Candidate Gender Equity Act

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

This bill was last introduced in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2019.


Kennedy Stewart  NDP

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


Defeated, as of Oct. 19, 2016
(This bill did not become law.)


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.


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.


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

June 19th, 2018 / 5:10 p.m.
See context


Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby South, BC

Thanks very much, everybody, for coming today. This is actually my last day in Parliament, but this is an issue I'm very concerned about. I've written about it as an academic for years, and I have put forward private members' bills to change this situation. Bill C-237 was a private member's bill to provide incentives to get more women into Parliament.

Again, it has been a great pleasure to be here on the committee.

I have a couple of things. First, I see this as an issue of fundamental justice in Parliament. If it's not 50% women, then it's an injustice that has to be corrected. I don't see it as.... Often this is framed as supply and demand; that's how it's looked at. I've heard both sides of the very good stories and very good evidence here. I tend to look at it as a demand-side problem of women being kept out rather than failing to access elected office, so I look for demand-side solutions.

Also, what helps sometimes is looking at the raw numbers. If we look at Prince Edward Island, it has 27 seats in the legislature. This means that you need only 13 women from the entire province in order to have 50%. There are already six women in the legislature—five? Okay, so we need seven more women from the entire province of P.E.I. in order to get parity.

To me it doesn't seem to be a supply-side problem. I think that if you went across the province, you would find seven women who could easily.... You'd find many more than that, so why is it that we can't ever get parity in any of our legislatures? For me, it's always a problem of demand. It's the same in New Brunswick, with 49 seats, right?

June 12th, 2018 / 4:20 p.m.
See context


Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON


You referenced Bill C-237, the candidate gender equity act, which did not get supported in Parliament. What elements of that bill would have supported the election of women? What pieces of that should we be looking at in terms of how in the next Parliament we want to bring back something that is workable? What from Bill C-237 would that be?

June 12th, 2018 / 4:20 p.m.
See context

Chair, Political Science, Douglas College, As an Individual

Jeanette Ashe

Yes, you could do it like that. There are different iterations of this. Quite a few countries do use financial incentivization now. The two most recent ones would be Ireland and France, Ireland most recently. It's had some success.

Bill C-237 was modelled after France's and Ireland's examples of incentivization. You could pull some threads from that, I suppose.

June 12th, 2018 / 3:50 p.m.
See context

Jeanette Ashe Chair, Political Science, Douglas College, As an Individual

Thank you for inviting me here today. My academic specialty is political recruitment, and I publish and advise parties on how to increase women's representation in legislatures. Today I'd like to make three key points about the barriers facing women in politics.

First, I'll talk about the problem. In terms of political representation, Canada is doing comparatively badly.

Second, I'll explain why Canada is doing badly. Party selection processes are the main cause of women's under-representation. There's a misconception that women's under-representation is caused by a lack of supply rather than a lack of demand. The opposite is true. Women do come forward in sufficient numbers, but party selectors and officials disproportionately select men.

Third, I'll tell you how we can improve. Because the problem is more due to demand, demand-side solutions will work best. The biggest difference that the Canadian Parliament can make is by legislating quotas for political parties, meaning that parties would be required to run 40% to 50% women candidates. If this isn't possible, Parliament should financially incentivize parties to run more women candidates. At the very least, Elections Canada must collect more information about nomination races and report this information to Parliament to increase the transparency of these processes and the accountability of political parties.

Point one is that comparatively, Canada is not performing well. Women hold 27% of the seats in the House of Commons. That puts us at 61st place out of 193 countries. As women are 50% of the population, fair selection processes would mean that they would win 50% of the seats. That's 169 seats, 78 seats more than the 91 they currently hold. Why does this happen?

Point two is that party selection processes are the problem. We need to better understand supply and demand. To get elected, women must first get selected as candidates. In 2015 women won 26% of the seats and were 30% of the candidates, a historic high. This means that 67% of the candidates were men. Looking at percentages can be misleading. It leads many to believe that women's under-representation is a problem of supply, but the raw figures tell a different story. Of the 1,792 candidates, 535 were women. We only need to elect 169 women to get sex parity, yet 535 women stood for office. That's a surplus of 366 women.

I want to repeat that: in the last election, we had a surplus of 366 women candidates. That means it's not a supply problem.

These data reflect only one stage of the selection process. Let's dig deeper and look at when people put their names forward to become candidates.

