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

September 26th, 2018 / 3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to meeting number 111 of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.

Just to begin, we had a bit of a membership change during the summer. I would like to welcome our three new committee members. Thank you very much to Sonia Sidhu, and Bob Bratina, as well as the honourable Kellie Leitch.

Today we also have with us Sheri Benson, who is going to be filling in, along with Bryan May, and Ruby Sahota.

Today we're continuing with our study on barriers facing women in politics. I am pleased to welcome, as an individual, William McBeath. We also have Brenda O'Neill, associate professor, department of political science, University of Calgary.

William, we'll begin with you. You have seven minutes.

3:30 p.m.

William McBeath As an Individual

Thank you, Madam Chair, and good afternoon, members of the committee.

I'd like to thank the committee for giving me the opportunity to be present today and to speak on the issue of the barriers facing women in politics.

My name is William McBeath, and I have had the privilege of working for a number of outstanding women politicians during my time in politics, including the honourable Diane Finley, member of Parliament for Haldimand—Norfolk, and the former Minister for Human Resources and Skills Development; former member of Parliament for Calgary Centre, Joan Crockatt; and the former leader of Alberta's official opposition, and Wildrose Party leader, Danielle Smith.

I'd like to begin by noting that my comments are, of course, second-hand observations. While I may have had the opportunity to work for and with many women candidates and elected officials, I cannot offer a first-hand perspective given that I am not a woman. Given this, I have decided to focus my comments today on something about which I have gained a substantial amount of experience, and something I believe we need to improve if we are to elect more women candidates at all levels of government, namely, the candidate recruitment and candidate nomination processes.

At the provincial and federal levels, I've overseen candidate recruitment and nomination processes for literally hundreds of candidates. In the 2006 and 2008 federal elections, I was directly involved in the recruitment and nomination process for federal Conservative candidates in Alberta and the three northern territories, and I also oversaw candidate recruitment and nominations in the lead-up to the 2012 and 2015 provincial elections for Alberta's Wildrose Party.

In each of those scenarios, one of our goals was to identify, recruit and nominate a slate of outstanding, talented and experienced women candidates who could take on senior roles in future governments. I'm sorry to say that in each of those cycles, I believe, we fell short of that goal despite nominating and electing some incredible women to public office.

I believe that in order to meet the goal of nominating and electing more capable women, we need to reverse course on what has been a trend of late about the provincial and federal levels; namely, the reduction or outright elimination of third party involvement in political party nominations.

Modern-day politics is, as we know, fiercely competitive, and political parties wage aggressive and targeted campaigns in their bids to win seats. The team-based nature of politics means that multipartisan efforts, such as those by Equal Voice—which is an outstanding organization that I've done volunteer work with—will never have the same impact or effectiveness as will groups that are aligned with one single party or section of the political spectrum.

The work of winning a nomination can really be broken down into four areas: recruitment, training, fundraising and networking. It involves identifying, and occasionally persuading, a candidate to seek office; mentoring them when they encounter challenges; building a team of volunteers and professionals to support the nomination campaign; raising money to pay for nomination campaign activities; and connecting the candidate and her team with key stakeholders, influencers and voters in the constituency to build a winning coalition of members or supporters.

The creation of these groups would require changing election legislation, which limits or precludes third party involvement in registered nomination contests. I think political parties also have to review their current nomination processes to allow for the involvement of third party groups with a mandate to help those political parties nominate slates of candidates who reflect the full measure of Canada's diversity.

That brings me to the other solution that has generally been advanced to address the lack of equality when it comes to nominating and electing women candidates, and that would be quotas.

In my opinion, the quota approach is the wrong way to address the problem of recruiting more women candidates, for several reasons. The biggest one is that, I believe, it causes more harm than good to the goal of electing women to public office in the long term.

First, quotas are arbitrary. They are a metric established, and once that quota target has been reached, it sends the message that no more work needs to be done—we have our quota list, and the issue has been managed. Oftentimes, in order to meet the quota, political parties will nominate candidates in ridings in which they are unlikely—or even highly unlikely—to be successful. If they're not going to win in a general election, then this does nothing to further the cause of electing more women candidates to public office.

