MLAs recommend guaranteeing more women in N.W.T. legislature

MLAs have recommended that if voters do not elect at least four women to the Northwest Territories legislature in the fall election, a process should be adopted to guarantee that at least that many will be in the legislature after the 2023 election.

If at least four women not elected in fall election, method should be adopted to ensure that number next time

This week, Northwest Territories MLAs unanimously adopted the recommendations of a committee established to increase the number of women MLAs. (Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press)

If voters do not elect at least four women to the Northwest Territories legislature in the fall, a quota system should be established to ensure that at least that many will be in the legislature next election.

MLAs approved that move on Tuesday, and two more measures recommended by a committee of MLAs established to increase the representation of women in the legislature. Only two of the territory's 19 MLAs are women. It's the smallest percentage of women legislators of any jurisdiction in Canada.

The special committee to increase the representation of women in the legislature recommended that if four women are not elected on Oct. 1, a plebiscite be held to allow the public to choose a quota system that would guarantee at least that many are in the legislature after the 2023 election.

"I think that the question would be about some kind of guaranteed seat scheme, where there would be a number of seats set aside for women or created after the election, as the Samoan model lays out," said committee chair and Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green.

Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green chaired the special committee to increase the number of women in the N.W.T. legislature. With only two women MLAs, it currently has the lowest percentage of women representatives in the country. (CBC)

Though the recommendation received unanimous support from MLAs, Green said it will be up to the next group of MLAs to decide whether to act on that recommendation or the others made by the committee.

South Pacific model

Legislators looked at the system used in the small South Pacific country of Samoa, where, six years ago, a mechanism was introduced to ensure at least five women sit in their 49 seat legislature.

If no women win seats in a general election there, five seats are added and they are given to the women who received the highest percentage of votes in their respective ridings. If two women are elected, three seats are added for women who came closest to winning.

If that system had been applied to get a minimum of five women in the N.W.T. legislature during the last election, with only two elected, three seats would have been added for women.

The committee looked at several ways to ensure even regional representation, including allocating seats to women in different regions who got the highest percentages.

Campaign schools proving effective

During debate of the recommendation on guaranteed seats, Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh MLA Tom Beaulieu said he does not think a plebiscite will be necessary.

"I suspect we're going to have the highest number of women in the legislature after the (Oct. 1) election," said Beaulieu. "This will work. The numbers we are trying to achieve we will achieve easily."

One way of supporting women entering politics that's proven effective has been the campaign schools hosted by the Status of Women Council of the N.W.T. and Native Women's Association. The workshop-style classes encourage women to run for public office, and talk about the job of being a politician, campaigning, consensus government and the barriers women can expect to face.

Green attended the school before being elected in 2015. Another first-term MLA, cabinet minister Caroline Cochrane, said she would never have run in the last territorial election had she not attended. The mayors of Yellowknife, Fort Smith and Inuvik are also graduates of the schools.

Katrina Nokleby says that after attending one of the campaign schools organized by the Status of Women Council and the Native Women's Association, she is considering a run in the next territorial election.

Katrina Nokleby attended one after presenting her views to the special committee at a public hearing. Nokleby said many of the barriers the committee identified validated what she already felt, having experienced gender discrimination in her job as an engineer.

But the workshop also included things she had never considered.

"One of the things they told me is don't use humour as much, because women candidates who are humorous tend to not be taken seriously, whereas a male candidate that might be seen to make him seem more approachable and friendly."

Will Nokleby be running in the Oct. 1 territorial election? "I'm seriously considering it," she said. "I'm looking to get my ducks in a row, some of the infrastructure I may need, sort some things out professionally, but yes, it's definitely something that's on my radar."

The legislature has adopted the goals of at least 20 per cent women MLAs following the 2023 election and at least 30 per cent after the 2027 vote.

In addition to introducing guaranteeing an increase in women representatives, MLAs approved a recommendation to rebate 50 per cent of personal campaign spending by candidates who receive at least five per cent of the votes in their riding. The rebate is capped at $3,000 per candidate.

All candidates would be eligible for the rebate. The committee says women would benefit more than men because research shows they typically spend more of their own money on campaigns.

In March, MLAs approved recommendations the committee made in an interim report, including allowing MLAs to be reimbursed for child care expenses and giving them up to four months leave due to pregnancy or adoption without financial penalty.


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