Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Burnaby South on bringing forward Bill C-237, the candidate gender equity act, and initiating a very important conversation about how to achieve gender parity in politics in Canada.
Having spent much of my professional career working with women around the world, I have studied best practices in how to increase women's representation in parliaments. Legislative solutions, such as those outlined in Bill C-237, including financial incentives or penalties to encourage political parties to nominate more women, are considered by UN Women, UNDP, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and other major international organizations to be commonly recognized methods to achieve greater gender parity. In fact, I facilitated an international round table in Oslo on financing rules for women in politics in 2009, and this was one of the key recommendations.
Many countries around the world are going much further than this bill in their legislative frameworks. Today, Canada ranks 61st in the world when it comes to women in Parliament. We rank behind countries like Sudan, Iraq, and Cuba.
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 speak in Parliament with men and women who are fighting for gender parity and equality. More women are serving in this Parliament than ever before. We have an unprecedented cabinet that reflects and represents all Canadians. The political parties took new measures to encourage more female candidates to run, and many of those who were elected worked tirelessly to establish new support networks and systems.
However, as a nation, we are not leading the way and we cannot trust that we will improve things voluntarily or that we will always have the right leadership.
Women have never held more than 26% of the seats in the House. We have not seen a dramatic increase in representation since 1993. It is true that we have seen progress, but we cannot just assume that progress will be inevitable. If we choose to settle for the incremental, then we risk losing everything we have accomplished.
Globally, in the period following the 1995 Beijing Declaration, there were significant increases in women's representation, largely as a result of the introduction of quotas and other temporary special measures in many countries. However, since 2010, many countries have reached a plateau between 25% and 30%, and in some regions they have even regressed. Canada is falling further and further behind as countries outside of Europe and North America begin to advance beyond the 30% mark.
Confronting inequality demands the deployment of unequal measures. As a demographic, women in Canada continue to become highly educated and still continue to make only 73¢ for every $1 that men make. Women in Canada have less access to money networks from which to fundraise for political campaigns, but studies have found that elected women in Canada outspend their male opponents by about 10%. This means that women in Canada need to work harder and spend more money than men to achieve the same results.
Financial incentives to political parties for nominating more women would only be rectifying an existing imbalance. This is the reason that in 2003, under the Chrétien government, the Liberal women's caucus was so active in ensuring that nomination contests were included in the spending limits and disclosure requirements in the 2003 electoral financing legislation.
I am proud of our government's historic and ongoing commitment in this area. It introduced legislation that had a real impact on women during the election. The importance of the 2003 election financing act cannot be overstated.
During the last election, 29.7% of candidates were women. These same women won 26% of the seats in Parliament. Studies conducted by Equal Voice showed that, when a woman's name appears on the ballot, she is elected almost 50% of the time. Canadians are not what is holding women back. The problem is getting women's names on the ballot in the first place. Elections are not where women face the greatest inequality.
Women have a disproportionately small number of opportunities and unique financial constraints. They lack access to informal political networks. Despite all proof to the contrary, they have to overcome the preconceived idea that they will not be elected. They tend not to volunteer and tend to be discouraged by what is still a very male-dominant political culture .
It is true that Bill C-237 does not propose a solution to all of these problems. It is not all encompassing. In fact, it is by necessity minimalist in its scope. However, it does initiate an important conversation, and it would be a true disservice for us to allow that conversation to end without being studied at committee.
As I travelled the globe, talking to women on five continents, managing a network with staff spread over eight countries, the barriers faced by women were the same, differing only in degree. Women, even in Canada, still carry a larger responsibility for caregiving than their male counterparts. That is why the procedure and House affairs committee is studying how to make Parliament more family friendly.
We have heard from several witnesses who have indicated that measures such as a more efficient work schedule, better child care facilities, and reducing heckling would lead to more women on the ballot. Women still face stereotypes and biases in the media that men do not face, and female leadership characteristics are not given the same weight as male leadership styles. Part of this is because of the lack of strong female role models in powerful positions, something that is finally starting to change now that the Prime Minister has appointed a gender-equal cabinet.
Recruitment and training are essential for women in politics, and several parties have implemented measures to ensure that women are being recruited, including mandating that women be included in the candidate search committee, or refusing to allow a local association to hold a candidate selection meeting unless there are women on the ballot. Many parties also have specific funds to raise money for women candidates.
The electoral system itself also presents a major obstacle to more women getting elected. The 10 lowest ranked countries in the world in terms of the number of women elected to public office are all countries that use a first-past-the-post system. That should be a major point to consider if and when consultations are held on changing Canada's electoral system.
Despite all the other reforms that can improve women's representation, the evidence continues to show that, regardless of the type of electoral system, there are limits to the effectiveness of voluntary measures by political parties. The most common argument against mandatory legislative solutions is autonomy of political parties. However, the overwhelming evidence goes against this.
Sweden is the only country I am aware of that has achieved parity by relying only on voluntary measures. In that case, the parties have willingly adopted a zipper system, where every second candidate must be a woman, something that is not possible under our current electoral system.
This bill is not about putting Canada ahead of everyone else. It is about helping Canada to catch up. Financial incentives are one of the least intrusive measures that can be used to achieve political equality. Under this approach, the political parties will still be free to select candidates and make appointments.
Equal representation is more than a matter of justice or optics. Equal political participation is a pre-condition for policy and principles that are truly democratic and inclusive. This is not a matter of symbolism. I have seen women the world over risking the security of their own person, their families, their bodies to take their place at the table and I have personally experienced what a difference it makes having women in the room. Different experiences, different perspectives, must have a voice at the table or they will not be represented.
I believe that Bill C-237 is a positive contribution to the ongoing dialogue that will lead to a future where women's voices will be equal to men's in this House and in the country.