Trudeau has 'historic opportunity' for Senate gender balance, group says

More than 80 prominent Canadian women have signed a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling for gender equality in the Senate.

80 prominent Canadian women sign letter calling for gender-equality in upper chamber

The new Senate Speaker George Furey is escorted to the Speakers throne by Senator James Cowan and Senator Claude Carignan after being sworn in during a ceremony in the Senate chamber in Ottawa, Thursday Dec. 3, 2015. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

More than 80 prominent Canadian women are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to seize a "historic opportunity" to build a Senate with an equal number of men and women.

A letter signed by a broad group of former politicians, academics, businesswomen and other professionals notes that of the 83 sitting Senators, only 30 are women. The letter urges Trudeau to fill all 22 current vacancies with women.

"To achieve gender equality as soon as possible, the 22 current vacancies should be filled by women from diverse backgrounds, including Indigenous women, women from minority linguistic, racial and ethnic communities, and others, consistent with the Senate's role in minority representation," the letter reads. 

"This would achieve the result of a Senate that is 50 percent female and more representative of Canada. This is an historic opportunity. Future appointees would include both women and men in equal numbers."

Equal Voice's Donna Dasko on why she wants to see gender parity in the Senate. 7:48

Signatories include former prime minister Kim Campbell, former Ontario attorney-general Marion Boyd, Pam Palmater, the chair of Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, and former deputy prime minister Sheila Copps.

Copps told CBC News that when she was in office, the Liberal government exceeded parity in Senate appointments, and there was no shortage of exceptional candidates.

Senate should reflect Canada

"If we want to have a representative Senate, it should reflect the faces of Canada, in all their diversity," she said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen before the speech from the throne in the Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday December 4, 2015. Trudeau is being asked to work towards gender balance in the red chamber. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Last month, Trudeau appointed a 30-member cabinet with an even split of women and men. Asked why it was important to have gender parity in his inner circle, Trudeau said simply: "Because it's 2015."

Earlier this month, the Liberal government announced plans to overhaul the Senate appointment process in a bid to end bitter partisanship and restore public confidence in the scandal-plagued Senate.

Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef and House leader Dominic LeBlanc said Tuesday that a five-member independent advisory board will be struck to make recommendations for "merit-based" candidates to sit in the Senate.

A spokesman for Monsef said the board will be guided by those merit-based criteria, and nominees will be considered "with a view to achieving gender balance in the Senate."

"We share the desire of the signatories to achieve gender balance in the Senate," said Paul Duchesne.

The changes will not require any constitutional revisions and will ensure regional, gender and ethnic representation in the Senate. The advisory board will consult with provinces, community and indigenous groups, business and labour organizations, arts councils and others.

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