Canada bill tying funds to gender representation performance

Jane Taber discusses the proposal by Canadian MP Kennedy Stewart to link government funding of party election campaigns to the number of women put forward for election. Kennedy Stewart explains his proposal:

“If our system was fairer, 50 per cent of the House of Commons would be women,” he says. “But it’s not fair, so any good political scientist would try to fight for justice, so that’s what I am doing.”

Women occupy just 26 per cent of the seats in the House.

“The further you get away from parity, the bigger reduction in your public subsidy,” he says. “It’s free money going to parties with no strings attached. What they have done in other countries, like Ireland and France, is use this money in terms of an incentive. If you’re going to get all this free money, you have to do something for it, and part of it is to make sure you are running gender-balanced lists of candidates.”

Mr. Stewart’s academic research has shown that the party selection processes are biased, and that men are five times more likely to win nominations just because the selectors are biased against women.

So, the problem is with the political parties, and their old-boy networks and structures.

Equal Voice, a non-partisan group that advocates for more elected women, notes that only 32 per cent of candidates in last year’s federal election were women.

Based on the formula in his bill, Mr. Stewart says $1.25-million would be deducted from the Conservatives’ reimbursement for the 2015 election, because 20 per cent of their candidates were female; the Liberals, with 31 per cent female candidates, would lose about $900,000, and the NDP, which ran 43 per cent female candidates, would have lost about $200,000.

Mr. Stewart’s bill was debated earlier this month in the Commons; it comes back for a vote in September. Some note that, even if it passes, the desired change might not come. Equal Voice says that in France, for example, the major parties will simply take the financial hit.

For Ms. Rempel, the bill would not make “real change.” She says women need to be educated on how to win nominations – raising money, dealing with the media, and building networks – to prepare them for the “fiery furnace” of a federal election. She believes going through rigorous internal party vetting is a positive exercise for women.

“The propensity is – and frankly you see it in all political parties in Canada – I don’t want to see women that are thrown into non-winnable ridings just to be a token so that [the party] is not financially penalized,” she says. “I think that actually takes women a step back.”

We observe that the Democracy5050 model establishing electorates with equal numbers of male and female representatives is a real and democratic solution to the problem of balanced gender representation.