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Have women finally arrived in Canadian politics?

On Cross Country Checkup: women in politics

The election of Kathy Dunderdale's Progressive Conservatives in Newfoundland and Labrador makes four sitting women premiers, including the territories.

What do you think? Have women finally arrived in Canadian politics?

With guest host Suhana Meharchand.


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Agnes Macphail became the first woman elected to the Canadian parliament in 1921, the first election that women had the vote. She said she could hear the footsteps of all the women who would follow her.

Well, 90 years later we have for the first time four women premiers. And in Ottawa a quarter of the federal seats are held by women MPs -- te highest number ever.

Critics say Canada still has a long way to go. This election means we now rank in the top 40 countries for female representation. To put it in perspective, we are far behind Rwanda, which has 56-percent female representation, and Scandinavian countries where there are quota systems to ensure a certain number of women will always be elected.

Today, we want to hear what you think. Have women finally arrived? How do we measure this rather intangible question?

Do we need to do more to encourage women to enter politics? Does the gender of a politician matter at all?

Do the numbers of women in politics simply reflect the increasing inroads women have made in other areas -- in business, in the trades and professions, in academia? Or is there something particularly gruelling, even unsavory, about the cut-and-thrust political life that will always be a barrier ?

Are women judged by different standards than men? Earlier this month Premier Christy Clark drew criticism for an outfit that some thought was too revealing for the legislature. Is that unfair, ridiculous, or fair game?

Our question today: Have women finally made it in Canadian political life?

I'm Suhana Meharchand ...on CBC Radio One...and on Sirius satellite radio channel 159 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.




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Simon Fraser University: elections

Canadian Parliamentary Review
  • Women in Politics: Still Searching For An Equal Voice
  • (PDF format)


    Women have finally arrived in politics and it's high time. They are better at budgeting, negotiating and finding ways to get what they want.
    Spock in Star Trek stated that he was thouroughly amazed at a woman's capacity to never answer a question directly. Woman are getting into all sorts of fields that were traditionaly reserrved for men. This was only in some countries though as I observe that Asian countries have had women in many fields that we have not for decades. They also make way better use of their seniors than we do with jobs that generally get ignored here but would be better if seniors got to do them.
    John Birmingham
    Grande Prairie, Alberta


    Just want you to know that I will be calling in on behalf of Equal Voice within the first hour to share our perspective. With chapters in several provinces across the country and ten years of advocacy behind us, we are very enthusiastic about this topic. Further, as a Newfoundlander who now serves as Equal Voice's Executive Director, I am particularly thrilled to weigh in. Thanks for doing the show!

    Nancy Peckford
    Ottawa, Ontario


    I am a mother of four and while I would never ever vote for Christy Clarke, I completely object to the judging of her outfits. Argue with her politics - end  of story. Good grief.

    Jennifer Thuncher
    Richmond, British Columbia


    The Austrian commentator Karl Kraus said that psychoanalysis is the disease for which it pretends to be the cure. I think the same could be said of political gender quotas. Elected representatives should serve the interests and foster the welfare of all their constituents. If they must be female to understand women's issues, then they must be Catholics to understand their issues, or gay, or African, or any and everything else. If representative government is possible at all, this ruinous short-sightedness is the problem, not the cure.

    Michael Morse


    I not believe that gender matters in elections. I think women have just
    as much chance to be elected as men.

    As the political world is today, even more so in the past few years, you
    must be prepared to go to war, not prepared to work with other people to
    solve problems.  A great many women with leadership qualities, wisely, say
    no thank you to that culture. If we can ever change running our country from
    the attitude of winner take all, anything is fair in getting your agenda
    implemented, I think we will see the numbers of women rise to the actual
    percentage we represent.

    If Parliament actually used the talents of every member, and even tried for
    a pattern of compromise and forging the best solution for the country, women
    would be much more likely to step up to the plate.

    Wendy Peck
    Winnipeg, Manitoba


    As long as we don't have a national childcare strategy that values the working family, women will not be able to advance. There is still a 1950s Leave it to Beaver mentality amongst our present Conservative government, that women belong at home and childcare is a family concern. Yet families with young children pay as much for childcare in the first five years of life as the cost of a university education.

    Your guest talked about families now having the availability of childcare, yet Canada invests the lowest amount of GDP in childcare out of the developed nations. We rank dead last behind Ireland and the United States. Until women and families have access to  quality childcare their career choices will always be playing catch up to the male population. We need to rethink our approach to early care and learning. The governments of the day has forgotten the phrase, "It takes a village to raise a child."

    Have a great day
    Laurel Hodgins


    I get the impression that more women enter politics later in life than their male counterparts, who may be more likely to be career politicians. For many women I think politics is their second career, whether the first was business or home. Not to say this is good or bad, but this scenario seems to work better in politics than it does in business, with just as capable a candidate in the end.
    I don't see quotas as necessary. That assumes that as much as possible
    women have equal opportunities along the way.

    Rick Hammond
    Guelph, Ontario


    While I agree that the proportion of women in parliament does not match the population, how does it compare with the proportion of women running for office? It seems to me to be somewhat unreasonable to expect the proportion in parliament to match the population until the proportion of candidates is also the same as the population.

    Marc Lavoie
    Ottawa, Ontario


    So what is arrival? Politics is a mutating field reflecting society. The question is whether society has changed. It seems to have changed, to some extent anyway, but the catch is comparing the present situation to what? The confrontational vs. peacemaker standard is one that only draws up nature vs. nurture debates. I don't think women are peacemakers by nature any more than are Canadians peacemakers by some essential gene.

