Two paths to GENDER PARITY in the HOUSE
Former PM touts plan to boost diversity
Former prime minister Kim Campbell has a proposal that she says will encourage more women to enter politics: split each federal riding into two seats and reserve half of them for women.
Ms. Campbell, who served briefly as Progressive Conservative PM in 1993, made the pitch during a women’s leadership conference in Charlottetown, saying the plan could solve the gender disparity in federal politics.
“It’s the simplest, least disruptive way,” Ms. Campbell told the National Post Thursday of her plan for incorporating more women into politics. “It preserves a great deal of our system.”
In her keynote speech on Wednesday, Ms. Campbell outlined her proposal to mitigate the impediments she said women face in entering politics: Parties would nominate two candidates in each riding, one male and one female, who would then vie against candidates of the same sex from other parties in an election. The winners of both the male and female races would represent the riding in Ottawa.
About a quarter of current MPs, 76, are women; that’s up from 64 in 2006.
Ms. Campbell’s plan has attracted criticism from some experts that say blatantly separating candidates based on characteristics like sex could be a slippery slope, with other groups demanding similar provisions and exacerbating divisions among Canadians.
“My own position is that I believe in democracy; that people are free to vote for who they want,” said Nelson Wiseman, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto. He said the idea is discriminatory, and could ghettoize constituents into picking representatives that appeal to them on a shared-background basis, rather than one of shared values, morals or policy.
“Why don’t we also reserve 5% or 10% for gay people, or 20% for poor people? The reality is that constituents might not think their vote is driven simply by being a woman, but rather by saying, ‘This is the party or candidate that I want.’”
“Gender is not the only imbalance, we have traditionally had race, ethnicity and disability imbalances,” says Constance Stackhouse, a professor of law at the University of Ottawa. “You could end up with an unworkable situation.”
But Ms. Campbell said that efforts already exist to preserve diversity of other groups in government, but women, as half the population, are a unique case.
“In no other of those categories is there a 50-50 split,” Ms. Campbell said. “We already have those efforts to add diversity. It’s not the answer to every form of diversity — it’s the answer to one problem.”
It’s not the answer to every form of diversity — it’s [one] answer
“It’s a practice well known in the Maritimes,” she adds. “There it was used for the Catholics and Protestants; they used to elect members of each group and it guaranteed equal representation.”
In Nunavut, a territory-wide plebiscite was held on a similar plan in 1997. It was defeated by 57% of voters.
“When you’re setting up a new system, lots is possible,” said Ms. Backhouse. “But when you’re trying to revise [a system], it’s a bigger sell.”
Ms. Campbell, aiming to quell concerns about the costs of her proposal, said constituency lines could be redrawn to reduce the number of ridings, therefore reining in the proposal’s costs. But she said she has yet to decide on an appropriate number of ridings.
“We could pick a size we thought was optimal,” she said. “There’s no definitive answer. But we’re not doubling the size.”
Ms. Campbell said research demonstrates that women fare better in work environments that ensure equal representation of the sexes. And if the plan doesn’t work as she expects it will, she’s willing to concede defeat.
“Now, if I’m wrong and it’s not possible, we can always go back to the old system,” she conceded. “It’s not radical, it’s not something that hasn’t been done before.”
The federal minister for the status of women, Kellie Leitch, and her official-opposition counterpart, Niki Ashton, did not make themselves available Thursday to speak on the proposal.
THE KIM CAMPBELL WAY Elect a woman and a man in each riding
THE TRADITIONAL WAY Elect more
“Now, if I’m wrong and it’s not possible, we can always go back to the old system,” former prime minister Kim Campbell says of her plan.