Candidate Gender Equity Act

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


Kennedy Stewart  NDP

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


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.


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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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 / 6:05 p.m.
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Dorval—Lachine—LaSalle Québec


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 / 5:55 p.m.
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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.

The House resumed from May 10 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.

Gender EquityPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

October 18th, 2016 / 10:05 a.m.
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Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby South, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition signed by many constituents.

The petitioners call on the government to support Bill C-237, the candidate gender equity act. The constituents point out that women still only hold 26% of the seats here in this place and Canada is ranked 64th in the world in terms of gender representation in our legislature.

My constituents would like the legislation passed and we will have a chance to do that tomorrow night when we vote on the bill.

October 7th, 2016 / 2:15 p.m.
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Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC


We have a bill in Parliament right now, Bill C-237 from a colleague of mine from the west coast that would do exactly what you suggested, incentivize parties to nominate more women. I'm assuming, after we've heard so much testimony from people like yourselves, that we're going to get near-unanimous support for this, at least one part of it, while we change the electoral system. Should the committee be considering doing these two things together—changing the way parties nominate and also changing the voting system—rather than saying we can only do one thing at a time? Should we consider both the mechanisms of the party nomination as well as the way that Canadians vote, and that their votes be counted for better voter equality across the country?

October 5th, 2016 / 2:25 p.m.
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Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Thank you very much, Chair.

Professor Bittner, I've really appreciated your testimony today. I appreciate the fact that you've come today to talk to us, especially on your work regarding women in politics. I'm a father of young daughters and I would love nothing more than to see them grow up and consider a life in politics, although having seen my experiences, they may be dissuaded from considering that.

When we were in Halifax yesterday, one of the first people who came to us was Professor James Bickerton, and he uttered a phrase that really stuck with me. It was the phrase “institutional changes to behaviour”, and I'm really glad you mentioned my colleague Kennedy Stewart's Bill C-237. I'm glad that it's actually making the news, because often private members' bills get lost in the mix. I appreciate that the bill would do some great things if passed, but the fact remains that under our current system, we are still depending on the good will of the Liberal government to get that bill passed, and that's a majority government based on 39% of the Canadian vote.

I was wondering if you could give me some of your thoughts on that phrase “institutional changes to behaviour”, in the context of our requiring the support of the Liberals' goodwill to get that kind of bill passed, because if we are going to make these changes, we hope they will agree with that bill, but at the same time, it's kind of like the chicken and the egg problem. Do we change the system that elected this government, or do we ask it for permission to get this change put forward?

September 21st, 2016 / 3:55 p.m.
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Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Thanks, everyone, for being here.

Professor Stephenson, are you aware of Bill C-237? It's been put forward by my colleague Kennedy Stewart. It's called the “Candidate Gender Equity Act”. What it would do is link existing public subsidies for political parties to gender equity measures.

When parties run and spend money, they get a subsidy. This bill would suggest that parties that seek parity would get full refunds, and for those who choose not to or are unable to, there's a degrading of that subsidy. That's essentially what the bill does.

Is that in line...? You've made some comments about incentivizing.

September 20th, 2016 / 7:40 p.m.
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Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

I fully understand those considerations. Thank you.

My colleague Nathan Cullen said that we need to find a voting system that helps have more women elected. My colleague Mr. Rayes asked questions about how that can be achieved. Every time we sit in the House of Commons—and I am sure that my colleagues have the same feeling—we, as women, are faced with the fact that we are only 26% of the members present.

That is why I was very happy that my colleague Kennedy Stewart is introducing Bill C-237. For your information, this is a bill on gender equity among candidates. Regardless of whether or not you are familiar with this bill, do you think it is a good idea to adopt measures to encourage political parties to address equity, as Bill C-237 is proposing?

September 20th, 2016 / 3:10 p.m.
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Darren Gibson Coordinator, Political Action Membership Mobilization, Unifor

Hi. My name is Darren Gibson. I'm the father of three girls, ages 4, 8, and 11. I live in Winnipeg in the riding of Elmwood—Transcona. I'm a union activist with a keen interest in political action and hold the elected position of Unifor political action chairperson. This work includes education, working on social and community issues, campaigns and solidarity, and participating in elections at all levels. In Unifor, we see all these components as part of our democratic engagement, and I wanted to share some thoughts with you today.

