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.