Second, candidates elected under a quota system frequently face the often unfair perception that their ability to fulfill the role of being an elected official is secondary to their gender. It leads some to call into question the merit of their candidacy and their ability to perform the job.

Third, it creates conflict between the quota and non-quota groups. Canada's diversity includes gender, age, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, profession, education, and a whole host of other things. To set one apart through a quota is to set one against the rest, and in doing so foster resentment and discord when the goal should be promoting full diversity, equality and participation for every group.

Ultimately I believe that having third parties aligned with political parties or a section of the political spectrum who are committed to the cause of nominating and electing more women to public office is a significantly better approach than political parties adopting quotas for women candidates in their candidate slates.

Again, thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to present before you today, and I very much look forward to your questions.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you very much.

Brenda O'Neill, you have seven minutes.

3:35 p.m.

Professor Brenda O'Neill Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Calgary, As an Individual

Thank you.

First, I have a word of thanks.

Thank you for inviting me to speak today in my capacity as an academic conducting research on the subject of women in politics.

For many years, I've been encouraged by the fact that this committee has been studying this very important issue in Canadian politics.

My comments today are going to reflect my own research, which is on public opinion and women in politics. It's going to reflect my research on the question of women's political under-representation in Canada and my reading of the research of others. It's a question that political scientists have been studying for decades. We have a good understanding of what the key barriers are. What we need is for a government with a sufficiently strong commitment to women's equality to be willing to take action on the issue.

I believe that the best and most effective strategy for addressing women's political under-representation is to legislate some type of quota or target that requires parties to increase the number of women they put forward as candidates in elections. This would result in both direct and indirect effects, but the quota doesn't need to be a punitive one. Indeed, I would argue that it should be in some form of financial incentive. It doesn't need to be framed as one to increase the number of women in politics. Instead, it could be framed as one that's putting a ceiling on men's overrepresentation. Voluntary quotas, unlike legislative ones, are unlikely to have any impact since the parties that are likely to adopt them are normally already committed to gender equality.

Political parties play a key role in determining women's access to political office. They're primary gatekeepers, and their willingness to see gender equality as a priority is central to ensuring that women can overcome these barriers.

It's not a new idea. Twenty-seven years ago, Dr. Lisa Young, writing as part of the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, noted that political parties, as the primary agents of recruitment and as the gatekeepers of the political process, would have to change their recruitment and nomination practices if there was to be substantial change in the number of women in the House of Commons. This point was reinforced by Dr. Bill Cross whom you heard from earlier this summer. Twenty-seven years later, we have not seen any concrete action on this issue.

When parties commit to gender equality, the results can be impressive. As an example, during the 2015 provincial election, 53% of the Alberta NDP candidates were women. From this, 45% of its caucus was made up of women, and Rachel Notley was then able to appoint a parity cabinet, one of only a handful we've seen in Canada to this point. This occurred in Alberta, which I think many would notice is the most conservative province in the country.

It can be done where the will exists, but the reality is that it's easiest to do when the party isn't expected to take office. Increased competition often pushes women out. We need to move gender parity in all parties across the ideological spectrum and at all levels of competition to ensure that women of all stripes are represented without having to wait for unexpected wins by parties committed to gender parity. The results under these conditions are too often short-lived.

Legislated quotas are key to moving forward because misplaced beliefs about the impact of quotas serve to perpetuate men's political overrepresentation.

One of these myths is that quotas limit the degree to which merit is a factor in the selection of candidates. Research makes clear that the exact opposite is the case. Quotas actually improve the quality of candidates who get elected. This happens because parties appear to be more careful of the skills they would like to see in their political nominees, rather than relying on short-hand mechanisms for selection such as gender and occupation, which tend to exclude women, and because quotas promote more active searches for individuals who possess these skills. The positions currently filled by less competent men in the absence of quotas tend to be replaced by more competent women and men. Merit is given greater, not less, attention under a quota system.