I'm here today because I believe electoral reform is the single most important issue to be addressed in Canadian democracy. If you, our elected representatives, fail to take this opportunity, it will be a long time before these conditions come around again.

I'm here to tell you that our membership is ready for change and expects me to lead that change.

Canada is one of the only western democracies still using first past the post. It's the same system we used in 1867 when we only had two political parties and a lot of people didn't have the right to vote.

One of the flaws with first past the post is that every vote does not count. In 2011, the Conservatives formed a majority government with 39% of the vote. Last fall, the Liberals were elected to a majority, but again the party only received 39%. No matter how you do the math, less than 40% does not equal a majority. Yet in our current voting system, that's exactly the result.

We need to adopt a fair system in which every vote counts, where there is equality in the vote, and ensure that every region has local representation. We want fewer reasons to vote strategically and more opportunity to vote for a hopeful progressive future. We want more reasons for young people and all those who have been alienated from politics to engage and participate.

A second flaw with first past the post is inequality in the electorate. Electoral reform is an equality issue. Under Canada's current voting system, every vote does not count. Every vote is not represented, and consequently, many people are choosing not to participate.

The largest demographics of those not participating in elections include young people, women, people of colour, and aboriginal people. The voices and needs of equity-seeking groups are vital to a strong democratic government. They are essential for true democracy.

There was a lot of talk about gender equality during the 2015 election. Now MPs have the opportunity to walk the walk by supporting Kennedy Stewart's private member's bill, Bill C-237, the candidate gender equity act. The bill is based on laws in other countries that have elected more women to office. It links political subsidies for political parties to gender equity measures and gives incentives to parties to run more women candidates, which will in turn move us towards gender parity in the House of Commons.

Our national convention in August of this year overwhelmingly endorsed electoral reform as a proportional system that allocates seats in our Parliament in a way that gives weight to every vote.

Unifor has deliberately avoided focusing on a detailed model to replace first past the post. However, we expect this all-party committee to reach a majority consensus and to recommend a proportional system that is understandable and explainable to our members and the community.

In our view, you have all the information on voting systems that is needed to fulfill our aspirations. We did not want to allow your partisan concerns to block a majority. We did not want a referendum or another process that would make proportional voting impossible at the next election.

In our view, the people of Canada spoke decisively at the federal election by electing a large majority of MPs who stated clearly that they were committed to electoral reform. Prime Minister Trudeau stated in the federal campaign that 2015 would be the last election under the current system. During the same campaign, when I was volunteering at numerous campaign offices in Winnipeg in the ridings of Elmwood—Transcona, Winnipeg Centre, and Kildonan—St. Paul and going door to door talking to voters, I understood that this promise must be upheld. The voters were discouraged. They weren't voting for their parties, who they felt would never win, or they simply weren't voting at all.

We're calling for a new electoral system in which we maintain a local representative, in which every vote counts, and in which our politicians are elected proportionally to the votes they receive.

Thank you for allowing me this honour of addressing the committee this afternoon.

Status of WomenAdjournment Proceedings

June 2nd, 2016 / 6:15 p.m.
See context


Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby South, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to stand tonight to speak to an issue that I asked the Minister of Democratic Institutions about a few weeks ago during question period. Specifically, I asked whether the government would support my private member's bill, the candidate gender equity act, when it comes up for a vote at second reading.

Before getting to my questions for the government, let me start by going over the details of Bill C-237 and the reasons why I put it forward.

While Canadians felt pride when the Prime Minister announced that his cabinet would be Canada's first gender-balanced cabinet, we really cannot lose sight of the fact that women still only hold 26% of the seats in the House of Commons, and this is the closest we have ever been to gender parity. This means that almost three out of every four MPs are male and Canada now ranks 61st in the world when it comes to the proportion of women in our national legislature, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. While we were ranked 21st in 1991, we have fallen behind countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, and El Salvador so it is a poor record.

This is more than mere statistics. These numbers mean something. The politics of presence is essential for any well-functioning democracy, and the decisions made in this place directly reflect the perspectives of those who propose and vote on decisions in the House. If our Parliament were equal and more diverse, our democracy would better represent Canadians and their aspirations.

