Madam Speaker, it is my distinct privilege to rise in the House today to speak in support of Bill C-237, sponsored by my colleague from Burnaby South. It is a bill whose time has come, and I encourage all my colleagues to support sending Bill C-237 to committee.
Studying this bill at committee will send a powerful message to the electorate that says that this session of Parliament has the courage and conviction to assess and remedy why in 2016 our Parliament is not representative of the electorate. It will send a message that we have finally moved beyond blaming individual women for not running for office, and it will examine how the current structures, systems and institutions present barriers to women seeking to be elected as members of Parliament.
Bill C-237 would make it possible for more women candidates to present themselves in the electoral process and therefore help more of them get elected. As they say, one cannot win if one does not play, and so it is in electoral politics, one cannot be elected if one is not able to run.
We know from research that it is not the electorate that does not vote for women candidates. Women candidates win elections at the same rate as men candidates. It is not the electorate but political parties that fail to nominate a representative slate of candidates to the electorate.
We also know from research that women candidates need to work harder and have to spend 10% more money on average than men candidates to get elected.
Many of my colleagues hear the phrases “gender equity in candidacy” and “financial incentive” in the same sentence and instinctively shy away. They have a fear that somehow levelling the playing field could have a disruptive implication on the system, and it will. The system will be fairer for all candidates. Personally, that type of disruption I look forward to.
The bill is not about limiting the number of male candidates. I will repeat what the member for Burnaby South said earlier and clarify that the threshold of 45% of candidates identifying as female was chosen to allow for the flexibility to choose the most qualified candidates.
The bill is not about marginalizing other minority groups seeking representation. I would suggest it could seek to address one aspect of an issue that has many intersections and could potentially serve as an incentive for political parties to nominate more indigenous women and women of colour.
Finally, the bill does not seek to minimize the hard work that every woman currently in the House has put into getting elected. Rather, gender equity in candidates is about recognizing that women face barriers within political parties that their male colleagues do not
The bill offers the opportunity for this Parliament to acknowledge systemic discrimination within the current candidate selection process and provide a remedy to address it. Without dismantling the barriers that prevent women from running, we cannot truly encourage or expect qualified women leaders to participate in our democracy to their fullest capacity.
Being able to sit in the House of Commons as a woman was a hard-won achievement for each and every one of my female colleagues, from the very early stages of winning their respective party nominations, through all the different aspects and phases of a long campaign. However, many women who had the courage to even begin the process have found themselves pitted against a whole array of obstacles that makes winning even the nomination an uphill battle.
In a post entitled “Where are all the women (candidates)?”, Kate McInturff from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives lays out just a few barriers that women face.
She discusses work and life balance, how elected office at any level demands long hours on an irregular schedule, and how for women with young children and dependent family members, this poses a real challenge. She says:
Women still perform double the number of hours of unpaid childcare work as do men, they are three times as likely to take time off from work for family reasons and they are more than ten times as likely to cite childcare as a reason for not working full time. Even if you can manage a full time schedule and find a childcare spot, there’s still the problem of what to do when there’s a council session that runs until 11pm or a community consultation on a Sunday.
The second is that women are told not to be bossy. She says:
Study after study demonstrates that, as a society, we don’t always respond favourably to women stepping into public leadership roles. Female politicians, in particular, are often portrayed as overly aggressive...At the same time, female politicians are subjected to questions about their hair and clothes that have no parallel in interviews with male politicians. Or they get what [is]...referred to as “the princess treatment”—all hair and no policy.
Finally on violence, she says:
From the time they are teenagers, girls are subject to harassment in public. That’s a lesson young women are learning about the risk of being in public.
And it’s an accurate lesson.
Again, the presidential race in the U.S. provides compelling and distressing evidence that women are objectified, ridiculed, dismissed, and subjected to unequal and disrespectful treatment. Lest we feel too smug, closer to home, the female premier of Alberta has been subjected to death threats, misogynistic slurs, and other threats of violence. This has to stop.
The statistics on this issue are familiar to all of us. It is 2016 and women still hold only 26% of the seats in the House of Commons, an all-time high. It is clear that we must do better.
This past International Women's Day, I had the privilege of participating in the women in the House program. It was a pleasure to have two students from McGill University and the University of Toronto shadow me on March 8th and 10th respectively.
The young women who shadowed me in March were bright and capable, and they have much to offer in service to their communities and to this great country. I want to make sure I do whatever I can to level the playing field so that these young women can one day take their seats in the House of Commons. However, at the current rate women are being elected to the House of Commons, a gender-balanced House is not projected until 2075. I am sure that none of my colleagues think this is desirable or acceptable.
Of course, the unequal playing field in the candidate selection process is not the only form of systemic discrimination to which women of Canada are subject. As vice-chair of the Special Committee on Pay Equity, I am extremely disappointed that this so-called feminist government has decided to make working women wait another two years for a fundamental human right. This is completely unacceptable. There is no reason to postpone fairness. Canadian women have been waiting for decades to receive equal pay for work of equal value, and it is way past time for the government to correct this injustice.
This is just another example of how women are systemically discriminated against. It is realities like the widening wage gap that make bills like Bill C-237 necessary. It is only logical to assume that higher numbers of female candidates will lead to more female representation and with that, perhaps, a Parliament that feels a greater urgency to tackle long-standing gender-based issues such as the wage gap. The time has come for the government to stop talking about its feminist values and start acting like feminists. Supporting Bill C- 237 would do just that.
Bill C-237 is not about guaranteeing 50% women in the House. The bill is not about guaranteeing anyone a seat in the House of Commons. The bill is about offering the electorate the opportunity of electing a House of Parliament that is more representative and reflects them in the House of Commons. Canadians are not holding women back from being elected. It really is the systems and structures of our political parties that are.
It is naive to say that somehow institutions and systems like political parties will somehow magically evolve over time to be free of sexist and racist barriers. There are limits to voluntary measures and good intentions.
In virtually every case where countries have achieved gender parity in Parliament, it has been done using mandatory legislated measures, regardless of the electoral system. In Canada, at the current rate, even with party leaders who have a strong commitment to electing more women, we will not achieve parity for another 90 years, unless we make some changes, which in my view cannot be left solely to the goodwill of political parties.
I am proud to say that the NDP has always had the highest percentage of female candidates, and that is because we have worked very hard to remove the barriers to women's participation, but we can and must do even better.
It is my hope that my colleagues will vote in favour of sending this legislation to committee so that the day will come sooner rather than later when we will elect a truly representative Parliament.