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Women & The Right To Vote In Canada: An Important Clarification
February 26, 2013
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Statue On Parliament Hill Of Canada's "Famous Five" Who Fought For Women To Be Recognized As Persons

We wanted to clarify something from last night's show.

During our Three Things Panel, we asked the question, "In what year were all Canadian women eligible to vote in federal elections?"

The answer, we said, was 1921.

It is true that women had the right to vote in the 1921 federal election. But - and this is a significant but - that didn't mean ALL women in Canada.

At the time, aboriginal and Asian women were NOT allowed to vote. That's an important
distinction to make.

women-and-the-right-to-vote-in-canada-an-important-clarification-feature1.jpg By the way, in the 1921 election, Agnes Macphail of Grey County, Ontario ran for the Progressives - a farmer based party.

She was elected and on December 6, 1921, at the age of 31, Macphail officially became the first woman to sit in the House of Commons.

MacPhail would be the only woman in Parliament until 1929, when Cairine Wilson became the first woman senator. MacPhail eventually lost her seat in 1940.

A few other notes about the history of women voting in Canada:

In 1916, women had earned the vote in Manitoba. Eventually, other provinces extended the vote to women as well.

But federal elections were another story.

In 1917, Canada's federal electoral law stipulated that "idiots, madmen, criminals and judges" were not allowed to vote.

It didn't mention women, but they were still not allowed to vote in national elections.

Robert Borden was Prime Minister at the time. He wasn't big on the idea of women voting, but an election was coming in the fall of 1917 and Borden needed extra votes.

On September 20 of that year, Parliament passed the Wartime Elections Act.

It allowed women who were British subjects and who were wives, mothers and sisters of soldiers serving in the First World War to vote on behalf of their male relatives.

Women (mainly nurses) serving in the military could also vote.

On December 17, some 500,000 women voted for the first time in a federal election, which was won by Borden's coalition government.

In the spring of 1918, the government extended the right to vote to Canadian women 21 years of age and older - with Borden saying they would exert a good influence on public life.

However, most women of colour - including Chinese women, "Hindu" or East Indian women, Japanese women - weren't allowed to vote at the provincial and federal level until the late 1940s.

And under federal law, aboriginal women covered by the Indian Act couldn't vote for band councils until 1951, and couldn't vote in federal elections until 1960.

So, there you go - it wasn't until 1960 that ALL Canadian women finally had the right to vote.

Just over 50 years ago - not that long ago when you think about it.

You can read more about the fight by Canadian women to win the vote on the CBC's website for Canada: A People's History. Just click here.

Or check out this site section15.ca right here.

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