Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to this bill introduced by my colleague from Burnaby South. This issue is important to me because I truly believe that we need to have more women in politics.
I will provide a brief overview of the situation in Abitibi—Témiscamingue. It was not until the 28th election in Canada, in 1968, that we had our first female candidate in Abitibi—Témiscamingue, Aurore Charron-Labrie.
In 2011, I was the first woman elected to be the federal member for the riding of Abitibi—Témiscamingue. Sadly, we have also had only one female provincial member and that was Johanne Morasse. We do not have a strong history of female elected members in my region. I am pleased to have changed that.
Let us now look at the elections held after fairly major changes were made to the electoral boundaries in 2004. There were no women candidates in 2004. In the 2006 election, which was my first election campaign, there were two women, and that represented roughly 30% of the vote. In 2008, there was only one woman, representing about 10% of the vote. In 2011, for the first time, women garnered more than 50% of the vote with two candidates. I have to admit that I was a big part of that because I garnered more than 50% of the vote, or 51.22% to be precise. For the first time, we got 50% of the vote. Finally, in 2015, women had just over 70% of the vote. It was the first election where there were equal numbers of male and female candidates. We can see that it took some time to happen.
I would now like to go back to some comments made by different speakers, which shocked me.
First of all, people talked about quotas, but my colleague's approach is completely different. Knowing that quotas tend to be polarizing, he decided to propose a mechanism that rewards parties whose slate is more than 40% female. That does not prevent parties from not having female candidates. It is not a quota because it does not prevent a party with no female candidates from nominating a candidate in a riding. This approach includes a financial penalty because that can be an incentive. Nevertheless, it is not a prohibition. It is not inconceivable that a party would do so. Unfortunately, it happened in France, where there was a similar measure, and the UMP decided to pay the fine and not worry about it.
This is not a quota system. It is a system that offers a reward to motivate people without forcing them to do anything. Parties still have room to manoeuvre as they see fit. If they are not concerned about the financial aspect, they can do as they please. I think this is a better approach than imposing quotas, which would have further polarized the debate.
I also heard some of my colleagues mention the impending electoral reform, the reform of the voting system, saying that this bill is premature. In every potential voting system, the parties still have one candidate per party. In every voting system that appears worth considering in the discussion on electoral reform, we are talking about a system in which the parties have candidates to fill the positions. Therefore, no matter which voting system we end up with, my colleague's bill still applies.
I would now like to talk about one interesting example, because I think it is worth mentioning. I am the vice-chair of the Canadian branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. We regularly receive people from other countries who come to speak to us. I would like to talk about a situation in Rwanda, because it was the first country to have more than 50% women MPs.
During the 2013 election, women won 64% of seats in the Rwandan parliament. It is important to mention. Here is an article on the subject:
Kigali, Rwanda – The 2013 Rwandan Parliamentary elections ushered in a record-breaking 64 per cent of seats won by women candidates. The Government of Rwanda, with the UN as a key partner, has been pursuing gender equality since 1994. The political participation of Rwandan women has been facilitated by a constitutional mandate and the work of key institutions, notably the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, the Rwanda Women Parliamentarians Forum (FFRP), National Women’s Council (NWC) and the Gender Monitoring Office (GMO). Rwandan women have created a remarkable political space for themselves in just twenty years.
It is important to take the time to understand the situation. These women probably have many other concerns. They are sometimes victims of violence and might even live in poverty. Indeed, the daily life of a woman in Rwanda is probably not easy.
Still, the people of Rwanda decided that it was important to work on gender parity in their parliament. They decided that in order to give women's issues greater priority within their parliament, they had to introduce concrete measures. That worked, because women managed to secure 64% of seats, and that happened in a country like Rwanda.
There are still people who would have me believe that this is not important, that we need not take any action on this, and we need not be concerned about it, even though this is Canada and we have the ability to do something. It makes no sense. Even Rwanda was able to do it.
Action must be taken in this regard. There are real-life examples where this has worked. The Rwandan Parliament changed its way of doing things. I am impressed every time I talk to my Rwandan colleagues, who sometimes visit me in Canada through the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. They have come a long way, despite everything that has happened in the history of Rwanda. They succeeded against all odds.
In 2015, only one-third of the election candidates were women. In 98 ridings, there were no female candidates running for any of the three main parties. Nevertheless, the NDP decided to take a practical approach to recruiting female candidates, and 43% of our candidates were women, as opposed to only 31% of Liberal candidates and 20% of Conservative candidates.
I mention that because, at this rate, if we do not take more concrete measures, we may not achieve gender parity until 2075. That is 60 years from now and even that is not a given.
Can we afford to wait another 60 years to achieve parity when a country like Rwanda was able to make the necessary effort and reach parity in 20 years? That is completely absurd.
My colleague has introduced a very worthwhile bill. He chose a different approach, one that does not involve quotas, in order to give the political parties some wiggle room. This bill is worth sending to committee. I am sure that my colleague is open to suggestions to improve it, as he has always been. It is so easy to talk to him. If any of our colleagues have questions, they just have to ask him.
If we do not want to wait 60 years, we need to send this bill to committee. Women have waited long enough and we have concrete evidence that proves that we can take action.