2007 — The
Liberal party has abandoned the controversial idea of running women-only
nominations for the next election, but it has not ruled out appointing
women or discouraging men from running in some ridings.
"I think anyone who has an appreciation of politics will be
able to understand this system [the current system] is set up really
for middle-aged white males," says Gerard Kennedy, special advisor
to Liberal leader Stéphane Dion for election readiness and renewal.
effort needs to be done to encourage, recruit and empower women and
to bring the party kicking and screaming into the 21st century."
|The 'Famous Five' wait for company on Parliament
The party floated the idea of holding women-only nominations earlier
this year as a possible means to boost the ranks of female candidates
in the next election. During last year’s Liberal
leadership race, Stéphane Dion said he wanted one-third of Liberal
candidates in the next election to be women.
"The party in general agrees that this is an inconsistency
that has to be remedied," says Kennedy. "It is just way
Currently, women comprise only 21 per cent of all MPs in
the House of Commons, despite the fact that they represent more than
half of the Canadian population.
The Liberals have 21 female MPs in
their 101-person caucus.
As of January 2007, Canada ranked 47th in the Inter-Parliamentary
Union in electing women, behind countries like Rwanda, Cuba and
To address the shortage of female parliamentarians,
the Liberals appointed Linda Julien, a Montreal lawyer, as Women’s
Candidate Search Director to recruit women to run.
So-called green-light committees have been struck to meet the
party’s 33 per cent target.
These committees are designed to compile personal information, interview,
evaluate and scrutinize potential candidates.
No lack of interest
"For quite a while, we will need intervention on behalf of the
party to make this plan become a reality," she said. "What
we are trying to do right now is to level the playing field."
said she is encouraged by the interest, and that her phones are
presently "ringing off the hook" with
At this point, Julien said she has more than100 documented
candidates, with about 50 from Ontario, over 40 from Quebec, about
a dozen from the Atlantic region and up to
a dozen candidates in each of the Western and Prairie provinces.
Carolyn Bennett, a Toronto-area
Liberal MP and long-time advocate of increased female representation,
says gender should not be the sole consideration when determining nominations.
"We [the Liberal party] have always shunned having women leapfrog
over a better candidate for the sake of chromosomes."
she adds: "The old boys club has worked very well for
the boys in the past. We just want it to work for the girls now, too."
said she believes reaching the one-third female candidates plateau
this time around will be a challenge, given that Dion has promised
to protect all the incumbent Liberal MPs from nomination challenges.
Tories reject quotas
To meet its 33 per cent target, the Liberals
need to run 103 female candidates in the next election. By contrast,
Bev Oda, the minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women says
that while she supports having more women in parliament, the Conservative
party would never institute a quota system like the Liberals.
|'Parties are the gatekeepers.
They have a stranglehold on who represents us [women].'
"It just seems like a superficial approach and is reflective
of the Liberal party’s approach to women in Canada," she
have a women’s caucus, which separates the women members from
the men. They have a Pink Book which places the views and interests
of female Canadians in a different book from the party book…You
don’t need someone
to manipulate the democratic nomination system within the ridings."
However, Jill Vickers, a Chancellor’s professor of political
science at Carleton University, disagrees with Oda. She says if more
women are going to be elected, political parties need to intervene
with some kind of nomination strategy.
"[Increased female representation] will not happen otherwise," she
said. "Parties are the gatekeepers. They have a stranglehold
on who represents us."
Substantive action needed
says having ridings with only women candidates is probably
the only sure-fire way to boost the ranks of women in any party’s
caucus, given the nature of Canada’s
current first-past-the-post electoral system.
be the first time in Canadian history that an all-women process has
been considered to boost the number of females contesting in elections.
Vickers says former prime minister Pierre Trudeau was so
embarrassed by the lack of women candidates from Quebec in his caucus
that he held an all-women nomination process. This "leader coercion" paved
the way for the election of high-profile candidates like Jeanne Sauvé and
Kennedy said the Liberals are well
aware of the potential price they may pay at the polls for pushing
"I think anytime you do something that is advancing things artificially
and make changes, there is a price we will pay," said Kennedy.
are asking Canadians to really think hard that this isn’t about
advantaging women, it’s about leveling the playing field. Any
appointment would come with a cost because it’s not strictly
speaking democratic, but justifiable under the circumstances."