While Elections Canada doesn't collect all the data we need on nomination contests, we can use other academic work to estimate what happens during candidate selection processes. Although we know that some candidates are acclaimed, we also know that local party members vote in contests to select their candidates. Many of you in this room have been through it.

Let's imagine, because we don't have the full data, that two competitors vie for each of the 1,792 candidacies, for a total of 3,584 coming forward in the hopes of getting selected. That's the supply. To repeat, I estimate that about 3,500 people came forward to stand as candidates in the last election, but only 1,792 were selected. That's the selection process. That's what the filtering or winnowing process does. If 30% of those coming forward were women, the supply of women would be over 1,000. That's 1,075 women coming forward when we only need 169 for sex parity, so we have more than enough women coming forward. This should help undermine the idea that supply is the problem.

Of course, what this analysis is missing is the impact that parties play on selection process outcomes—that is, who gets selected as candidates. My own research shows that in some Canadian cases, men are six times more likely to be selected as candidates by party members than are women.

I want that to sink in: men are six times more likely than women to be selected as candidates, and that's when everything is held constant, so again, it's not supply; it's more demand. It really comes down to the will of the parties, regardless of the electoral system that we use. If party leaders want more women candidates, they'll make it happen.

Since the problem of women's under-representation is due more to demand, point three is that we need to consider more fully the demand-sized solutions. In an ideal world, Canada would bring in sex quotas for women, and this is already done in more than 100 countries. For example, some countries entrench reserved seats or legal candidate quotas in their constitutions, while others simply pass new laws.

As Canada is unlikely to change its constitution, changing electoral law would seem to be the most palatable way forward. For example, under Belgian law, parties that fail to run sex-balanced candidate lists are disqualified from participating in the elections. The mildest option is to financially incentivize parties to run more women candidates, as is the case in Ireland and France.

This mildest of measures was rejected by this Parliament in 2016 in the form of Bill C-237, the candidate gender equity act. I would strongly advise this committee to revisit the measures proposed in Bill C-237, but if doing that isn't possible, then at the very least empower Elections Canada to compel political parties to provide additional data on candidate selection contests on all those who come forward to stand for selection and on all those who win and on all those who lose so that the two pools can be compared.

More specifically, I recommend that subsection 476.1(1) of the Canada Elections Act be amended to make mandatory the provision of intersectional data on all aspiring contestants who participate in selection contests, including information on sex, gender identification, race, indigenousness, physical ability, sexual orientation, and so on.

Right now you're actually amending the Canada Elections Act through Bill C-76, the elections modernization act, and you can easily make these changes so we can better understand how women fare in selection processes.

Thank you.

May 28th, 2018 / 4:30 p.m.
See context


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

I do.

We've talked about better gender representation in the House. It's a woeful 25% or 26%. We had a bill that was proposed by Mr. Kennedy Stewart, whom you well know. Would you be open to including some measures to encourage parties to run closer to gender parity slates? Your leader, in fact, has chosen to protect incumbents. The assumption would then be that if your party is successful in the next election, we're not going to move much from 25% in the House of Commons.

You didn't move for proportional representation, which we know increases gender representation, so we're looking for some way to see the House of Commons actually look like Canada.

What openness do you have to including elements of Bill C-237 in this elections act?

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

May 22nd, 2018 / 5 p.m.
See context


Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise this afternoon to speak to Bill C-76, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act. Since elections are at the heart of our democracy, this is clearly an important bill for debate in this House.

The bill is a belated response to the Liberals' election promise to reverse some of the egregiously anti-democratic aspects of the Conservative government's so-called Fair Elections Act of 2014. I say “belated” because the acting Chief Electoral Officer gave the government a deadline of the end of April for any election reform legislation if changes were to be made in time to be implemented before the October 2019 election. That deadline was for passing legislation, not for introducing it, so we have clearly missed the boat there.

Speaking of delays, it has taken the government two years to name an official Chief Electoral Officer. Since it is such an important position, one would think the government would make that a high priority.

This bill is another in a series of very large bills that the current government has tabled. At 230 pages, it is very much an omnibus bill. It absorbs Bill C-33, which was tabled 18 months ago and never acted on. Even the minister who tabled it seems to be unclear as to what is in it. It is ironic that the Liberals complained about the Fair Elections Act from the previous Conservative government and its propensity for omnibus legislation, when here they are doing the same thing.

Now I would like to touch on some of the provisions included in Bill C-76.