Quotas are also key because of the belief that women's access to political office is constantly improving and will naturally reach parity. That's quite simply wrong. The pipeline argument that women's level of political representation will come to mirror men's, as their education and common occupational makeup do as well, is just not supported by the evidence. Women's political representation has improved in many arenas over time, but in others it has stagnated or regressed. It's not simply a question of being patient. We continue to see gender gaps and income or occupational segregation that mean women do not have access to the same networks as men. This means they are often overlooked when it comes to political office. Who runs often depends on who is asked to run.

Even if we decide to be patient, however, the expected date for reaching gender parity in the House of Commons is long into the future. If we apply the same rate of improvement in women's representation over the past 20 years to future years, we would need to wait until 2075 to reach gender parity. That's not in my lifetime and it's certainly not in my daughter's lifetime.

We need bold action because stereotypes continue to hold that women are less well suited to the rough-and-tumble world of politics. This perception is reinforced by media portrayals of women politicians, as the work by Professor Linda Trimble at the University of Alberta shows. My research on women party leaders with Professor David Stewart shows that women are far more likely to be chosen to lead parties when the party is less electorally competitive. Men are more likely to be seen to possess the qualities required of leaders, such as assertiveness, confidence and self-promotion. Women are less likely to be seen to possess these, and even when they are seen to possess them, they are often penalized for not acting in ways that align with gender stereotypes—“Women should be more communal than agentic.”

These stereotypes are a barrier to women's access to political office. They're also difficult to directly and quickly eliminate. The adoption of quotas to improve their representation would do just this, though indirectly. Seeing more women in office acting as strong leaders would serve to dispel the stereotype that women are more suited to supportive roles than to leadership roles and are therefore unsuited to politics. It would also reinforce the role model effect. More women in political office increases the likelihood that women will see politics as an option for them. I think it would also help women to overcome the problem of feeling that they're not competent enough to engage in politics.

I just have one small anecdote as I finish. Women tend to underplay their strengths. This is partly why we don't run. It's a demand-side problem. Just to give a sense of how this works, I have a Ph.D. in political science, and I study women in politics. When I first received the request to come and speak to you, my first response was, “What could I possibly have to say that would be of any importance to this committee?” It was the people around me who told me, “No, you have to participate.”

I'll just leave you with that.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you very much, and thanks very much for your speech.

We're going to be starting off with our first round. I'll remind you that it is seven minutes.

Pam, you have the floor.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Thank you to you both for being here. I appreciate your feedback.

I'm going to put this to both of you. Do you have any recommendations for what we as the federal government can do to include the participation of women in politics? Is there anything through the Elections Act? There are certain things that we control, and there are certain things that we don't. Is there anything that you can see legislatively or through the things that we regulate federally that we could do to improve the participation of women?

3:45 p.m.

Prof. Brenda O'Neill

Certainly the Elections Act and party financing would be ways in which you could implement a quota. That would be my recommendation.

3:45 p.m.

As an Individual

William McBeath

We may not agree on the solution, but I will say that I also think we have to make some changes to the Elections Act. In this case, there has been a trend to really clamp down on third party involvement. I think some of that is certainly responsible, for example to prevent money coming in from outside of Canada. However, in the process to preclude third parties from having involvement, if you give a third party a mandate to seek to help elect more women, you're going to have to change the legislation governing political party nomination contests in order to be able to do that.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

You've brought that up a few times. When you were talking about third party involvement, you mentioned Equal Voice.

Is this about any third parties that would be involved, or would there be requirements around them?

3:45 p.m.

As an Individual

William McBeath

There are already rules that govern what a third party can and cannot do. Certainly, they are required to disclose, for example, how their money is spent and who donates their money. In the case of Equal Voice, because they're multipartisan, I don't think they're going to have the same impact because the nature of politics is such that if you're in a room with people who are not part of your political ideology, you are not going to have the same kind of team-based approach as you would if you know that everybody in the room is a supporter.

