Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you to the members for inviting Elections Canada here to speak with you today.
Thank you for having invited Elections Canada to participate in the committee's study on barriers facing women in politics.
Elections Canada is an independent, non-partisan agency that reports directly to Parliament. Its mandate is to be prepared to conduct federal elections, by-elections, and referendums, as well as conducting public information campaigns on voting and becoming a candidate and administering the political financing provisions of the Canada Elections Act.
Elections Canada's raison d'être is to ensure that Canadians can exercise their democratic right to vote and be a candidate as guaranteed in section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Data shows that women vote at higher rates than do men, and our estimates indicate that in the last general election, 68% of women voted, versus 64% of men. A similar pattern occurred in 2011 and 2008 general elections, and this was the case across all age groups up to the age of 65, at which point men tended to vote at higher rates than women did. This trend was also observed in all provinces and territories, with the exception of P.E.I. and Yukon. As you can see, the under-representation of women is not at the voting booth but in the House of Commons.
In the last general election, less than a third, or 30%, of candidates were women, and 26% were elected as members of the House of Commons. However, we see a small upward trend in the proportion of female candidates, from 28% in both 2008 and 2011 to 30% in 2015. The proportion of women who were elected as MPs has also grown, from 22% in 2008 to 25% in 2011 and 26% in 2015. The proportion of female MPs in the House of Commons actually now stands at 27% following 13 by-elections since the last general elections. We just finished one last night, as a matter of fact.
This committee is well aware that the barriers to women's participation in politics are numerous and complex.
I personally had the opportunity to speak at a campaign school for women organized by the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women this past May. Over the course of that event, I had the opportunity to hear from a broad cross-section of women across society who have faced barriers similar to those we've seen in the research. These include the cost of the nomination process, a lack of political will, lower levels of self-confidence in the political field, the burden of caring for family members, and social barriers such as economic disparity, gendered stereotypes, discrimination, and harassment.
My presentation will be about barriers related to two aspects of Elections Canada's mandate: the administration of the political funding system under the Canada Elections Act, and the communication of information to the public about how to become a candidate.
The Canada Elections Act contains provisions that serve to level the financial playing field by imposing spending limits for nomination contestants, candidates, and parties. Spending limits create equal opportunity for all participants by limiting the amount of funding that is required to compete in a nomination contest or election. The act also regulates personal expenses incurred as the result of their candidacy. These include child care expenses and expenses relating to the provision of care for a person with a physical or mental incapacity.
Because these expenses are regulated, they must be paid for from funds that the candidate raises. If they are not reimbursed by the campaign, a candidate who pays for their own personal expenses is making what is known as a contribution. Candidates can contribute up to $5,000 to their own campaign. This limit and the requirement that personal expenses must be paid using campaign funds may place candidates with care-related expenses at an unfair disadvantage.
Recognizing that this can lead to unintended and undesirable consequences, the former Chief Electoral Officer recommended that Parliament remove the restriction that contribution limits on personal expenses have. Bill C-76 includes a provision that would permit candidates to use campaign funds or their own funds to pay these types of expenses.
The use of the candidates' own funds will no longer be subject to the candidates' contribution limit. As well, candidates who receive 10% of the vote would also be eligible for a 90% reimbursement of their care expenses, compared to the current 60%.
This small measure would assist women and all candidates who have child care and other care-related expenses and would put them on a more equal playing field or more equal footing as compared to other candidates.
Elections Canada has put significant effort into understanding barriers to voter participation, providing clear information products and improving our services to help people exercise their right to vote. We also offer a variety of information and training resources around the rules governing candidacy.
Our website includes general information on how to become a candidate, guidelines for candidates' representatives, training videos, and handbooks for contestants and candidates. We also offer annual in-person training sessions and online training for agents and others who support nomination contestants and candidates.
During elections, the returning officers in each riding hold an all-candidates meeting to provide the support and guidance candidates need. Our efforts are complemented with year-round support through the political financing support network.
I would now like to come back for a moment to the work we do on removing barriers to voting.
Each year we conduct sessions with various organizations representing target groups that, based on evidence, are more likely to face barriers. We also offer teaching resources and training for educators working with youth under the ages of 18 in schools across Canada. We will be launching a new suite of curriculum-linked educator resources this fall designed to build the interest, skills, and knowledge required to be active citizens.
In response to a rise in demand from civil society groups, we are considering producing information products and a discussion module that can be used at our Inspire Democracy stakeholder events across the country. Depending on the response, we could eventually integrate this type of programming into our educator resources for pre-voters as well.
In conclusion, the barriers that face women entering politics are neither simple nor straightforward. Addressing them will likely require a mix of solutions and undoubtedly require the involvement of various segments of society.
As the administrator of the Canada Elections Act, Elections Canada can play a small role in this important issue. I would appreciate hearing from members of the committee of any additional ideas you may have for us in terms of how we can contribute, and I would be pleased to assist the committee as you study this issue.
I will be pleased to answer committee members' questions or comments.
I would be happy to take any questions or comments that may have.
Thank you very much.