It limits the writ period of an election to 50 days, thus eliminating the chance for another marathon election campaign of more than 70 days, such as that which we were subjected to in 2015. That is great news. I would like to thank the member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford for suggesting this to the government in the form of his private member's bill.

Canada is far behind other countries in gender equity, and it is past the time when we should be taking concrete steps to improve this situation. The bill allows candidates to report child care expenses, but it falls short of promises to allow more candidates from equity-seeking groups to take part in our elections. The member for Burnaby South put forward his private member’s bill, Bill C-237, which would have strongly encouraged parties to increase the proportion of female candidates in future elections. Unfortunately, the government voted that bill down and failed to include its provisions in this bill.

I have been to many schools to talk about government and the electoral process, as I am sure many members here have, and I have always been impressed by the keen interest of many young people in civics. The questions I get at school talks are often much more informed than those that I get at open town halls. Therefore, I am happy to see that two parts of this bill encourage young people to get informed and to get involved in the electoral process. First, Bill C-76 would allow the registration of future electors between the ages of 14 and 17. This simple act has been shown in other jurisdictions to increase the proportion of young people who vote after they turn 18. That would be a good thing, since young people do not generally vote at the same rate as older adults. Second, the bill removes the ban on public education programs conducted by the Chief Electoral Officer through Elections Canada. Why this ban was put in place in the so-called Fair Elections Act is beyond me. However, I welcome the opportunity for Elections Canada to inform and educate Canadians on our electoral process.

Bill C-76 also brings back the process of vouching to allow electors without proper ID to vote, as well as allowing the use of the voter ID card for the same purpose. These were disallowed under the Fair Elections Act in an effort to solve a non-existent problem of voter fraud—of which there are vanishingly few, if any, examples—by creating a much more serious problem that inhibited Canadians, particularly disadvantaged citizens, from voting at all. We should be encouraging all Canadians to vote, and this will be a step in the right direction at last.

Also included in the bill are provisions to allow more expatriate Canadians to vote, effectively doubling that number. I think this is a very welcome addition.

While the bill institutes some rules around third party activity during elections, it does allow spending of up to $1 million in the pre-writ period for third parties, which is hardly a restriction, considering that parties are allowed only $1.5 million. As well, there is no limit on how much individuals can donate to third parties involved in election campaigns. If we want to get big money out of our election campaigns, this is not the way to do it.

I want to talk a bit now about the big thing missing from this bill, the elephant in the room, or maybe it is the elephant that is not in the room. Of course I am talking about real electoral reform. The Liberals, the NDP, and the Green Party all campaigned on a promise that 2015 would be the last federal election run under the first-past-the-post system. Over 60% of Canadian voters supported this idea. For many Canadians, it was the most important promise made in that election campaign. Canadians were tired of elections that gave parties with less than 40% of the vote 100% of the power under majority governments. The Harper government was an example and the present Liberal government is another, so creating a new system was very popular.

Unfortunately, once the Liberals were in power, they forgot about that promise. They created a committee that travelled the country and worked very hard to hear from as many Canadians as possible. The committee heard from electoral experts from around the world on best practices from other countries. The committee tabled a report calling on the government to create a proportional representation system after consulting Canadians with a referendum. The Minister of Democratic Institutions asked all MPs to go back to their ridings and hold town halls to hear what their constituents had to say on the subject. We in the NDP caucus took that request seriously and did just that. We not only held town halls but also handed out questionnaires at the meetings to tally the preferences of the attendees. I sent similar questionnaires to every household in my riding.

We found that over 80% of respondents from across the country preferred a proportional representation system. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister did not like that answer. He did not like the committee's recommendations and announced that he was going to break his promise on electoral reform. The Minister of Democratic Institutions even insulted the committee by saying it did not do the hard work expected of it. The Liberals say they want to increase the participation of Canadians in the electoral process and that Bill C-76 is their answer to this, but the incredible cynicism of their lack of action on real electoral reform has already had a negative effect on how Canadians feel about their elected representatives and whether it is even worth voting in the next election.

I was talking on the phone with a constituent a while ago on a separate issue, and at the end of the conversation, she said how nice it was that the MP was calling her directly. She told of how she and her husband engaged their children in the election campaign of 2015. They listened as a family to the debates, they read the campaign platforms, and in the end the parents asked their children who they should vote for. She did not say who they decided to vote for, but she did say that electoral reform was the issue that the children felt was the most important to them. They wanted every vote to count and were devastated when the Prime Minister went back on his solemn election promise. She even worries that their children might never vote when they are old enough. That was exactly the opposite effect that she and her husband were hoping for when they got them involved in the discussion.

