanda was able to make the necessary effort and reach parity in 20 years? That is completely absurd.

My colleague has introduced a very worthwhile bill. He chose a different approach, one that does not involve quotas, in order to give the political parties some wiggle room. This bill is worth sending to committee. I am sure that my colleague is open to suggestions to improve it, as he has always been. It is so easy to talk to him. If any of our colleagues have questions, they just have to ask him.

If we do not want to wait 60 years, we need to send this bill to committee. Women have waited long enough and we have concrete evidence that proves that we can take action.

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members’ Business

October 18th, 2016 / 6:45 p.m.
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NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby South, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure to stand here today, and it has been a pleasure listening to the debate, or most of it, on my bill.

I would ask members to take a look around the House of Commons. This is a place of moments. This is the place where we decided women should get to vote. This is the place where we decided that women should become people in the eyes of the law. This is where we decided that first nations people should get to vote. This is a place of moments, and we are having a moment right now. The bill that I put before the House, Bill C-237, is an effort to move us out of the 64th place in the world in terms of how we sit in representing women being elected to this place.

We have had some extraordinary moments around the debate. For example, we have had the Minister of Democratic Institutions and the Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women stand up in the House and say that they were not feminists. We have had women on the other side of the House stand up and reveal that they are not feminists. They actually side with the social Conservatives on this side of the House, which is strange to see, because this is a moment where the feminists in the House will stand up and vote for the bill. That is what will happen tomorrow, or will not happen, and it is a fairly serious moment.

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the election, so we have been here a year. We only have 36 months left. I wonder how many bills of this nature will come forward in the House. How many chances will members get to stand up and say, “I am a feminist and I agree that there should be more women in the House of Commons”. When will that happen? It will not happen.

This side of the House has put up all kinds of arguments, especially from the government side, as to why the bill should not be passed. They said that it is a quota, but it is not. It is an incentive scheme that is used in other countries very successfully. They said that there are constitutional reasons and that it would be struck down by the courts, and of course, they quickly retracted that because they actually did not have a legal opinion to counter the very facts of my bill. In fact, I have a legal opinion from the House of Commons legal team that says that not only would the bill meet all the requirements of the charter; it would actually help us meet our charter goals.

We have nothing from that side of the House as to how we are going to move from having 26% of women MPs elected in the House. We have a Prime Minister who goes all around the world saying how much of a feminist he is, but there is no concrete action. We have rhetoric from that side of “I'm a feminist”, and we have some symbolism, which I think we should be proud of with having a gender-balanced cabinet, but what we do not have is any real, concrete action.

In the world, we have over 100 countries that have legislated some laws to make sure that there are more women in their legislatures, and Canada has not done that. As a result, when the Prime Minister was elected, we were 60th in the world in terms of the percentage of women in our legislature, and we have already dropped to 64th. Four years from now when we have our next election, I bet we will be around 70th or 75th. We are dropping like a stone in this ranking, and it is disconcerting.

There is a chance tomorrow for the bill to pass. Again, I know the Conservatives will not vote for it, because they are opposed. They will not stand up and say that they are feminists. However, the Liberals have.

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members’ Business

October 18th, 2016 / 6:45 p.m.
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NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby South, BC

Madam Speaker, I understand that passions run high, but it is time to actually come clean and we are going to do that tomorrow night.

When we have the vote on the bill tomorrow night, there will be a call that essentially asks whether each member is a feminist or is not a feminist. If members stand up and vote for the bill, they are feminists. If they stand up and say nay to the bill, they are not feminists.

Now there are plenty of folks on that side of the House, the Conservatives, who say that they are not feminists. That is fine, and I actually respect that, because at least they are telling us the truth. However, on this side of the House, we are having all kinds of rhetoric from the Prime Minister and cabinet that they are feminists, yet we had the Minister of Democratic Institutions stand up saying that she is not going to vote for the bill.

If members can believe it, we had the Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women stand up in the House and say that she is not going vote for the bill, without giving any alternatives as to how we move from 26% of women elected in this place. I have to say that it is greatly disappointing.