For me, it's about saying to third party groups, “You have to form...”. I would say that every party has to form one for themselves, or have one to help progressive candidates and one to help conservative candidates, or whatever the framework is. That is how I'm envisioning it. You've seen a nascent example of that with the She Leads Foundation based out of Alberta, which Jason Kenney has started as leader of the United Conservative Party.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

The other group in Alberta that's been trying to mobilize candidates is the Wilberforce Project, which is an anti-abortion group. Do you envision a group like that also being a third party group that could help candidates get elected?

3:45 p.m.

As an Individual

William McBeath

My understanding is that groups like that already exist and are involving themselves. Again, I believe they are multipartisan. They're not specifically focused on any one group. They're focused on every elected official and every political party. For me, it's about getting over the idea that any form of characteristic can trump the competitive tribal basis of politics, and that's just not true. Whatever common cause groups may have amongst each other, because of the reality of politics, their political ideology trumps almost everything.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

You mentioned when you came that you weren't sure what you could contribute because you're a man. You've contributed a lot, and I thank you for that.

I'd like to ask you specifically to expand on what role men and boys can play in encouraging more women to run for office.

3:45 p.m.

As an Individual

William McBeath

It's a great question, and it has to be taken seriously by everybody, because ultimately, as the professor noted in her comments, there are an awful lot of elected officials who are men and who are involved in politics. If they're not participating in trying to make this situation better, then that's a huge problem.

When I was working for Wildrose, for example, we tried to strongly send the message that any personal characteristic should not be what determines whether or not you seek office. If you believe what we believe, we think you should run for us. It means going out and having meaningful conversations with hundreds of people and asking if they've ever thought of running for office, what they would think about that and if that's something they're interested in.

I would say, too, that we need to get over the mentality and try to really have a zero tolerance policy for when someone steps backwards on this issue. We need to be saying, no, it's not okay if you make an anti-woman joke at a political event, or no, it's not okay if we use language that can only be applied to women, like “shrill”, or “bossy”, or words that you only ever see applied by media, for example, in a female context.

To me, that's where men really have to step up more than they have.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Thank you.

Dr. O'Neill, we had StatsCan here, and they were telling us that women are more likely to vote in municipal and provincial elections. You would think voting would be an early indicator of whether or not they would run, although that's not always the case, and we don't have nearly enough women running at either of those levels. Why do you think you're seeing more participation for lower levels of government, rather than the federal government? Is there anything we can do to encourage more participation at all levels, not just at the federal level?

3:50 p.m.

Prof. Brenda O'Neill

First, tackle the difference in the levels. Much of the research I've seen is basically saying that it's easier for women to stay close to home, and that's partly because they have responsibilities, and responsibilities that they can't rely on their partners to take care of to the same degree men can. There is this notion that they need to be home, if you will, or at least as close as possible to home. Travelling to Ottawa is quite a burden, depending on where you are in the country, and I think that's part of it.

There's also a belief that Ottawa is higher, harder and more important. Again, when we think of political ambition, we know that women tend to downplay their skills. Therefore, even if you have the notion that you might want to participate in politics and that you might want to run.... By the way, we're talking about 1% of women and 5% of men, so it's a very small, and yet large, number of individuals. If you have the sense that you may want to run, you're likely—and I have to admit I've done this—to say well if I'm going to do it, maybe I should do it at the civic level because that's a bit easier; it's not likely to be quite as difficult. You start low, in a way, and it's part of women's political ambition.

The second part of your question was about why they vote but do not run at the same levels. You heard from Melanee Thomas, my colleague at the University of Calgary. She's done a lot of work on the notion of stereotypes and so on, and her early work in her Ph.D. was on political interest and political engagement among women. Part of it is that voting is not as difficult a political act as running for office—those are two very different things. We tend to say it's all about political engagement, but they're not the same; they're very different.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Excellent, thank you very much.

Now we're going to move on for the next seven minutes to Rachael Harder.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Welcome to both of you and thank you for being here.

To you, William, my first question is this: You talked about third party organizations and the fact that we need to see more of them, and I just want to follow up on that a little. I'm hoping you can expand on that statement a bit and talk about why that is so important with regards to getting women in particular to the table.

3:50 p.m.