I will close by saying that I support many of the reforms contained in Bill C-76, but it falls short in so many other ways: in its size, in the short amount of time we have had to debate it, and above all in the complete lack of real reform. Let us get rid of big money in elections and get back on track to getting rid of first past the post so that every vote will count.

Concurrence in Vote 1—Privy Council OfficeMain Estimates, 2017-18Government Orders

June 14th, 2017 / 5:50 p.m.
See context


Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby South, BC

Madam Speaker, last year I put a private member's bill forward, Bill C-237, the candidate gender equity act. Through discussions of that bill and the subsequent democratic reform committee, that proposal was put forward but was voted down both times by the government. Canada now is about 65th place in the world in terms of the percentage of women in the House of Commons. I am wondering if the minister has any concrete plans to make changes to increase the number of women in the House.

Gender Equality Week ActPrivate Members' Business

May 16th, 2017 / 6:50 p.m.
See context


Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, achieving gender equality is non-negotiable. There is no doubt about it. That is one of the NDP's core principles, actually. It is always at the heart of our work on the ground and the legislative measures we put forward. Can the same be said of the government? Unfortunately not.

I have no doubt about the sponsor's intentions. I have been keeping tabs on his interventions in the status of women committee. However, if one truly believes in as fundamental a principle as gender equality, one must be consistent and non-partisan about it.

It is a shame that the sponsor of the bill before us voted against the NDP's Bill C-237, the candidate gender equity act, which was designed to increase the number of women in federal politics. It was actually an excellent and very well-documented bill.

How can anyone support gender equality and yet vote against a measure that would put more women in Parliament? I, for one, will be consistent and vote in favour of this bill. I do not think it goes far enough or actually does anything concrete, but I do think there is no such thing as paying too much attention to gender equality.

In addition, my NDP colleague from Nanaimo—Ladysmith will work tirelessly in committee to propose amendments in order to make this bill even more action-oriented, and I fully trust and support her.

When I first saw Bill C-309, an act to establish gender equality week, I thought that we would finally see some real progress and concrete measures for women and girls. Unfortunately, that is not the case. This bill proposes declaring the first week of October gender equality week, but nothing more.

There are no measures to tackle economic disparity, there is no money to fund shelters for women and children, no action plan to end violence against women, no funding restored to organizations that work with women and girls and that, quite frankly, do an excellent job with very little funding, there are no measures to increase the number of women in the House, and I could go on.

What does the bill propose? Its preamble has 21 points. Here is an excerpt: “Whereas there is a wage gap between men and women in Canada”. What does the bill propose to address that problem? Does it include any actions, plans, or measures? Well, no, it proposes to establish a gender equality week.

No one here is against apple pie, but how will a gender equality week truly change anything for women and girls? If legislative measures are proposed, then action must follow. Unfortunately, this bill proposes no such action.

As the House probably knows, the disparity between men and women is glaring. For every dollar earned by a man, a Canadian woman earns only 74¢. That is unacceptable, and measures must be taken to address this gap.

Last March, Oxfam published a report on the measures taken by the Liberal government on gender parity. This government received the worst score for its policies on the work of women and pay equity. The Oxfam report noted that while the Liberal Party campaigned on a promise to improve the economic situation of women, this government has put very few measures in place to that effect.

In other words, once again there are more words than action. I feel like I have been saying that all day. Women need tangible measures from this government. Women have been waiting for pay equity for 40 years. It is all well and good to promote it, but proposing concrete measures is better, and women need these measures now, not later. This government must immediately draft proactive legislation on pay equity in order to reduce the wage gap and achieve economic equality for women.

Because this is 2017, we should do things differently. Because this is 2017, women should have equal pay for work of equal value. It is time for this government to back its claims that equality counts and to take immediate action.

Another point highlighted in the preamble is the following:

Whereas poverty and inequality disproportionately affect Canadian women, particularly elderly, disabled, transgender and visible minority women, leaving them isolated and vulnerable;

That is so true.

With respect to my Bill C-245 to establish a poverty reduction strategy, I heard many stakeholders, several organizations, and many women's groups talk about this reality. These organizations are waiting for real measures and actions to continue helping women.