    To the degree that society engages in a class struggle, politics will engage in a reflection of that reality and women and men who want to stay in the seats of power will have to play that game to some extent. How do we expect to have a nation of peacemakers when we raise our kids in war-hockey? When we as a nation, or confederation of nations, choose the way of constructing a better life for all members of society, and get beyond merely passing resolutions to "end child poverty" our politics will become more equal, more women will get into power, poor people will have more input to power and power will be less a matter of dominance than of enablement of access to prosperity... If there is any left.

    Dermot Monaghan
    Kingston, Nova Scotia


    I believe that often women choose to build community, family and society from our positions in daily life. We are consciously aware that, once elected, no matter our gender or ideals, we are trying to effect change in an entrenched and regimented organization with decades of bureaucracy to hinder them. 

    The comments made regarding the clothing of female politicians are ludicrous.  Comments like this are not only immature but embarrassing in their diversion of the speakers content. It's a door that shouldn't be opened. Surely, the male politicians do not want to have a female eye scrutinizing their attire and making it into a news story. Perhaps male politicians who are distracted by the neckline of a co-worker should keep it to themselves.

    Solomon Nicholas
    Surrey, British Columbia


    As a 17-year-old girl, I have first hand knowledge of what it's like to be female growing up in Canada. Although I believe that women have achieved equality with men on many fronts, there are still some exceptions and politics is one of them. My opinion is that the problem is not prejudice against women who are running in politics, but rather that girls in our society are not raised in a way that encourages them to become interested in politics. I think that if we as women wish to arrive in politics, girls need to feel that it is a viable option for them.

    Renae Dahn
    Cornwall, Prince Edward Island 


    The government is considering redistributing seats based on population. Yet it wants to give Quebec extra seats not based on proportionality. Women are underrepresented much more than Quebec. Why not give women special seats to rectify inequality?

    Brian Casey
    Ottawa, Ontario


    I was just in the car and I heard a little part of your topic and I had to write to you.

    I want to say that this topic offends me because I am a man who's life has been ripped apart in family court and I have had dealings with Children's Aid and I do not agree with the discussion of gender inequality unless it also includes the topic of gender discrimination against men.

    Any discussion of gender, in my opinion, is a perpetuation of the problem, not a path to a solution. Jobs should go to the people who are best suited and gender should have nothing to do with the decision.

    I also wanted to mention that you are focusing on only the top jobs like members of parliament, heads of corporations, supreme court justices - that sort of thing. It's like saying that before Barak Obama was elected as president of the United States that black people did not have equality. You should look a little lower down on the food chain and you'll see that woman not only have equality, but have many high-level positions. There are today more women enrolled in University to become doctors and lawyers than men.

    Why not do a show about gender discrimination against men and you can talk about all the commercials on TV that feature men as total idiots. Imagine those same commercials with the sexes of the characters reversed and tell me there would not be a backlash of epic proportions.

    I was in court defending myself on more than one occasion and every person in that courtroom, about 12 people in all, from the judge down to the security guard were women. Get off your high horses and open your eyes!

    Wolf Moehrle
    Neustadt, Ontario


    There was only one issue I could imagine for discussion on today's show: Occupy Wall Street. The growing gap between rich and poor affects everyone, irrespective of gender, sexuality, religion or ethnicity.

    This woman is tired of talking about why women aren't running for political office. And when it comes to my vote, it will go to the most progressive thinker, not the one who shares my gender.

    Dorothy King
    West Brooklyn, Nova Scotia


    Women arrived along time ago. We have a tendency to ask and try to "fix" what more women need to do or learn; how they should adapt their behaviour or appearance in order to  achieve parity in society. It's our society which has not yet arrived at the point where it is willing and able to incorporate and take advantage of the skills and perspectives of all its citizens. We need to shift our energy and attention towards the systemic and structural obstacles which remain, regardless of the extraordinary achievements of the few women who have been permitted to be the exception to the rule.

    Rhina Fraticelli
    Toronto, Ontario


    If you watch current affairs on TV, those who interrupt others and attempt to loudly and repeatedly make their points are almost always men. We don't need them and those that are paid should be fired. Such male politicians are particularly unappealing, and they should be replaced by women. We need statesmen or stateswomen, not self-serving blowhards.

    Rein Raudsepp
    St. Albert, Alberta


    Another minor point I don't recall hearing this evening, although it's been alluded to with women's appearance being such a topic of conversation, is the clothing budget of men vs. women. A man can have three suits and fifty ties, and he's got how many outfits? And shoes, how often is the footwear of men ever an issue?

    Michael Ruxton
    Dartmouth, Nova Scotia


    Woman will have arrived in politics when it engenders as little discussion as the number of women driving cars.

    Miriam Heynen
    Waterloo, Ontario


    I love what caller Brandon brought up about the problem with emphasizing gender differences and how the feminist-supported idea that men are holding women back is a particular slant that could be argued both ways. I also love that he brought up the social/cultural belief that men are expected to be a breadwinner just as much as women are expected to stay home and raise the children. These beliefs can and should be challenged on both sides of gender.

    Thank you,
    Dianna Dolha
    Calgary, Alberta


    In my view what holds women back more than anything is the high cost of running. It is harder for women to get adequate funding. Further, from a federal point of view, PM Harper has cut subsidies for politicians. I consider that a direct attact on women wishing to enter politics at the federal level.

    Kathleen Pickard
    Victoria, British Columbia



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