Evidence of meeting #111 for Status of Women in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was candidates.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

William McBeath  As an Individual
Brenda O'Neill  Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Calgary, As an Individual
Bob Bratina  Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, Lib.
K. Kellie Leitch  Simcoe—Grey, CPC
Sonia Sidhu  Brampton South, Lib.
Madeleine Redfern  Mayor, City of Iqaluit
Arezoo Najibzadeh  Executive Director, Young Women's Leadership Network
Daniela Chivu  As an Individual

4:20 p.m.

Brampton South, Lib.

Sonia Sidhu

Do you want to add to that too, William?

4:20 p.m.

As an Individual

William McBeath

Only that if you don't have your family backing you, it becomes a near-impossible task to successfully run and stay in office, and want to be in that job.

September 26th, 2018 / 4:20 p.m.

Brampton South, Lib.

Sonia Sidhu

Thank you.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

That's excellent.

Due to time we have the chance for each party to have one question each. I will start with CPC because it was going to be their round. CPC, you get one; Sheri, one; and then across to the LPC, whoever you wish.

4:20 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey, CPC

K. Kellie Leitch

Maybe I can get an answer to the question I had before, and both of you can feel free to answer it. We do think that men and boys are, obviously, a critical part of this opportunity for women to get involved. My success in orthopaedics was because two men decided that more women should be involved in orthopaedics, and they started actively recruiting young female surgeons. In politics, what do you think the barriers are to men choosing those candidates in winnable ridings? We know there are certain ridings that I think all the parties will say they're pretty safe for their parties, so why aren't we picking women for those ridings? Where is the leadership to do that? What are the barriers to men picking high-quality female candidates for those seats?

4:20 p.m.

As an Individual

William McBeath

I can't underestimate the importance of having a leader set the direction for the entire party. That isn't a symbolic thing. It means, for example, that if a riding association is asking to hold its nomination race, the leader asks for an account of the work that's been done, the search that's been conducted, a list of women they've spoken with, and the responses the women gave when asked about running for office.

I have a ton of respect for political parties. I've worked for political parties a huge chunk of my life. I accept that they have many limitations, though. One is that I don't think enough care and attention ever gets paid to nominations as a whole. As someone who oversaw recruitment, the biggest issue I had was that I looked at the number—maybe I needed 87, this week we were at 62, and I was happy when next week that number went up to 64.

This is why I want to bring in more groups than just political parties. I think if left up to them, they will not put in the necessary sustained, prolonged effort and investment because that's just not their nature when it comes to these sorts of things.

That wasn't totally your question, I recognize, but I thought it was an important point to make.

4:20 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey, CPC

K. Kellie Leitch

It is helpful.

4:20 p.m.

Prof. Brenda O'Neill

There isn't the kind of search that gets women into the spotlight. Dr. Phil Cross spoke to you as well, and his point I think is well taken: Women need to be asked, while men tend to be already working the floors and the networks they need. Women need to be asked not once, but two, three, or four times. If you aren't going out and asking, you tend not to see women. I think that's a key point.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you.

Sheri, do you have a question?

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Sheri Benson NDP Saskatoon West, SK

I think I'll put this one to Professor O'Neill. In governments that have a different electoral system, we have seen more women represented, in particular in countries that have proportional representation. I know that's a bigger thing to change than what we're talking about here. I believe we can work on multiple fronts, but maybe you could share with us why that is. What do you know from your research?

I can tell you personally about the partisanship we celebrate in Parliament and how we divide people adversarially and that kind of thing. For lots of us who are looking for change in our communities, it's not the way we do it, and it's not the way we've actually gotten change in our communities. You come here, and you see a very foreign way of doing things.

4:25 p.m.

Prof. Brenda O'Neill

The first point I would make is, not all PR systems have better gender equity representation in their the parliaments than we do. It's not a guarantee. One of the things that's true, though, is that if you have a PR system, what you don't normally have are single-member ridings. You often have multi-member ridings, which means that there isn't this business of once one candidate is chosen you no longer...you can't split half a gender, half a gender. If you have four members in a riding you can zipper it: two men, two women. That's easier to do and there's less resistance to that.