Women's groups in my riding do extraordinary work. I am thinking, for example, of the Centre Ressources-Femmes de la région d'Acton; the Centre de femmes L'Autonomie en soiE; La Clé sur la porte, a shelter for victims of domestic violence; the Centre d'aide pour victimes d'agression sexuelle or CAVAS; Les 8 Marskoutaines , which organizes activities on March 8 every year; the Cercles de fermières in various communities; Afeas, which does work to raise awareness; the Syndicat des agricultrices de la région de Saint-Hyacinthe; and the Coalition des femmes de la MRC Les Maskoutains. These groups expect more. They expect better. They expect this government to walk the talk.

In our ridings, 63% of low-income seniors who live alone are women. The median income for seniors in Quebec is $20,200 for those aged 65 to 74, and for those 75 or over it is less than $20,000. There are real people behind the statistics. They need action and measures.

When women live in poverty, so do their children. That is completely unacceptable. By not dealing with this problem, the government is abandoning thousands of women, girls, and children who are in desperate need. How is a week of celebration going to help them to get out of poverty?

I am already at the end of my speech. We must adopt concrete measures to make gender equality a reality. Feminism means more than just believing in a philosophy and lofty principles; it means taking actions that are consistent with those principles. Appointing a gender-balanced cabinet and doing nothing else for the next four years is not enough. Dedicating a week to gender equality is not enough. This bill has to be the first of a great number of steps.

Oxfam gave this government the worst grade. New Democrats know that action is key to true gender equality. Words are not enough. We can never stop fighting for gender equality and women's rights, and we never will.

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2016 / 6:45 p.m.
See context


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-237 under private members' business.

The House resumed from October 18 consideration of the motion that Bill C-237, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (gender equity), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Status of Women

October 19th, 2016 / 2:20 p.m.
See context


Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, in 2006, 64 women were elected to Canada's Parliament, and I was proud to be among them. At that time, women represented 21% of the members of the House. Now, 10 years later, women are still only 26% of the members, which is progress at a snail's pace.

Unless we make an effort, it will take another 60 years, to 2076, before women have equal representation in this place, a snail's pace indeed.

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Canada ranks 60th in the world when it comes to gender parity in Parliament. In all our history, women have never accounted for more than 29% of candidates in a federal election.

We can do better, and we have the opportunity to do that today. I urge every member of the House to support Bill C-237, the candidate gender equity act, put forward by the member for Burnaby South.

Let us do this for Canada, because, after all, it is 2016 and are we not all feminists?

Status of WomenAdjournment Proceedings

October 18th, 2016 / 6:50 p.m.
See context


Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby South, BC

Madam Speaker, I guess I get to continue my previous speech, because this adjournment proceeding is on the debate with the Parliamentary Secretary for the Status of Women.

This debate arose when the Minister of Democratic Institutions and the parliamentary secretary supposedly had some kind of legal judgment that said that my private member's bill was unconstitutional. I have here in my hand a memorandum from the House of Commons law clerk and parliamentary counsel that says that not only is my private member's bill, Bill C-237, the candidate gender equity act, constitutional, it actually would enhance the charter and help move us toward the goal of supporting gender equality.

Bill C-237 is an important move forward in the fight to bring gender parity to the House of Commons. With a mere 26% of MPs sitting in the House being women, we are far away from having gender parity. In fact, we are ranked 64th in the world when it comes to this certain characteristic of our House.

It is extremely disappointing. I asked the Parliamentary Secretary for the Status of Women the question in the House of Commons to get clarification on why they are opposing my bill. They do not have any ideas as to how we can increase the number of women in the House. They have just been trying to put up a smokescreen to stop my private member's bill. That is extremely disappointing.

We are in desperate need of some kind of legislative change here in the House. The bill I put forward is an incentive. It is not a quota. It uses existing funding that is provided to parties by Elections Canada. It uses that money as an incentive for parties to run more women candidates.

We know from the research that we need more women candidates to have more women MPs. That is just a simple conclusion.

The reason we do not have more women candidates is that parties simply block women from becoming candidates for political parties. I have been studying this for 20 years. I did my Ph.D. at the London School of Economics on this. We found in one study of Canadian legislators that when women are in head-to-head competitions in nomination contests, women are six times less likely than men to win, simply because of bias within the parties.

I just wanted to rise to say that the bill I put forward is constitutional. I have documentation, which I would be happy to table or to show to anyone who is interested in seeing it.

I would also like to hear, from the parliamentary secretary, why they said they had legal advice, when they actually did not have it.

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members’ Business

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


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 / 6:25 p.m.
See context


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 / 6:15 p.m.
See context


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!”