Quebec Tory candidate says women 'absolutely not' underrepresented in party

One of the few female candidates to run under the Conservative banner in Quebec says women are "absolutely not" underrepresented within her party.

Pascale Dery says many women fought in nomination races and 'we can't do much about it' if they lose

Conservative leader Stephen Harper and Laureen Harper plant a flower with Conservative candidate Pascale Dery in Drummondville, Quebec, on Aug. 24. Dery asserted that women are "not at all underrepresented" in the party. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

One of the few female candidates to run under the Conservative banner in Quebec says women are "absolutely not" underrepresented within her party.

Pascale Dery, who is hoping to win the Drummond riding from the New Democrats, is one of nine female candidates featured on dark blue campaign posters in Quebec. She nevertheless rejects the premise of a question about the lack of female representation in the Conservative Party.

"I completely disagree... Women are not at all underrepresented, I don't get that impression. Not at all," she said emphatically in an interview with The Canadian Press at a cafe in Drummondville, Quebec.

Many women participated in Conservative nomination races, "but if they lose the nomination at the end of the line, we can't do much about it; it's still a democratic process," Dery insisted.

Furthermore, the low percentage of female Conservative candidates in Quebec — nine out of 78, or 11.5 per cent — is misleading, the former journalist said.

The number doesn't take into account that there are, in her opinion, "many women in government" (at Parliament's dissolution, 12 of the 39 members of cabinet, or 30.8 per cent, were women), and "many women among the political personnel."

Political machine vs. decision makers

Michele Audette, a Liberal party candidate in Quebec's Terrebonne riding, says it is "not surprising" that women aren't lining up to carry the Conservative party colours.

"In Conservative party policy, from abortion rights to the file on an inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women, we find a lot of things that represent a step backwards (for women)," she said in a phone interview.

The former president of the Native Women's Association of Canada also refutes Pascale Dery's argument about women staffers, saying you cannot compare the influence of an employee to that of an elected official when it comes to party or government policy.

"There's a difference between the political machine and those who make decisions, the elected officials. We're talking about two different worlds," Audette said.

With 27 per cent female candidates in Quebec (21 out of 78), the Liberal party nevertheless trails behind the NDP (37 female candidates, or 47.4 per cent), she recognizes.

However, she notes that Justin Trudeau has promised to ensure gender parity in an eventual Liberal cabinet. "Already there, we are sending a message in a traditionally male system," Audette said.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has not made any such commitment on the issue.

NDP astonished by Tory candidate's comments

On the other hand, if his party takes power, he will have plenty of choice when selecting a cabinet, according to NDP candidate Ruth Ellen Brosseau.

"For us, it probably won't be a problem; we'll find [women] candidates for cabinet," she said to The Canadian Press following a news conference in Thetford Mines.

Brosseau, who won the riding of Berthier-Maskinonge in the 2011 election, is astonished Pascale Dery seems satisfied to have only eight other women candidates beside her on the Conservatives' Quebec team.

"I can't tell you why she's proud of having nine candidates in Quebec. I find [the Conservatives] have a problem. They should maybe rework their recruitment policy or get a new one," Brosseau said.

More women identify with her party because it defends positions and values they hold dear, she said.

"I think what we're proposing for entrepreneurship, but also for daycares, these are things that are important for families and also for mothers, and that may encourage more women to get involved."


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