The deadline to nominate candidates for the federal election has come and gone, and once more it is clear that the participation of women in politics is not a high priority for Canada�s four main political parties.
When the Jan. 2 deadline had passed, 999 candidates had submitted their nomination papers to contest the Jan. 23 election for the Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois. Just a quarter of the candidates were women.
Political leaders always proclaim themselves eager for more representation of women in Parliament, but it seems that no election is quite the right time for radical measures.
A little more than two years ago, as he was headed for his coronation as leader of the Liberal party, Paul Martin made a couple of surprising statements.
Looking ahead to the election that eventually took place in June 2004, he said: "We cannot go into this election campaign unless we have the largest number of women candidates in Liberal riding history."
Enthused, he explained, "We have to go out across this country and, in riding after riding, recruit young women who want to dedicate themselves to the public service."
The harsh reality is that Martin did not reach his target of the largest number of women candidates in Liberal party history. Women constituted 24 per cent of all Liberal candidates in 2004. The Liberals, under his old rival Jean Chré tien, attracted 28 per cent women candidates in the 1997 election.
Nor did Martin achieve great success in terms of getting women actually elected to the House of Commons. Of the 135 Liberals elected in the 2004 election, only 34 were women 25 per cent of the caucus.
As for the goal of half the membership of Parliament being women, that was a distant target. Of the 308 MPs from all parties, only 65 were women, a long way from Martin's ideal of 52 per cent, and virtually the same proportion as in 2000.
With another election on the horizon, the numbers look no better for women. Indeed, the representation of women seems to have been at best an afterthought.
The highest proportion of women is found in the New Democratic Party, where women constitute 36 per cent of the nominated candidates.
Thirty one per cent of Bloc Québécois candidates are women.
Despite Martin's past enthusiasm, only 26 per cent of the Liberal candidates are women.
Among Conservatives, just 11 per cent of the candidates are women.
The group most active in lobbying for greater representation of women in Parliament is Equal Voice, whose chair, former journalist Rosemary Speirs, concedes wearily that "so far we're battering against a wall."
Another continuing problem, Speirs acknowledges, is that political parties frequently nominate women in those ridings where they have little chance of victory.
Speirs points grimly to the chart published by the Interparliamentary Union in its survey of democratic institutions around the world.
In terms of representation of women, the 65 women elected to the House of Commons in the last election mean that Canada is 23rd in the world slightly behind Ethiopia, slightly ahead of Latvia.
For advocates like Speirs, the consolation is that women have achieved greater success in making inroads in the political parties than visible minorities have managed.
Of the NDP's 308 candidates, 21 are visible minorities.
Of the Bloc Qué bécois' 75 candidates, nine are visible minorities.
The Liberals and the Conservatives said they do not keep a record of minority candidates.
[an error occurred while processing this directive]