That is why I put forward the candidate gender equity act. Academic research, some that I have actually published myself, shows that women face significant barriers and unfair biases in the processes used by political parties to select their candidates. It is not the voters that are the problem, it is the parties that are the problem. That is what Bill C-237 would do. It would incentivize parties to recruit more women candidates and move toward parity in their candidate lists. We would incentivize this by using the existing public subsidies that parties receive from taxpayers. A party's post-election rebate would be gradually reduced if it did not have at least 45% women candidates, and then of course the subsidy would be further reduced as the party moved further from parity.

I was disheartened that the minister said that the current government would oppose the bill, at least now. However, today, where the government has accepted our opposition day motion, our suggestions for how we might change the committee studying electoral reform, I am perhaps hopeful that maybe the minister will also change her position on the bill.

I would like to outline a few things.

First, the bill that I put forward was formulated by experts and drawn from laws from other countries. For example, Ireland passed a similar law in 2012 and under this law, the Irish increased the number of women candidates in the election by 90%, and believe it or not, increased the number of women in their legislature by 40% with just one year of this single law.

Second, this law could work under any voting system. We will be changing our electoral system here, from what I understand. This law would work under any voting system, so it would not constrain us in that sense.

Third, what is most important is that this would not be a quota. I have heard from this side of the House and the other side of the House that it is a quota. It is not a quota, and in fact, in no way would it interfere with the internal workings of the parties.

This is an important measure and I look forward to the response from the other side.

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members' Business

May 10th, 2016 / 7:30 p.m.
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Dianne Lynn Watts Conservative South Surrey—White Rock, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak on this private member's bill, Bill C-237, the candidate gender equity act.

Let me begin by clearly outlining what this bill would do. Clause 4 of this bill would change the Canada Elections Act to require political parties to run an equal number of male and female candidates. If the party failed to keep the difference between male and female candidates to fewer than 10%, then the party would be punished by being provided with a reduced subsidy following an election.

We want to encourage more women to seek office. I do not think there is any doubt about that. Of course we want to see women in positions of power who are engaged in business, politics, in the private sector, and in the public sector.

When I heard my colleague say that we now have women role models because the Prime Minister appointed a gender-equity cabinet, I would argue that there are many women, not only in this House, on both sides of this House, but within the private sector and the public sector who are excellent role models.

When I ran in the federal election, there were five candidates, four women and one man. As the first elected female mayor of the City of Surrey, along with a majority of women councillors, in fact, my political party had more female candidates than male candidates. We were all elected as a majority of women since 1996.

I have had the privilege over the years to work with many young women. In fact, I felt that it was incumbent on me as a woman to make sure that younger women and younger girls had the opportunity, and had every opportunity we could afford them; and incumbent on me to make sure that we were empowering them and encouraging them to pursue their dreams, and to help them reach their full potential.

In fact, I am sure that all of my female colleagues in this place, regardless of political affiliation, would agree that we all have a distinct privilege of being in positions where we can provide support, mentorship, and guidance to women, not only within our own country but around the world as well.

All of my female colleagues stand in this House today not because a political party was required to fill a female quota to get its expenses covered, but rather because they earned the respect and the trust of their constituents who believed that they were the best candidate to represent them in Ottawa.

I want to see more women stepping forward in politics, not because a political party wants to make sure its expenses are covered to the full amount, but instead because they believe they are the best people to represent their community. I want to see people from all walks of life, regardless of age, ethnicity, or gender, representing Canada in this House.

The Conservatives appointed the first Canadian female cabinet minister in 1957. Half the candidates who ran for the position of Conservative interim leader last year were female. At present, the Conservative Party is the only party with official status in the House of Commons that has a female leader.

All of these successful women got to where they are because they were the best for the job, not because there was a female quota to be filled. Furthermore, this bill would erode democracy by forcing political parties to have a hand in local nomination races. This would do nothing to encourage parties to run the best person to represent the people in the riding.

It is for this reason that I cannot, as a woman, support this bill. I support the efforts of women who want to make their lives better, whose lives we should help make better, but I cannot support a bill that would force me and my colleagues into a quota system. It is not democracy, and that is not progress.

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members' Business

May 10th, 2016 / 7:15 p.m.
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Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Burnaby South on bringing forward Bill C-237, the candidate gender equity act, and initiating a very important conversation about how to achieve gender parity in politics in Canada.

