Nova Scotia·REALITY CHECK

Criticism of McNeil's comments on winnable seats for women at odds with Liberal record

A day after some took offence to comments he made, Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said his record shows he is a strong supporter of women in politics and government.

Liberal leader was attacked for comments about winnable districts

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil formed government in 2013 with the most female MLAs ever and appointed more women than any previous premier. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil says his record on supporting women in politics and government speaks for itself.

McNeil sparked criticism, particularly from political opponents, when he said Monday he wants "women in seats we can win."

It led to an announcement Tuesday from Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie that, in an effort to encourage parties to find more candidates who are women and visible minorities, a Tory government would increase the per vote funding parties receive by 50 per cent for any candidate who fits that criteria.

Tory plan for change

Flanked by 12 of 17 women running for the Tories, Baillie said all parties need to do a better job increasing the diversity of representation in the legislature.

"My vision for our party is that we have a slate of candidates that reflect today's Nova Scotia in every way."

The job will be done when no one discusses anyone's background, he said.

PC Leader Jamie Baillie said if he forms government, he would increase the per vote funding for candidates who are women or visible minorities in an effort to encourage parties to field more diverse candidates. (CBC)

While Baillie accused McNeil of being dismissive and condescending in his earlier comments, the Liberal leader pointed to his own record as proof of his commitment to a diverse legislature. 

"I've elected more women than any other political leader in the history of this province," McNeil said.

The last two elections

In 2013, the Liberals elected 10 of 14 women who ran as candidates. McNeil went on to put six of those women in cabinet — also a record for Nova Scotia. As well, he's increased the number of judges, deputy ministers and other high-ranking bureaucrats who are women.

The Tories ran 13 women that same year, one of whom was elected. The NDP, meanwhile, ran 12 women and three were elected.

In 2009, the year the NDP formed government, that party ran 17 women and elected nine. Four women were given cabinet posts. The Tories elected one of seven women and the Liberals got two of 11 into the House. 

So far in this year's election, the Liberals are running 12 women, the Tories are running 17 and the NDP are running 24.

Cabinet criteria isn't just about gender

Baillie stopped short of saying his cabinet would contain gender parity. Everyone would get equal consideration, he said, but appointments would be based on a variety of factors.

On that point, he and McNeil agree.

"No one is appointed to my cabinet based on gender," McNeil said at an event in Dartmouth.

"They're appointed there based on the quality of who they are and their work."

It's up to voters

All three parties select candidates based on open nominations, meaning it's ultimately up to electoral district associations to vote in favour of the candidate they want to run and then voters in general to decide who they want in the House.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said efforts at gender parity are at the heart of everything the party does, including candidate selection. (CBC)

NDP Leader Gary Burrill noted his party's nomination rules require an electoral district association to make an attempt to find candidates who are women and minorities before proceeding to a candidate vote.

Attempts at gender parity is in the party's DNA, he said.

"We don't have a standing committee in our party that doesn't have both a male and female co-chair."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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