Rosie Campbell and Sarah Childs pointed out that you can still do it. It's a little bit tougher because we have the single-member ridings. I think there's this resistance to imposing rules on local associations. I think we have to worry about that.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Ruby, you have the last question.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

First of all, I want to thank you for your testimony. I've learned some interesting statistics.

I agree with you, Professor, that even though there may be only 1% of the female population that may be interested in politics, that still amounts to a lot of women. I've talked to so many who love politics and want to run and who ask about how to get involved and how to run a nomination. I think we, as politicians ourselves, are great resources to new candidates. We can be that pack for them to give them the guidance they need along the way. A lot of them have questions. What is the work-life balance like? Do you have concerns over your safety? Have you had somebody attack you? A lot of those types of questions go through their mind because of things that do occur and things they've heard. Quite honestly, sometimes I have to tell them the truth about things I have gone through, but sometimes I hesitate a little bit, not wanting to be too honest and too truthful, because I don't want to scare them into not running. I want them to run, and I want to encourage them, but there's also a lot of stuff that I see. We have a gender-balanced cabinet, but after having that gender-balanced cabinet, we saw a lot of the media and even the opposition often criticizing the women who have stepped into those roles, saying they were just there as pawns. The language that I just heard from Ms. Leitch is “didn't earn it”.

What would you say about that? I feel as though we're self-destructive in our way in Parliament, where we're calling each other out for not having earned it yet. We have ministers like Chrystia Freeland who are definitely earning it and doing a fantastic job on an international scale.

4:25 p.m.

Prof. Brenda O'Neill

I would say part of what the House of Commons has to be in the end is about respect for diversity of opinion. I think that's an important principle. Even if there are individuals who believe women who get to their positions because of quotas are there without having necessarily earned it, I still honestly believe the only way to counter or change those in any way, shape or form is to actually get women into those positions and to show that they actually are capable.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

I think that's why we'll never have quotas, because of that negativity.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

That's the end of our first panel.

Thank you very much to Brenda O'Neill and William McBeath for coming in and sharing with us.

We're going to suspend for a moment, and then Pam will be taking the chair shortly.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

I'm going to call the meeting back to order.

Welcome back to meeting 111 of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.

We're continuing our study on barriers facing women in politics.

I'm pleased to welcome, as an individual, Ms. Daniela Chivu. From the Young Women's Leadership Network, we have Ms. Arezoo Najibzadeh, executive director. From the City of Iqaluit, we have Mayor Madeleine Redfern.

Thank you all for being here.

I'll turn the floor over to you, Mayor Redfern, for your opening statement. You have seven minutes.

4:35 p.m.

Madeleine Redfern Mayor, City of Iqaluit

Thank you very much. I'll try to stick to seven minutes. As you all know, politicians have a hard time with that.

I'd like to say good afternoon and thank the committee for allowing me the opportunity to share my experiences and observations of women in politics, especially Inuit women in Nunavut.

My political beginnings start with my volunteerism, when I lived here in Ottawa and volunteered with the Inuit community centre, Tungasuvvingat Inuit, and Kagita Mikam, an indigenous employment training board. I helped set up the Inuit family resource centre, the Wabano health centre and the Inuit Head Start here.

I can tell you that when you work with an NGO, especially an indigenous NGO, it is political.

When I moved back to my home community just before the creation of Nunavut, I did so because I wanted to be part of the fascinating opportunity of creating a new territory and a new territorial government. I wanted my daughter, in particular, to be part of that. When you live in the north, your communities are small. Everything is political.

In those early days, there was an awful lot of work that needed to be done in setting up our territorial government and implementing our land claim agreement.

One of the interesting things that I want to share with the committee is that we had a referendum, as you are probably aware. There was an opportunity for our region to have gender parity. I attended those community consultations. You had people on both sides of the spectrum—those who supported, and those who did not. Interestingly enough, sometimes women did not support gender parity on the basis that we could compete equally despite the fact that there is significant under-representation of women in politics.

The ultimate vote on the referendum was that we would not proceed with gender parity. Not surprisingly, in our first legislative assembly, we had one woman out of 18 MLAs. It was actually a woman who had spoken out against gender parity, interestingly enough.