Having spent much of my professional career working with women around the world, I have studied best practices in how to increase women's representation in parliaments. Legislative solutions, such as those outlined in Bill C-237, including financial incentives or penalties to encourage political parties to nominate more women, are considered by UN Women, UNDP, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and other major international organizations to be commonly recognized methods to achieve greater gender parity. In fact, I facilitated an international round table in Oslo on financing rules for women in politics in 2009, and this was one of the key recommendations.

Many countries around the world are going much further than this bill in their legislative frameworks. Today, Canada ranks 61st in the world when it comes to women in Parliament. We rank behind countries like Sudan, Iraq, and Cuba.

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 speak in Parliament with men and women who are fighting for gender parity and equality. More women are serving in this Parliament than ever before. We have an unprecedented cabinet that reflects and represents all Canadians. The political parties took new measures to encourage more female candidates to run, and many of those who were elected worked tirelessly to establish new support networks and systems.

However, as a nation, we are not leading the way and we cannot trust that we will improve things voluntarily or that we will always have the right leadership.

Women have never held more than 26% of the seats in the House. We have not seen a dramatic increase in representation since 1993. It is true that we have seen progress, but we cannot just assume that progress will be inevitable. If we choose to settle for the incremental, then we risk losing everything we have accomplished.

Globally, in the period following the 1995 Beijing Declaration, there were significant increases in women's representation, largely as a result of the introduction of quotas and other temporary special measures in many countries. However, since 2010, many countries have reached a plateau between 25% and 30%, and in some regions they have even regressed. Canada is falling further and further behind as countries outside of Europe and North America begin to advance beyond the 30% mark.

Confronting inequality demands the deployment of unequal measures. As a demographic, women in Canada continue to become highly educated and still continue to make only 73¢ for every $1 that men make. Women in Canada have less access to money networks from which to fundraise for political campaigns, but studies have found that elected women in Canada outspend their male opponents by about 10%. This means that women in Canada need to work harder and spend more money than men to achieve the same results.

Financial incentives to political parties for nominating more women would only be rectifying an existing imbalance. This is the reason that in 2003, under the Chrétien government, the Liberal women's caucus was so active in ensuring that nomination contests were included in the spending limits and disclosure requirements in the 2003 electoral financing legislation.

I am proud of our government's historic and ongoing commitment in this area. It introduced legislation that had a real impact on women during the election. The importance of the 2003 election financing act cannot be overstated.

During the last election, 29.7% of candidates were women. These same women won 26% of the seats in Parliament. Studies conducted by Equal Voice showed that, when a woman's name appears on the ballot, she is elected almost 50% of the time. Canadians are not what is holding women back. The problem is getting women's names on the ballot in the first place. Elections are not where women face the greatest inequality.

Women have a disproportionately small number of opportunities and unique financial constraints. They lack access to informal political networks. Despite all proof to the contrary, they have to overcome the preconceived idea that they will not be elected. They tend not to volunteer and tend to be discouraged by what is still a very male-dominant political culture .

It is true that Bill C-237 does not propose a solution to all of these problems. It is not all encompassing. In fact, it is by necessity minimalist in its scope. However, it does initiate an important conversation, and it would be a true disservice for us to allow that conversation to end without being studied at committee.

As I travelled the globe, talking to women on five continents, managing a network with staff spread over eight countries, the barriers faced by women were the same, differing only in degree. Women, even in Canada, still carry a larger responsibility for caregiving than their male counterparts. That is why the procedure and House affairs committee is studying how to make Parliament more family friendly.

We have heard from several witnesses who have indicated that measures such as a more efficient work schedule, better child care facilities, and reducing heckling would lead to more women on the ballot. Women still face stereotypes and biases in the media that men do not face, and female leadership characteristics are not given the same weight as male leadership styles. Part of this is because of the lack of strong female role models in powerful positions, something that is finally starting to change now that the Prime Minister has appointed a gender-equal cabinet.

Recruitment and training are essential for women in politics, and several parties have implemented measures to ensure that women are being recruited, including mandating that women be included in the candidate search committee, or refusing to allow a local association to hold a candidate selection meeting unless there are women on the ballot. Many parties also have specific funds to raise money for women candidates.