There are many groups in society that support the bill. We have Leadnow, Samara, major labour unions, and all kinds of folks. I am sorely disappointed with what I am hearing from the other side of the House. I hope the backbench will rise up and help this cabinet do the right thing.

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members' Business

May 10th, 2016 / 6:35 p.m.
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NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby South, BC

moved that Bill C-237, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (gender equity), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to stand today to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-237, the candidate gender equity act. In this speech I will outline why I think the bill is necessary, how the bill proposes to address identified problems, responses to possible criticisms, who supports the bill, and how I hope the bill will move forward.

At the outset, I would like to say that at the very least I hope we can send the bill to committee as it is an important first step to making our Parliament more gender equal. As I have explained to colleagues, I am open to making changes to improve the bill, with the overall objective of having it made law, and increasing the percentage of women elected to Parliament in the next and subsequent elections.

Despite the very partisan nature of this place, I think we can all say that we felt pride when the Prime Minister announced that his first cabinet would be the first-ever gender-balanced cabinet. It sent a signal to Canadians and to the world that we take gender equity seriously.

I am also happy to hear that the Prime Minister also considers himself a feminist, as do I. In my humble opinion, if we continue down this path, I think it is possible that this Parliament may be considered the gender-equity Parliament by future historians. However, there is a way to go before we would deserve such a label, and a lot has to do with who sits in this place.

Despite electing a record number 88 women MPs in the 2015 election, women currently hold only 26% of the seats in this place, meaning that almost three out of every four MPs is male. As a result, Canada ranks 61st out of 191 countries when it comes to the proportion of women elected to Parliament. That is not a proud record. It positions us behind countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and El Salvador, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

What is worse is that we are dropping like a stone in those international league tables. In 1991, we were ranked 21st in the world in terms of the proportion of seats held by women, but have since been passed by 40 countries who now elect more women to the legislature than we do. Although Canadian women were granted the right to vote almost 100 years ago, it might take us until 2075, which is another 60 years, for women to hold half the seats in our Parliament if we continue at this current rate. Throughout history, only 6% of the seats in the House of Commons have ever been held by women. This needs to change. This is more than mere statistics. These numbers mean something.

If our system was fair, the House of Commons would mirror our society. If the system by which we select and elect MPs was just, the House of Commons would not be forever filled mostly with people that look like you and me, Mr. Speaker, but would better reflect the rich diversity of our country, and half of the seats in this place would be held by women. It is wrong that a certain group, such as straight, old, white males, should dominate our legislature. It is wrong from a justice perspective and from a policy perspective.

The politics of presence matters, and the decisions made in this place directly reflect the perspectives of those who propose and vote on these decisions. With so few women in this place to have their ideas and voices heard, the decisions made here will not accurately reflect the views of Canadian women. This is wrong.

There are two steps to becoming an MP in any modern democracy. The first step requires aspiring candidates to be selected as an official candidate by a political party. The second step requires the official candidate to win enough votes to secure a seat during an election. More and more academic research shows voters are not biased against women candidates. When women run, they are just as likely to be elected as men.

The reason so few women are elected to Parliament is that parties nominate so few women to stand as candidates. More than enough women put their names forward to stand as candidates. Therefore, there is not a lack of supply of women to run in half of the 338 ridings in Canada. This makes sense. After all, we have 18 million women in Canada. Parties need only 169 women candidates to present a balanced slate. I do not think anyone can argue that parties would be unable to find 169 qualified, deserving women candidates.

The reason so few women are selected as candidates is bias within the nomination processes used by political parties. In many cases, party officials and selectors are biased toward selecting men over women, because they think men candidates have a better chance of winning elections. It has nothing to do with merit. The merit argument has been thoroughly discredited in the academic literature. Not only do more than enough women come forward to run for office, they are usually more credentialed than their male competitors. The idea of merit is now seen as a mere cover to disguise patriarchal values, that is, systematic preference for men over women.