In the second assembly, there were two out of 18. We had increased by 100%. In the third assembly, we started off with two and then it was reduced to one. In the fourth assembly, we bumped up to three. In our most recent election of last fall, we had a bumper number of women: six out of 22. We jumped up from approximately 5% to 27%. Almost on par with Inuit representation in most of the municipalities or provincial or federal governments.

That is definitely far less than the one half of what we represent in our population.

I would remiss if I did not mention that in Nunavut, politics go well beyond our territorial MLAs. We have our Inuit land claims organizations, including Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, which represents the rights and interests of all Inuit across the territory. We also have our three regional Inuit associations, representing Baffin, Kivalliq and Kitikmeot. Women's representation there is very small, so much so that they actually have often a designated Inuit position on their board of directors. The position is ex officio—non-voting— just the same as our youth. Yet those organizations have millions of dollars of operating budget and are responsible for overseeing millions of our own land claim money that is invested in businesses or in partnerships, and they negotiate the impact benefit agreements whether it's for a major development or a park.

The accountability of those Inuit organizations or corporations is often challenging, if not problematic. For those of you in the room who are lawyers, I would call them sui generis. They are creatures of their own. They're creatures created by the land claim agreement. In government, as you well know, there are certain ways by which elected officials can be held accountable. We can all be subject to ATIP, or, if you are a shareholder, you have shareholders' rights.

In my region, they're quasi-public, quasi-corporate, but we don't enjoy the rights of transparency or accountability to the same standards. It was one of the issues that our former Nunavut minister Leona Aglukkaq spoke to in the legislative assembly back in 2008.

In 2010, Pauktuutit, with the Qulliit Status of Women in Nunavut, organized a women's leadership summit. I want to share Sheila Watt-Cloutier's words, which I think resonate quite well.

Leadership is for all of us, not just for the elected positions, but comes from the grassroots level, whether you are a mother, a grandmother, a manager, an administrator, a teacher, elder, or youth. All of us are leaders in our own right and we all have a role to play in helping to lead on so many issues.

The problem is that those are nice words and there's a lot of truth in them, but when we have the majority of our community organizations that are not represented by Inuit and there's an under-representation of Inuit women, it means that those decisions do not reflect the views, perspectives or priorities of all our community.

Our land claim agreement is a perfect example. If you took a look at it, virtually nothing in there speaks to education, health, language, culture, child care. It's a very male-centric agreement. Why? Because it was negotiated by men and men.

I also want to maybe share with you some personal observations as an elected person myself.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

That's your seven minutes.

4:40 p.m.

Mayor, City of Iqaluit

Madeleine Redfern

Okay. Then later, we can talk a little more.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Okay, thank you.

Ms. Najibzadeh.

4:40 p.m.

Arezoo Najibzadeh Executive Director, Young Women's Leadership Network

Hello, everyone.

Thank you for inviting me to speak with you about the work of the Young Women's Leadership Network on sexual violence against women in politics.

The Young Women's Leadership Network is a non-profit organization that works with young women to make sure that they have the access and skills they need to be able to compete with their peers, and specifically young men, in political spaces, whether it be on the grassroots level or the institutional level. We also work with institutions, such as political parties, to ensure that we're removing barriers internally as young women are entering those spaces.

It is undeniable that women's increased political participation as elected officials leads to better social, economic and political outcomes for everyone. From increased attention on issues that impact women's lives to an often more collaborative working environment, increasing meaningful representation of women in politics is a crucial factor in strengthening Canada's democracy. With women only representing 27% of our elected officials federally right now, we have a long way to go to ensure that not only do women have equal opportunities within our democratic and political institutions, but also that our institutions are adequately responsive to women's wide range of experiences and needs.

Furthermore, it is important to recognize that the numerical analysis of women's political participation cannot be the only factor in assessing the state of women's political engagement. We must broaden our definition of women in politics beyond elected officials to include volunteers, interns and staffers, as well as lobbyists and unionists, who often partake in political action and share these spaces with us.