As an Individual

William McBeath

In looking at third parties, it's quite common for anybody who has looked at American politics to see that third parties play a huge role in their elections. It hasn't been the case as much up here, although it is changing. Certainly the legislation that gets passed by governments at different levels influences whether or not you're going to have third parties becoming political and engaged.

If you look at my home province of Alberta, the moment that the New Democrat government made its first round of election law changes, PACs, political action committees, third parties, sprang up right across the province, from all sorts of different groups with all sorts of different causes.

The problem with political parties is they only focus on what's happening in about the next 15 minutes. I say that as someone who worked for a political party. Long-term planning is obviously extremely difficult. You have changes in leadership, changes from opposition to government and from government back to opposition and in the group of people you have running your political party.

Having a PAC, a permanent group, whose job it is, election after election, year after year, month after month, to go out, find, recruit, train, help and support women candidates means that we're going to smooth out and make it easier for women, rather than when political parties pay attention to nominations for the six or eight months that they pay attention to nominations.

You're going from having somebody focused on it briefly for a political party, versus a group that pays attention to it all the time.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

With regard to the fact that they are focused on it for a long period of time, do you see that being advantageous to women in particular, where they'd be able to recruit, train and those sorts of things?

Help me understand why that would benefit women entering into the political field.

3:50 p.m.

As an Individual

William McBeath

My experience is that it's never been difficult to find men to run for public office. That was never a problem that we had in politics.

I find that in recruiting women, generally they have a lot more questions about how it would work, what elected life is like. I think Professor O'Neill made some really good points about them potentially undervaluing their own worth. It was me saying, “We think you'd be a fantastic candidate and here's why”, and explaining it to them.

I think it requires a conversation. You have to have a meaningful one-on-one relationship with some people who are seeking office in order to convince them to put their names forward. To me, that's the value of a PAC. They aren't going to look at it for six or eight months every four years; they're going to do it full time.

Once it gets established, if I'm a woman who's interested in running for office, I know who I can get in touch with to get my questions answered, talk about building a team and figure out how I'm going to raise the money. There's a permanent group out there that is going to help me and work with me.

I think that would make a very tangible difference in electing more women to office.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

William, one of the things you talked about is the importance of recruitment, training, fundraising and networking. I like the way that you framed that into those four things.

When it comes to recruitment, do you believe there are certain types of women who should not be running for political office, or do you think it's an opportunity that should be open to every woman?

3:55 p.m.

As an Individual

William McBeath

Certainly when I talk to people who run, the only issue I ever say is to make sure that this is the job they actually want to have. There's nothing worse than winning and discovering that this wasn't what they imagined the job was going to be.

I think the important thing is to have that meaningful conversation up front, that this is going to be a very big change from what their life has been like. They're going to go campaigning and have people paying a lot of scrutiny towards them.

For me, there's absolutely no person I would say shouldn't run for office, unless they're not prepared for the journey ahead and the work that comes after winning an election.

By the way, I wouldn't say that's just for women candidates; that's about everybody who misunderstands what holding elected office is about.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

That's a fair point. Thank you.

To further the conversation around recruitment, training, fundraising and networking, my colleague asked about the role of men and boys in that.

Can you further describe what that would look like? In order to be able to recruit women and bring them to the table, what would it look like to offer mentorship and champion these women?

I certainly know that I had some very instrumental people play that role in my life. They served my success very well, and I'm very thankful for them.

What would you describe that process looking like? Could you provide some very tangible steps that could be taken by both women and men in helping to recruit and train female candidates?

3:55 p.m.

As an Individual

William McBeath

I think there are a couple of angles to this.

When I worked at a political party, one of the things was about making sure that we weren't doing things intentionally or unintentionally that sent the message that we were really only looking for male candidates.

I do remember one riding association president who had been telling women who were interested in running that they weren't really looking for a woman to run. I phoned him up and said, “You realize that we're led by Danielle Smith, right?” I said that it was a party that very much wanted to elect women candidates. He said that we had a woman leader, so we wouldn't want to overdo it, and I thought that step one might be that we probably needed a new riding president down there in that riding association.