However, we do know that men do not have a better chance of winning elections than women, but this perception of winnability stacks the process against women. My own published research, written in partnership with my wife, Dr. Jeanette Ashe, who was chair of the Department of Political Science at Douglas College, shows that in some Canadian candidate nominations, men are five times more likely to win candidate selection contests than women when all other factors are held equal.

While Canada currently has no legislation on the books to promote gender equity in our democratic process, legislatures in over 100 countries have discovered similar biases and have passed laws to ensure more women are elected to office. We need to do the same here by enacting Bill C-237, the candidate gender equity act.

Where other countries have passed intrusive laws or constitutional amendments which, for example, forbid political parties from participating in elections if they fail to put forward a certain proportion of women candidates, Bill C-237 proposes a mild incentive scheme to nudge political parties in moving toward gender parity in their nominations.

The bill incentivizes political parties to run more women candidates by linking it to existing public subsidies for parties.

Many may not be aware that after every election, political parties are partially reimbursed for their election expenses. Taxpayers reimburse political parties for up to 80% of funds spent on research, advertising and other election activities. Bill C-237 proposes that in order to incentivize parties, some of this money should be withheld if a party fails to put forward a gender-balanced candidate list.

The incentive formula is simple and based on subtracting the percentage of women candidates from the percentage of men candidates to give us the extent to which a party's list of candidates is gender balanced. Here is an example. Under this new law, if party A puts forward 45% women candidates and 55% men candidates, the party loses none of its public subsidies. However, if party B puts forward 25% women candidates and 75% men candidates, then the public subsidy is reduced by 10%.

As these numbers show, this reduction nudges parties toward running more women candidates and toward parity. The good news is that we know these measures work. Similar incentivizing laws have been put in place in France, Ireland and Portugal with great effect. It is important to point out that France has a single member system, Ireland has a single transferrable vote system, Portugal has a list proportional representative system, proving this law can work under any type of electoral system.

In terms of how well it works, in the last Irish election, a similar law saw a 90% increase in the number of women candidates and a 40% increase in the number of women elected to the Irish parliament. This works.

It is important that I did my homework before proposing the bill. It is based on my own academic work as well as that of others, and I was assisted by a panel of experts when I did the draft.

I first began writing about political gender equity while doing my Ph.D. at the London School of Economics and continued to publish on this topic in my position as associate professor at Simon Fraser University's School of Public Policy.

I have also been helped by a panel of experts, including professors Rosie Campbell from Birkbeck College; Sarah Childs and Liz Evans from Bristol University; Fiona Buckley from University College Cork; and, Meryl Kenny from the University of Edinburgh. I thank these experts for their assistance in drafting this bill and helping me ensure it in no way interferes with internal workings of parties. That is really important to know that this law in no way interferes with how political parties nominate their candidates.

Under this new law, parties still entirely choose their own nomination rules and processes, and decide for themselves how they will meet these incentive measures.

However, although I have done significant research in consultation, I am not presumptive enough to assume it is a perfect law. That is why I ask my colleagues to support it in getting it through committee so we can work together to make it even better.

I have managed to secure considerable endorsements and support for my bill from organizations and individuals. Supportive organizations include Samara, Leadnow, YWCA Toronto, FairVote Canada, ACTRA, Groupes Femmes Politique et Démocratie, the Canadian Council of Muslim Women. I would also like to thank Jerry Dias from Unifor for expressing his support for the bill.

Donna Dasko, co-chair for the Campaign for an Equal Senate and past national chair of Equal Voice also supports this bill. Ms. Dasko states, “The Prime Minister had appointed women to half his cabinet positions. Now we need to achieve gender equality and greater diversity in the House of Commons and Senate of Canada. This bill will help us move forward toward this goal”.

I have also heard considerable support for the bill from Canadian academics, including Jeanette Ashe, Sylvia Bashevkin, Karen Bird, Amanda Bittner, Marjorie Griffin Cohen, Avigail Eisenberg, Lynda Erickson, Penny Gurstein, Fiona MacDonald, Sharon McGowan, Susan Prentice, and Melanee Thomas.