Women, especially young, marginalized women, are entering political spaces at high rates. However, this does not translate into the number of women candidates, elected officials, or women in senior leadership roles within our institutions. We must pay closer attention to the various forms of gender-based violence and discrimination, specifically sexual violence, that impede women's political participation on all levels. Beyond the diversity of women entering politics, we need to ensure that they have access to safe and healthy work environments that foster their empowerment and leadership.

Gender-based sexual violence is the result of normalized misogyny and rape culture within political institutions and the broader society. It is upheld through intersecting systems of oppression, such as sexism, ableism, ageism, colonialism, homophobia and racism, all of which aim to objectify and disempower women and trans folks within our institutions, and simultaneously privilege those who have systemic power.

These systems of oppression permit the abuse of power within institutions such as the Parliament of Canada. The intersections of gender, age, ability, race, economic status and seniority all create imbalanced power dynamics that impact individuals' access to support networks and justice once they experience sexual violence. These power imbalances allow perpetrators to use their positions within our systems to commit sexual violence and to silence survivors.

Our research includes 66 survivors of sexual violence who have been involved in politics, specifically in Ontario on different levels within the past few years, and it shows numerous examples of how their nuanced experiences of sexual violence were also shaped by other forms of violence, such as anti-blackness, Islamophobia, homophobia and classism, as I mentioned before. The dehumanization and objectification of racialized women and trans folks contributes to the hypersexualization and further violence experienced by them, and this reaffirms our calls for intersectional and culturally responsive support mechanisms institutionally.

There are also multiple barriers to the political involvement of those.... I'm going to share some examples of how these systems of power actually manifest as barriers for women who face sexual violence. For women in politics who have visible and non-visible disabilities, this includes campaign offices and event locations that make it difficult for them to access and get engaged in political conversation and discourses. For example, there are methods of engagement that don't keep mental health ability and support in mind, and that prove to be a barrier for folks who experience things such as depression and PTSD, but who are still interested in engaging with our political institutions.

In the event of sexual violence, women with disabilities also face greater barriers to reporting and seeking support services, even though they face disproportionately higher numbers of sexual violence compared to other women. Sixty-three per cent of our research participants were students when they experienced sexual violence in political institutions. Eighty per cent of them have either completely left or decreased their involvement in politics.

This number is significant because it highlights that it's not enough for us to tell young women to lean in and become engaged in politics, because when they do they continue to face extreme forms of violence such as rape and physical assault that force them to choose between their careers and health and safety.

The social and professional isolation faced by these young women is often cited as a deterrent for pursuing other careers in politics as well. That's where they completely disengage from democratic processes.

In partisan politics, survivors are urged to stay silent to protect the party's electoral prospects. Survivors who come forward are often vilified and isolated within political parties. It is crucial to recognize that social capital is a driver of success within politics. This isolation is a major contributor to why women don't seek justice and don't come forward.

At Young Women's Leadership Network, we believe in the importance of fair and accessible sexual violence and harassment policies and report mechanisms. We also focus on creating lasting cultural shifts and preventive measures. Our research shows that only 44% of survivors reported their experiences to campaign or party staff. They identified the lack of clear human resources mechanisms and policies, the fear of public scrutiny and victim blaming, and an overall culture of indifference toward sexual violence as reasons why they didn't come forward. Through all of these disclosures of sexual violence, there was a consistent lack of accountability and consequences for perpetrators.

Young Women's Leadership Network has identified the following recommendations as priority areas for creating adequate sexual violence support mechanisms and culture shifts within political institutions.

On a preventive level, we recommend that political institutions develop or adopt clear sexual violence and anti-oppression policies. They should mandate sexual violence prevention and support training for members on a recurring basis. This can be done annually within legislatures and on the executive teams of political parties and on the grassroots levels with volunteers and EDA officials.

On the intervention level, we propose that campaigns and institutions provide access to survivor-centred and trauma-informed support mechanisms, and provide immediate resources and paid leave for survivors.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

You are over your time. How much do you have left?

4:50 p.m.

Executive Director, Young Women's Leadership Network

Arezoo Najibzadeh

Just one more point.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Okay.