The electoral system itself also presents a major obstacle to more women getting elected. The 10 lowest ranked countries in the world in terms of the number of women elected to public office are all countries that use a first-past-the-post system. That should be a major point to consider if and when consultations are held on changing Canada's electoral system.

Despite all the other reforms that can improve women's representation, the evidence continues to show that, regardless of the type of electoral system, there are limits to the effectiveness of voluntary measures by political parties. The most common argument against mandatory legislative solutions is autonomy of political parties. However, the overwhelming evidence goes against this.

Sweden is the only country I am aware of that has achieved parity by relying only on voluntary measures. In that case, the parties have willingly adopted a zipper system, where every second candidate must be a woman, something that is not possible under our current electoral system.

This bill is not about putting Canada ahead of everyone else. It is about helping Canada to catch up. Financial incentives are one of the least intrusive measures that can be used to achieve political equality. Under this approach, the political parties will still be free to select candidates and make appointments.

Equal representation is more than a matter of justice or optics. Equal political participation is a pre-condition for policy and principles that are truly democratic and inclusive. This is not a matter of symbolism. I have seen women the world over risking the security of their own person, their families, their bodies to take their place at the table and I have personally experienced what a difference it makes having women in the room. Different experiences, different perspectives, must have a voice at the table or they will not be represented.

I believe that Bill C-237 is a positive contribution to the ongoing dialogue that will lead to a future where women's voices will be equal to men's in this House and in the country.

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members' Business

May 10th, 2016 / 7:10 p.m.
See context


Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured in this moment to thank the people of Nanaimo—Ladysmith for supporting me, working hard for my election, and electing me. I have many allies throughout the riding, and it does make all the difference around who prevails. For us, with the nomination and election, it was almost a two-year campaign. I am thankful.

I am going to talk first about the imperative for the bill. In 97 ridings across the country in last fall's election, voters had no opportunity to cast their ballot for a woman from a major party. That is a significant gap. Even if people wanted to vote for women who had a chance of forming government, they did not have that opportunity.

Election after election, the uneven addition of women to ballots throughout our country means we are not electing enough women to Parliament. That is why we are getting these tiny incremental gains. This is supposed to be the parity Parliament. We have 26% of women elected, with 52% of the population being female, and we have only made a 1% improvement from 2011. Canada, embarrassingly, ranks 61st in the world. We have to get to almost page 3 of the international list before we can find our country's name. I want us to change that.

At this rate, Equal Voice, which is a terrific advocacy, non-governmental organization, calculates that it will be 89 years until we reach gender parity in Parliament. That is a change that is painfully slow.

That is why I think this is a problem. When Parliament does not reflect us, then sometimes it is possible for voters to disconnect from the parliamentary process. It might be that a parliament that does not reflect the country perhaps has priorities that are a little different from what people sitting around the kitchen table would like to see. That is perhaps why we do not have universal child care in our country. That is perhaps why we do not have affordable universal pharmacare. That is perhaps why we do not have a good palliative care program.

We know that women disproportionately end up looking after their families, both at the beginning and the end of life. If we could get them here in these seats, they might help us to adopt the policies that would take the pressure off everyone.

This is perhaps why first nations kids are so embarrassingly discriminated against at budget time. Even now, we have had the human rights tribunal say that Parliament over decades has had the wrong priorities.

In turn, these lack of policy supports may well be keeping women out of both community life and off the ballot, so there is an interesting circularity of this argument. When woman are squeezed by family obligations, they decide not to run, and then they do not get into these seats and they do not vote for front-line family support issues.

Parliament was conceived well before women had the right to vote, and it has been fairly static for over 100 years. Parliament has just not innovated, and the bill is an innovation. Therefore, I appreciate the people who are here for the discussion and are willing to bite into this to see how it could work.

Much has changed in the hundred years. We got the federal right to vote in 1918, the right to run for office in 1921, the Persons Case in 1929, admission of women into the army in 1980, and inclusion of women's equality in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. Also, just a few years ago, we got changing tables added in the parliamentary bathrooms. We innovate where we can. All of these changes reflect the evolution of our society.

There is a lot of attention being paid to the gender-based cabinet, and I applaud the Prime Minister for appointing men and women equally to his cabinet. It is not the first time that this has happened, though. In 2008, Quebec made that commitment. In 2015, Premier Notley, in Alberta, made the same commitment. That did not get more women on the ballot. It was a good move, but we want to at least have a chance to elect women. We want equal opportunity.