In support of this bill, Marjorie Griffin Cohen, professor at Simon Fraser University states, “Bill C-237 is an important initiative to spur political parties to act on behalf of greater gender parity in the House of Commons. Canada has a poor record on gender representation, something that only has improved in other countries when measures to ensure equality were put into practice”.

I would like to repeat that we are 61st out of 191 countries in terms of women's representation in our House.

Finally, I would like to thank my parliamentary colleagues for their support, especially my Liberal, Green, and NDP colleagues who have jointly seconded this bill, as well as Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth and Liberal Senator Mobina Jaffer for their public endorsements. It is a truly cross-partisan effort.

Next, I would like to consider and respond to a few potential criticisms of the bill. First, some colleagues have asked whether or not this bill is charter compliant. I want to assure all members that I secured a legal opinion from the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel and that Bill C-237 meets the requirements of our Constitution.

According to the Law Clerk's office, “Bill C-237, if found to infringe subsection 15(1), which in our opinion it does not, could be considered an affirmative action measure and thus saved by subsection 15(2), since it strives to promote consideration of a disadvantaged group—women—in politics and public life. In this sense, the legislation could be seen to have an ameliorative purpose and fall within the ambit of subsection 15(2). It is our opinion that Bill C-237 does not infringe the indicated sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms”.

One specific argument I have heard recently is that the bill would put smaller parties at a comparative disadvantage. More specifically, if a party ran just one candidate in one riding, the difference between male and female candidates would be 100%.

While this example may sound convincing, section 444(1)(c) of the Canada Elections Act currently requires registered parties to receive at least “2% of the number of valid votes cast at the election” in order to be eligible for a reimbursement. It would be impossible for a one-candidate party to receive 2% of the votes nationally.

A second criticism concerns whether Bill C-237 is inclusive of transgendered candidates and those who do not subscribe to dominant male-female gender binary categorizations.

First, currently candidates running for nominations are legally required to state their occupation but not their gender. Bill C-237 aims to rectify this historical oversight by requiring Elections Canada to include gender on its nomination forms, allowing the possibility for transgender or non-binary candidates to have the option to self-identify when they decide to run for office.

Equally as important, the bill would ensure that parties have an incentive to recruit candidates from these groups, using the 45% male, 45% female, 10% unspecified formula.

In conclusion, I hope this short speech goes some way to persuading members that this bill is worthwhile supporting. To recap, the candidate gender equity act, one, works in other countries like Ireland, France, and Portugal; two, is charter compliant; three, does not interfere with the internal party democracy; four, works under any type of electoral system; five, provides incentives for parties to select more transgendered and non-binary candidates; and six, was designed by experts.

Again, although I have done what I can to ensure I put forward the best possible bill, I am not so arrogant to assume it still could not be improved. I ask the Prime Minister, his gender-balanced cabinet, and my colleagues to support it getting to committee so we can work together to make it better together.

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members' Business

May 10th, 2016 / 6:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, it goes without saying that this particular government is committed to the ideals of gender-balanced representation, not just within cabinet but within the House.

We are striving to do that. There are lots of opportunities, especially as we move toward the democratic reform that the government is committed to undertaking.

The question I have for the member on his bill is this. If we look around this place, we see we are under-represented not just by gender but by different minority groups. I am curious why the member limited his bill just to try to reflect a better gender balance. Why not extend that to include the different ethnic communities we have and the fact that this room most likely does not represent the vast diversity, at least in a relative scale, throughout the country?

Why limit the bill to just looking at gender and not at other minority groups?

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members' Business

May 10th, 2016 / 6:50 p.m.
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NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby South, BC

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the government's future efforts to bring more equity to the House of Commons for all groups in society. We only have 26% women after working for decades and decades, and the same can be said for different groups in the House.

Since this is a private member's bill and not a government bill, I am limited in the scope that I can present in this bill. I thought that gender equity was the most important issue to tackle at this time. I welcome the government's future efforts to extend equity measures in the House and would be happy to vote for them.

