Progress in pol­i­tics

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

On pa­per, Lisa Raitt is as good a choice as any to help fed­eral Con­ser­va­tive party leader An­drew Scheer make in-roads in At­lantic Canada. Though the newly minted deputy party leader rep­re­sents a dis­trict in Milton, Ont., Raitt is a na­tive of Syd­ney, N.S. And, of course, she’s a woman, lead­ing to the pre­dictable ques­tions about her abil­ity to draw more women into pol­i­tics.

No mat­ter how you look at it, though, Raitt has a dif­fi­cult road ahead in this re­gion.

Win­ning back seats will, of course, be the main ob­jec­tive af­ter the Lib­er­als wiped the Con­ser­va­tives from the elec­toral map in all four At­lantic prov­inces in 2015.

The task of en­cour­ag­ing more women to run for of­fice and ex­pand­ing women’s roles in the Con­ser­va­tive base may prove to be even more dif­fi­cult.

In 2015, Cana­di­ans vot­ers did elect a record 88 women to the House of Com­mons, a num­ber that’s since grown to 91 through by­elec­tions and other shuf­fling.

Vot­ers in the At­lantic prov­inces man­aged to elect a hand­ful of women. The most even split is in New­found­land and Labrador where three of seven MPs are women, while New Brunswick also elected three among its 10 dis­tricts.

In Raitt’s home prov­ince, how­ever, only a sin­gle fe­male can­di­date was elected to one of Nova Sco­tia’s 11 seats. P.E.I. went four-for-four with men.

And again, ev­ery one of those seats is Lib­eral red.

About one-third of can­di­dates across the coun­try were women in 2015, a 1.5 per cent in­crease from the 2011 vote. Among all the ma­jor par­ties, the Con­ser­va­tives ran the fewest women at only 20 per cent.

Raitt says she is a fem­i­nist and hopes women view her as an as­pi­ra­tional fig­ure. She also told the Globe and Mail that, while she may not per­son­ally agree with abor­tion, she be­lieves in a woman’s right to choose.

While those ideas aren’t so rad­i­cal in this day and age, they may rep­re­sent a sig­nif­i­cant shift for the Con­ser­va­tive party, given its cur­rent de­mo­graph­ics.

Even so, gen­der par­ity in pol­i­tics could still be a long way off. Equal Voice, a group that ad­vo­cates for greater par­tic­i­pa­tion of women in pol­i­tics, has es­ti­mated it will take an­other 11 fed­eral elec­tions — in other words, 45 years — to reach some­thing close to gen­der bal­ance.

It could be ar­gued that it’s time for par­ties to fo­cus on more di­verse can­di­date ros­ters in gen­eral, par­tic­u­larly in At­lantic Canada. Our pop­u­la­tion base has be­come more di­verse through im­mi­gra­tion, while Indige­nous peo­ple are still un­der­rep­re­sented in the re­gion and across Canada.

It will take a bi­par­ti­san ef­fort to push pol­i­tics into mod­ern times and en­sure our MPs truly re­flect the vot­ing pop­u­la­tion.

Raitt’s words rep­re­sent a step in the right di­rec­tion for the Con­ser­va­tives. So long as it wasn’t a sound byte and she plans to put them into ac­tion, it could serve as a start­ing point for more progress for the party.

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