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Not many women were taking a run at federal politics in 1972

Feminism and equality for women were catchwords of the early 1970s, but when it came to signing up candidates for the '72 election, women's interest in running seemed sparse.

Party members made a conscious effort to get women to put their names on the ballot

In 1972 the lack of female candidates was notable

49 years ago
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Candidates like Flora MacDonald spoke about why so few women were running for parliament. 2:02

Feminism and equality for women were catchwords of the early 1970s, but when nominations closed for the election on Oct. 30, 1972, the numbers of women running did not seem to have kept up with the changing times.

With 71 female candidates in the running (according to the government website Parlinfo), the total was almost double what it was in 1968, but that was still only six per cent of the total.

Groups such as Women for Political Action — which the Globe and Mail described as "a group established to encourage women to run for political office" — were trying to boost the number of women in politics.

On Oct. 10, 1972, CBC News spoke with women representing the three major parties about why the uptake was not as great as they'd hoped. 

Women had their own careers

Marie Gibeault spoke about the efforts of the liberals to increase the number of women candidates (CBC News/CBC Archives)

Marie Gibeault, who was the head of the Women's Liberal Federation of Canada, spoke of the party having made "a very strong effort" at getting more women candidates.

She described having approached "close to 200 women in Canada," attracting only 50 willing participants, and netting only 10 candidates in the end.

As for why the numbers were so low, she suggested that distance from Ottawa played a part.

"Even some of the male people refused on account of that," Gibeault said.

She pointed out that many more women currently had careers of their own, and being elected would mean "you have to sit here practically 10 months in the year."

A question of 'socialization'

'MS for MP' was the slogan for Women for Political Action, who worked to get women into parliament (CBC News/CBC Archives)

Flora MacDonald, a candidate for the Progressive Conservative Party in the Ontario riding of Kingston and the Islands, suggested that having few women in the running was not a new phenomenon, but rather the way things had been in the 50 years since they were granted the right to run.

She felt that it came down to the whole question of "socialization."

"People are indoctrinated into the roles that they believe that they can handle," she concluded.

'We have to organize differently'

NDP candidate Grace MacInnis spoke to CBC news in her campaign office (CBC News/CBC Archives)

NDP candidate Grace MacInnis blamed "our traditional ways of organizing marriage and the home" for the lack of female participation.

"It's largely a matter of geography ... that makes it difficult for a woman," who often would have to sort out the practicalities involved in raising a family long-distance.

"You see we have to organize differently so that women can do senior government work," she said.

In the 1972 election, MacDonald won her seat, keeping it until 1988, and serving as both secretary of state for external affairs and the minister of communications along the way.

MacInnis, who had represented her riding of Vancouver Kingsway since 1965, held onto it until 1974.   

Of the 71 women candidates, five were elected in 1972. As well as MacDonald and MacInnis, Monique Bégin, Jeanne Sauvé, and Albanie Morin (these latter three being Liberal party candidates) won their contests.

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