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members' Business

May 10th, 2016 / 6:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer—Mountain View, AB

Mr. Speaker, it has been interesting to listen to the commentary. As we know, as far as leadership is concerned here, there are two female leaders of political parties and two male leaders of political parties. It was not that long ago, though, if we think about it, that about 90% of all Canadians had female premiers. If we look at that, we would find that the best people do find their way to the top. Encouraging women to make sure they compete for nominations is certainly the best way, but I think we have found in many ways that the best people, when they are women, are the ones who are going to be in Parliament.

I wonder if perhaps the member could comment on that particular situation in the provinces.

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members' Business

May 10th, 2016 / 6:50 p.m.
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NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby South, BC

Mr. Speaker, what we are doing is not working here. All parties failed to promote gender-balanced candidate lists. Only 26% of the folks in this place are women, and that is the highest level we have ever had.

We are ranked 61st in the world when it comes to gender equity. Places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kazakhstan have all passed us on the list because they have undertaken similar measures.

The bill that I have put forward is a small nudge for political parties. It is not at all controlling for internal party processes. I would urge my colleague and everyone in the House to look at this and show that the face we are showing the world needs to change in the House.

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members' Business

May 10th, 2016 / 6:50 p.m.
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NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby South, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question and all of her hard work on this exact issue.

When I heard the Prime Minister say that this would be the last election with first past the post, of course, I took this into consideration and made sure I designed this bill so it would work with any type of electoral system. I mentioned in my speech that it is used in countries like Portugal, France, and Ireland, which use a variety of different systems, such as STV, proportional representation, and even single member. It would even work with an AV system, as proposed by the Liberals.

This exactly matches our plan for electoral reform in the House, and in fact, it would be a great first step to say our new electoral system is designed so that we have a House of Commons that is gender balanced.

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members' Business

May 10th, 2016 / 6:55 p.m.
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Ajax Ontario

Liberal

Mark Holland LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise today to speak to an issue that is incredibly important. I really want to thank the member for Burnaby South for his work with his private member's bill and generally for raising the issue of gender parity, which is so important.

When we think how far we have come since Agnes Macphail was first elected to this place and the progress we made, when we think this is the first gender-balanced cabinet in Canada's history, and when we see the largest number of women ever elected to the House of Commons, that is indeed phenomenal progress. However, the member is absolutely right that it is not enough.

I often get the opportunity, as most members do, to go into schools and talk with students. I ask them to reflect on the name of the place in which we serve, the House of Commons. It is the house of the common people. It is so important that this place reflect and look like the people we represent.

Historically, we have done a poor job, as the member for Kingston and the Islands mentioned, not just in representation of women in this place, but also other demographics and so, thinking about the processes we can engage in to ensure that this is a place that is truly reflective of the Canadian population is essential.

There are a number of processes we are engaged in right now to do precisely that: look at some of the underlying reasons why it is, as an example, women are not participating to the degree that we would like them to participate. What are the impediments? What are the things we can change to make this place more friendly to the Canadian populace as a whole?

We are also certainly engaging in a process that I am very excited to be part of to change our electoral system in looking at the way we vote and how that process engages and enfranchises Canadians. I think that process will no doubt inform this question of gender parity and equality.

Notwithstanding all of that and notwithstanding a deep appreciation for the efforts of the member for Burnaby South, I have a number of concerns with the bill.

I will start with the issue of small parties. In the last election, there were six parties which only ran one candidate. By definition, each of those parties would be in a state of gender imbalance because they only had one person that ran for them. We may say to just have another person run, but the reality for a political party that is small is that it can be a monumental feat to get somebody else to run.

We know in the decision that was passed in Figueroa the importance that courts, and I think Canadians generally, place on the participation of smaller parties. They have a very important role in our democratic process. While I appreciate the member might be willing to do that at committee, it is certainly one big problem that I have today which I think is important to point out.

I also want to think about freedom of expression, generally.

