Gender parity initiative hopeful as election candidate split inches closer to even

A group that wants to see women make up 50 per cent of the candidates running in the provincial election is inching closer to reaching its goal by the Sept. 4 deadline for nominations.

Initiative hopes to see women account for 50 per cent of provincial election candidates

A group promoting gender parity among election candidates say so far 35 per cent of provincial elections candidates are women. (Daniel McHardie/CBC)

A group that wants to see women make up 50 per cent of the candidates running in the provincial election is inching closer to reaching its goal by the Sept. 4 deadline for nominations.  

The Women for 50% Initiative came together a little more than a year ago to urge women to run in the Sept. 24 election.

So far, women represent 35 per cent of the candidates offering.

But Norma Dubé, one of the co-founders of the initiative, is hopeful that New Brunswick will lead the way in achieving gender parity in provincial elections.

No province across the country has yet to reach 50 per cent.

Norma Dubé, co-founder of the Women 50% Initiative, says convincing women to run hasn't always been easy.

"Our current representation in the legislative assembly here in New Brunswick is 16 per cent are women and, in 2018, I think most of us would say that's not acceptable," she said.  

The breakdown

Currently, the numbers show the Liberals have 17 women running, the Green Party has 14, the Progressive Conservatives have 11, the NDP has six women and the People's Alliance with four. Dubé expects more nominations to come in as the deadline approaches.

One of the key roles of the initiative is holding parties accountable to recruit women and support them to win.

Since the previous election, the Gallant Liberals amended the political financing law to alter the per-vote public subsidy for parties, awarding 25 per cent more for each vote cast for a female candidate. This creates a financial incentive for parties to run more women.

It's just a room full of men and you see that and you're thinking where are women in this?- Marilyn Merritt-Gray, Green Party candidate

The Women for 50% group provides women with step-by-step instructions about how to put their nomination in, what to do once they win their riding and what to do during and after election night.

But convincing women to run hasn't been easy.

Dubé said some women worry about being away from home for long stretches of time, the culture of politics, the baggage that comes with being a woman in the public eye and the possible impact on home and family life.

"There are a number of challenges, but, having said that, I would say that most of the women that I've talked to, whether it's in sort of this round leading up to the September election or in years past, probably the biggest reason that women who do decide to raise their hands and say, 'I want to be involved,' is because of their passion that they want to make a difference," said Dubé.

"There's that fire of a passion to make that difference."

'Go for it'

Marilyn Merritt-Gray felt that passion to make a change when she decided to run for the Green Party in her riding of Gagetown-Petitcodiac. The first-time candidate and retired nurse said her background in social activism will help her handle life in politics.

Marilyn Merritt-Gray is the Green Party candidate for Gagetown-Petitcodiac.

"We have a lot to lose in New Brunswick if we just continue to keep going down the road that we're on in terms of more and more corporate control of our public services. I just see it as a direction I don't want to be a part of. I just think it's wrong," said Merritt-Gray.

"The other thing is from being in the legislature, I've been in the legislature [...] and it's just a room full of men and you see that and you're thinking where are women in this?"

Dubé said some people are reluctant to expose themselves to the scrutiny and criticism that comes with being in the public eye.

Betty Weir, a first-time NDP candidate for Albert, said the legislature needs the perspective women can bring.

Betty Weir is the NDP candidate for Albert.

"Run, because again you're bringing a new perspective to the government. A woman thinks differently than a man. I know there's negativity in politics, but go for it, that's all I can say," she said.

And, with the help of workshops and resources, Dubé said the initiative will be there to support the candidates in every possible way.

 "51 per cent of the population of New Brunswick is us, women who would love to see them make the decision and actually get off that fence and do run. We need their representation," she said.

Amber Bishop is entering politics for the first time as the Liberal candidate in Fredericton York. A teacher and principal, Bishop said her friends encouraged her to get involved.

Amber Bishop is the Liberal candidate for Fredericton-York.

"I was approached by several different people asking me and, at first, I completely dismissed it not because it wasn't something that I didn't think of in my future, it was just something that I didn't think of right now," she said.

But in the end, she wanted to be part of a change that brings diversity to politics in New Brunswick.

"The face of politics really needs to change and change with a purpose, so it's not just making sure we have women and people of colour in politics; it's finding qualified, excited, passionate New Brunswickers who want to represent us," she said.

Margaret Johnson has been drawn to politics since high school student council, but her life as a teacher and mother made left her little time. This election will be her first as a candidate. She's offering for the PCs in Carleton-Victoria.  

Margaret Johnson is the PC candidate in Carleton-Victoria.

"I'm running as a candidate who believes that they can get something done, not because I'm a woman but because I'm good at what I do and because I am good at getting things done," said Johnson.

"But I think women in the past have been tied to what their husbands and their fathers did politically and more and more women are realizing that they can make their own decisions and they're eager to be involved."

Dubé said she doesn't see why New Brunswick can't be the first province to achieve the magic number of 50 per cent.

She and her 11 co-founders monitor the nominations and update their website regularly to reflect the numbers of women candidates.

Knowing that there's a network of support and many people in their corner, Dubé is hopeful that this year will be a transformative election year for women.