New Brunswick

Opposition warms up to incentives to get women running for legislature

A plan designed to increase the number of women running in New Brunswick elections is gaining support from PC MLA Dorothy Shephard, who is also the opposition critic for women's equality.

Dorothy Shephard says cash incentive will encourage more parties to ask women to run

MLA Dorothy Shephard, the PC critic for women's equality, says women aren't often considered as candidate material. (CBC)

A plan designed to increase the number of women running in New Brunswick elections has gained the support of PC MLA Dorothy Shephard, who is also the opposition critic for women's equality.

Under a Liberal bill introduced last week, women running for provincial office would net 1.5 times more public funding for political parties than votes cast for male candidates.

After every election, a pool of money of about $700,000 would be distributed to registered political parties based on their share of the vote.

The government argues that by providing incentives for votes for women, political parties will be more likely to run female candidates in ridings they believe they can win.

Women don't normally run because they either don't have the confidence to do it... or they're not asked and this would make an incentive to make the ask.- MLA Dorothy Shephard

When the announcement was first made Shephard, the Progressive Conservative member for Saint John Lancaster, called the proposal a "fly-by policy" that didn't provide incentives directly to women.

However, in an interview on Information Morning Fredericton on Monday, Shephard called the policy "innovative" and said it was a good incentive that was originally suggested by the New Brunswick Women's Council.

"Women don't normally run because they either don't have the confidence to do it — which was in my case, or they're not asked and this would make an incentive to make the ask," Shephard said.

She said as a woman without post-secondary education, she "never saw politics as a potential career."

"If it hadn't been for a now colleague, coming to me back in 2008 and saying, 'I want to talk to you about a political career.' And I said, 'What political career?' and he said, 'The one you're going to have ' — I don't know if I ever would have made the jump." 

Shephard said she has come to realize her experience as a business owner and volunteer is valuable in the world of politics.

"For the first time in my life I feel like I'm doing exactly what I was meant to do — and so I think that this incentive can have that effect and we'll look for it but what we need to do is also put it in the minds of society that we want more women there," she said.

Policy can't be just about money 

Shephard wants to see the policy go beyond the promise of more money for political parties who run successful female candidates and include education to change the way society sees women running for office.

She pointed to a nomination meeting she attended, where a woman and a man were candidates.

"The one common statement that people made to me was, 'How can she possibly do this job? She has five children,'" Shephard said.

"That's the societal mentality that we're dealing with — that people can't see a woman going beyond bringing up her children to being fully involved in her provincial or municipal or federal landscape."

Shephard suggested the extra money for political parties who encourage women should to toward educating women about what the political world is like and what challenges they will face.

"It cannot be just about putting more money into political coffers."

There are eight female MLAs in the New Brunswick legislature out of a total of 49 members, which is about 16 per cent.