Let us conceive for a moment a situation where a party decided that it wanted all female candidates, as an example. That party would actually be penalized under this mechanism by not being able to run all female candidates.

In general, parties should have the ability to organize their affairs as they see fit. There are many parties, including in this House, which have positions that I disagree with or that conduct a nomination process in a way that I would not concur with, but that is their democratic prerogative. We have to ask what the implications of the bill and these penalties would put on that process.

We also have to think about, as was raised earlier in the debate, the potentiality of where this might lead. If we put in penalties for parties that do not meet certain quotas or certain targets, would we do that across the spectrum to ensure there is equality in representation of all of the different faces that populate Canada? If we do that, what is the implication?

There is an issue of constitutionality, I think, that very much remains. We could imagine a scenario where a local riding association is having a nomination meeting and where there is enormous pressure to hit a target and the question on the minds of the people voting in that nomination meeting could be torn between, on the one hand, voting for the person most qualified and, on the other hand, having to meet a quota so that their party is not punished. Could there be a situation where maybe the best person is not chosen as a result? That certainly is a serious concern.

As an extension of that and nominations generally, we want to ensure that the process is set up so all people are encouraged to run, that we not only look at the barriers that stop them from running, but also that we do not build into the system ways that shut down our nomination process or shut out certain individuals because of the structures we put in place.

On that basis, notwithstanding this bill succeeding or not succeeding, we have a lot of work to do. We need to look at the barriers stopping women or other individuals who want to come forward, who are under-represented in this Parliament, and work to fix those barriers. They need to work with us in the upcoming process to reform our democratic institutions and our voting. At the end of it, we want to ensure we have a House of Commons that is truly reflective of its name.

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members' Business

May 10th, 2016 / 7 p.m.
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Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to stand here today to debate Bill C-237, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (gender equity).

In Elgin—Middlesex—London we have it right. Although I am the first woman to be elected federally in the riding, I am definitely not the first candidate to run for this position. My cousin Luella Watson was the PC candidate in 1997 and the trend for female candidates continues at all levels of government.

To start let me share with the House my run for the candidacy to represent the Conservative Party in the 2015 general election. In December 2014, I was part of a highly contested nomination that included four women and two men. Ms. Catharine Sloan, Ms. Suzanna Dieleman, and Mrs. Kathy Cook were the three other women who put their names forward along with two male candidates, Mr. Dean Kitts and Mr. Bill Denning. This was democracy at its best. All of the women and men who ran in this race were either successful business people or executive level staff for the municipalities or the banking industry. The membership had a choice.

Then moving on to the federal election, I was part of a five-person race that included Liberal candidate Lori Baldwin-Sands and Green Party bro as she called herself, Bronagh Morgan, as well as male candidates Fred Sinclair for the NDP and Michael Hopkins for the Christian reform party. In this situation 60% of the candidates in the federal election were female.

In the surrounding ridings both London North Centre and London—Fanshawe had female candidates representing the Conservative Party and following the general election, three out of the four members of Parliament are female, albeit from three different parties.

My point truly is that this is about democracy. When taking this discussion back to the members of my board, I received great feedback from many individuals. I feel that the bill is not only undemocratic but actually belittles my own victory of becoming the candidate for my party and then the member of Parliament. I do not see myself as a second-class candidate but the bill would potentially make me feel this way and this should not be just about gender. Does my merit and hard work not count?

A survey completed in 2014 over a six-year span by Abacus Data observed the following. Among the 1,850 Canadian respondents in the online poll, 28% of men said they were more inclined to run for office as compared with 15% of women. As one of my board members said, it is upon us to provide opportunity rather than to mandate opportunity. Another member of my board, stated that they want the most qualified person in office, not some token woman there to fill a quota. Another stated that it isn't a quota; it is the best person for the position.

Now here is a breakdown of my own EDA. The president is male. The vice-president is female. The fundraising chair is female. The secretary is female and the CFO is male. The board has a very equal number of men and women and that allows us to have incredible discussions. Let me be straight, with women like Betty Crockett, a true pioneer of the banking industry as one of the first female bank managers, on my board women are listened to. Their experience and expertise is heard. Their ideas are part of a constant discussion.

