North

For a way to improve female representation in the legislature, look to Samoa

A discussion paper tabled by House Speaker Jackson Lafferty in the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly on Thursday, pitches a new way to bring more women into the assembly — create new seats exclusively for them.

Report tabled in the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly proposes creating seats to ensure more women in government

"If women aren't there, their issues don't get discussed in as much detail or as often as they would if women were there," said Julie Green, MLA for Yellowknife Centre. (Mitchel Wiles/CBC)

A discussion paper tabled by House Speaker Jackson Lafferty Thursday in the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly, pitches a new way to bring more women into the assembly — create new seats exclusively for them.

According to the report, the N.W.T. legislature has the fewest women out of any Canadian legislature, with only two women holding seats out of 19 available. This gives the territory 10.5 per cent female representation.

"If women aren't there, their issues don't get discussed in as much detail or as often as they would if women were there," said Julie Green, MLA for Yellowknife Centre.

The paper is meant to generate debate among MLAs, and examine the will for change.

"We have to know if there is political will within this group of MLAs to advance it," Green said.

How would it work?

The discussion paper proposes more seats be added to bring the percentage of women in the legislature to 20 per cent by 2023 and 30 per cent by 2027. Having the system in place for the next election in 2019 was not suggested as feasible.

With 19 seats, it would take four women to get close to 20 per cent representation. If election results in 2023 don't include four elected women, then additional seats would be created and filled with the top women who ran, but didn't win.

The more [women] who run, the more chance they'll have of being elected.- Julie Green, MLA for Yellowknife Centre

If the proposal had been in place for the 2015 election where two women were elected, two extra seats would have been created. That would have brought the legislature to 21 seats. With four women represented,  representation would have been very close to the 20 per cent recommended in the report.

This would have created seats for Jane Groenewegen, who ran but lost in Hay River South, and Yvonne Doolittle in the Sahtu.

System works elsewhere

This system is based on an idea from Samoa, made up of islands in the South Pacific Ocean, where five seats for women are guaranteed in the legislature by creating seats when necessary.

The proposal is meant as a temporary measure in the N.W.T. The idea is that as more women are encouraged to run, they will inevitably win, rendering new seats unnecessary.

"The more [women] who run, the more chance they'll have of being elected," Green said.

There will be a press conference at the Legislative Assembly Friday at noon regarding the proposal.

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