Two paths to GEN­DER PAR­ITY in the HOUSE

For­mer PM touts plan to boost di­ver­sity

National Post (Latest Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - By Hay­den Kenez

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

women

An­drew Vaughan / The Cana­dian Press

“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.

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