Now when I look at the provincial level in my riding similar things occurred when comparing them with my federal nomination. Two of the five candidates were women: the mayor of the Municipality of Bayham, Lynn Acre, and the deputy mayor of Thames Centre, Delia Reiche. Both candidates were excellent options but conceded to our current MPP Jeff Yurek, an exceptional legislator at Queen's Park. Would I want to replace Mr. Yurek because he was male? Absolutely not.

I will tell the House on an aside that he is going to be laughing right now because every day I tell him, let us get rid of him. He is an excellent member of the legislature representing the people of Elgin—Middlesex—London, and as the health critic for Ontario. He is an incredibly reliable representative and an excellent counterpart to my role as the federal member. This is about democracy.

It gives people the right to run for nomination, the right to run as a candidate in the federal election, and the right to serve as a member of Parliament if elected. Here in the House, I am proud to stand with our interim leader, the member for Sturgeon River—Parkland. She was elected from a slate where one-half of the candidates were female. Members of our caucus elected her because they believed she would be the best leader.

As we start moving toward a leadership race many names are circulating, including many excellent female candidates. At the end of this, regardless of the gender of the leader, we need the best leader to lead our party. This is not about men versus women. It is about leadership for our communities, our ridings, and our country.

Let us look at some of the women who currently sit in the House of Commons representing their ridings. I believe that the member for London—Fanshawe was not elected because she was a woman, but because the people in her riding believe in her. The same goes for my colleagues in London West, Sarnia—Lambton, Haldimand—Norfolk, Simcoe—Grey, Milton, Essex, Repentigny, Saanich—Gulf Islands, and South Surrey—White Rock. These are representatives from all parties, currently sitting and elected to the House.

I believe that if we asked each and every one of them, they would say that they were elected, not because of their gender, but because they were the best for the job and their constituents believed in them. We are talking about people making some people eligible for a job; therefore, making some people ineligible for a job.

As with my own nomination race, and I believe that of many others, it was about growing support in one's riding, selling memberships to make people eligible to vote, and getting the vote out. Why should this be any different for men than it is for women? Why should we make men ineligible to run in to order to meet our quota?

All of this being said, I do know that statistics indicate that we need a minimum of 30% sitting at a board table to make a real difference. In a country where our population is 52% women and 48% men, would the simple math not put women in the majority for making the decisions of Canadians when voting? This is truly just a general idea, but that would go for party politics and federal elections.

Going back to my own nomination for the party, I believe that the two male candidates had female campaign managers, and the three female candidates had female campaign managers as well. Now there was a total imbalance if we are looking at it to be gender-based. Even the nomination committee had a majority of females on the board, three out four members, and not once because of their gender, but because of the talent and expertise and what they had to offer to the nomination process.

I fully believe in gender equality, but this is undemocratic. We need the best people for the job, female or male.

As everyone knows in the House, this job is the furthest thing from normal. Some days we start breakfast with stakeholders, followed by committee meetings, and one-on-one meetings in our office. We do question period and debates, and continue with our day, many times late into the evening. Last week, for instance, we were here until 12 a.m. on two nights. On weekends, we attend community events, meet with constituents, and hopefully get to sleep in our own beds.

For me personally, I know that I would not be able to do this job if it were not for an extremely supportive family. My job has changed my own family's life. The other day, my husband Mike's boss asked him how he was managing with his new life. While I am here serving my constituents and country, my husband is home, working full time, grocery shopping, organizing and helping with the children's needs, keeping in contact with both my parents and his own, and attending events in my absence.

Every day that I am here, I miss my children, but with current technology, I get to speak with them and watch what they are doing at the time. It is not an easy decision to go into politics. All of us make sacrifices, and that is probably why the results from the poll only had 28% of men and 15% of women who would enter politics.

At the end of the day, our job is to encourage people to run for public office, not to mandate it.