Canada still has no laws in place to promote gender equity in our democratic process. How can we make it change? I have a list of programs, such as Equal Voices' Daughters of the Vote, which is a fantastic way to get young people thinking early about what it would look like for them to be sitting in these seats. I applaud that work.

Second, we can support women in nomination and election processes, and I am very grateful for the people who got all of us here to the House.

Third, proportional representation would help. In countries around the world and in almost every western democracy people are elected using proportional representation. They all elect more women than we do.

Fourth, when I was at the United Nations this spring, I heard a fantastic presentation from Italy, a country that was so proud that because it had legislated gender equity on candidate slates, it went from 21% women in just one election to 31% women. That is 21% to 31% just by virtue of getting a balance on who was on the ballot.

My colleague's bill is not that kind of legislation, but it does tell us what our options are.

Turning to my colleague's bill, Bill C-237 would give parties incentives to nominate more women. It would not take away freedom. It would not tell anybody how to do it or even whether to do it. However, if they do choose to nominate an equal slate, then they would have a financial incentive to do that. The fine print is 45% female, 45% male. Members will notice that the math adds up so there is a 10% fluidity there, whether that is transgendered or gender-fluid, people who just do not identify, that gives them flexibility.

Again, this would be an incentive for people to put gender equity measures in place. They would determine how and whether to do it. This would also work in any voting system: first past the post, proportional representation, anything.

The idea of linking public subsidies to gender equity measures is not new. Canada had a royal commission in 1991 that recommended just this thing. This has since been implemented in quite a few western countries.

If we do get to this point that we are electing more women to Parliament, what might the impact be? We could enact policies that would appoint equal numbers of women to our crown corporations and agencies. We could establish a national action plan to end violence against women, something that embarrassingly the country has not done yet. Even Australia and places that we do not think of in this way have already made this connection. We can support more work on domestic violence. We can take action to close the pay gap between men and women. We can ensure safe and equal access to reproductive rights and reproductive health care. As well, we can address those policies that might be keeping women off the ballot or out of participating in public life: daycare, home care, palliative care, early childhood education support.

The United Nations Security Council did a study a few years ago on peace, security, and women. Part of the conclusion was that when women's groups were able to influence negotiations or push for a peace deal, an agreement was almost always reached. Agreements reached with the participation of women were 35% more likely to last for 15 years or longer. We want to have women involved internationally around the table, and advocating for peace and security as well.

I was so honoured to be part of the Canadian delegation at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. I am grateful to the Minister of Status of Women for including me in the delegation. We heard from every woman leader all over the world that we had an unprecedented opportunity in the world right now to bring gender equality. It is not just about Canada. As well, we heard again and again that women's rights and social justice were key to global sustainable solutions. If we empower women, if we end violence against women, and if we bring and educate young girls into the system, we would solve some of the difficult problems this planet faces, whether environment, food security, or anything. We need all hands on deck, full participation, all intellect, and all diversity and opinions to solve the problems that face us.

As Equal Voice says, women got the right to vote 100 years ago. It should not take another century for women to have an equal voice.

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members' Business

May 10th, 2016 / 7 p.m.
See context


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.

Candidate Gender Equity ActPrivate Members' Business

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


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 ActRoutine Proceedings

February 25th, 2016 / 10:15 a.m.
See context


Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby South, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-237, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (gender equity).

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to stand today and table the candidate gender equity act. This act seeks to amend the Canada Elections Act to create financial incentives for political parties to nominate more women, and to move toward gender parity in the list of candidates put forward in elections.

The Prime Minister voluntarily put in place this country's first gender-balanced cabinet. However, we need to make laws that reinforce the idea that men and women are intrinsically equal and that, because we are equal, the entire membership of this place should also be gender balanced. A record 88 women MPs were elected in the 2015 election, but women still hold only 26% of the seats in the House of Commons, which places us 53rd in the world when compared to other countries. This is unacceptable.

The bill I submit here today is based on successful measures found in other countries, such as France and Ireland. It has been drafted with the aid of a dozen international experts, including my wife, Dr. Jeanette Ashe.

We need real action to move toward gender parity in this place because, to paraphrase the Prime Minister, it is 2016.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)