Women are under-represented at all levels of government in Canada.
The following 2005 percentages reflect women's participation in politics.
| Federal || 21.1 % |
| Provincial and territorial ||20.3% |
| Municipal ||21.7% |
Women are not even halfway to equality. Women are 52 per cent of the population, but only two out of ten candidates for political office are women. Electoral reform to ensure our politicians more fairly represent the actual makeup of the population should help. Changes to the rules governing election financing could lower the costs of running and make it easier for women candidates to compete.
Across the country, women’s organizations are working to guarantee that any electoral reforms encourage the election of more women. Some initiatives being investigated are:
- proportional representation
- centralized candidate selection
- tax breaks for women candidates
- political party quotas
In 2004, the Canadian Parliament created a Standing Committee on the Status of Women whose first Chair was Manitoba MP Anita Neville, an Equal Voice member and strong advocate for the election of more women.
Party Leadership, Premiers and Prime Ministers
Despite the slow progress at increasing the proportion of women in elected seats, Canada has been blessed by remarkable female leaders who have sought leadership positions with major political parties - some successfully, some not - but always making gender gains for women everywhere.
Women leaders to note, by alphabetical order:
- Kim Campbell, Canada’s first female Prime Minister, 1993
- Sheila Copps, first woman Deputy Prime Minister, 1993-1997
- Flora MacDonald, first woman to run for the leadership of one of
Canada's three major federal parties, 1976
- Rita Johnston, Premier of British Columbia, 1991
- Sharon Carstairs, leader of the Manitoba Liberal party, 1987-1993
- Catherine Callbeck, Premier of Prince Edward Island, 1993-96
- Lyn McLeod, leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, 1992-96
- Alexa McDonagh, leader of the federal NDP, 1995-2003
Reference: Worldwide Guide to Women in Leadership Website, July 2005
Let’s look further at where women are today in these key areas:
Women in Federal Politics
- Women in federal politics
- Women in the federal cabinet
- Women in provincial legislatures
- Municipal government
- Comparison with other positions of power.
The following chart shows the breakdown of women in the House of Commons by party affiliation based on information provided by the Library of Parliament, updated May 24, 2005.
|Political Party ||# of Seats ||# of Women ||% of Women |
|Liberal ||133 ||34 ||25.1% |
| Bloc Québécois ||54 ||14 ||25.9% |
|Conservative ||98 ||11 ||11.1% |
|New Democratic Party ||19 ||5 ||26.3% |
|Independent ||3 ||1 ||N/A |
|Vacant ||1 || || |
|Total ||308 ||65 ||21.1% |
Women’s gains with regard to political equity are slow. The next table illustrates progress between 1972 and 2004.
Proportion of Women Elected to the House of Commons
|Year ||# of Seats ||# of Women ||% of Women |
|1972 ||264 ||5 ||1.9 |
| 1974 ||264 ||9 ||3.4 |
|1979 ||282 ||10 ||3.6 |
|1980 ||282 ||14 ||5.0 |
|1984 ||282 ||27 ||9.6 |
|1988 ||295 ||39 ||13.2 |
|1993 ||295 ||53 ||18 |
|1997 ||301 ||62 ||20.6 |
|2000 ||301 ||62 ||20.6 |
|2004 ||308 ||65 ||21.1 |
Reference: Centre for Research on Women and Politics, University of Ottawa Website,
Women in the Federal Cabinet
Women’s gains in cabinet appointments are anything but gains. The House of Commons after the 2004 election featured only nine women in cabinet positions; there were 11 before the election. Cabinet posts are a notable hurdle for women and represent a traditional male domain of power and old boy connections.
Women who have achieved cabinet posts have brought impressive and varied credentials to their offices and are to be applauded for their significant contributions. (See Women in Cabinet 1957- in the More on this Issue for a list of the women and the positions they’ve held.)
However, nine out of 39 cabinet posts doesn’t achieve the 30 per cent critical mass that author Sydney Sharpe states is necessary for “major, sustained influence”. (Reference: Sharpe S. The gilded ghetto; women and political power in Canada. Harper Collins Publishers Ltd., 1994, page 218)
Women in Provincial Legislatures
Louise McKinney was the first woman to be sworn in and to take a seat in any legislature in the British Empire. That was in Alberta in 1917, two years before Agnes McPhail would become the first woman elected to the House of Commons. After being defeated federally in 1940, Agnes McPhail pursued her political career at the provincial level as the CCF candidate for York East in 1943 and became one of the first two women to sit in the Ontario Legislature.
Recent statistics on the provincial and territorial standings show women lagging behind in reaching equality of representation. For details on the proportion of women elected to the provincial and territorial legislatures between 1970 and 2004, see the tables developed by the Centre for Research on Women and Politics, University of Ottawa, referenced in More on this Issue.
In reviewing these tables, we can see that women’s representation ranged from a high of 32 per cent in Quebec to a low of 11.5 per cent in Nova Scotia. Quebec is presently the only legislature in Canada to have surpassed the 30 per cent critical mass of women in elected office. Jean Charest, Quebec Premier, and Opposition Leader Bernard Landry, made recruitment and electing women a high priority.
The three territorial governments - Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories - had achieved standings of 10.5 per cent, 29.4 per cent and 10.5 per cent respectively.
The Yukon is interesting. Women’s representation is higher than for most other provinces and territories (except for Quebec at 32 per cent) and has steadily increased since the first woman, G. Jean Gordon, was elected in 1967. (Library and Archives Canada)
The high Yukon percentage can be explained partly by the difference in the number of seats. When the total number of elected officials is small, as is the case of the Yukon, a small number of women can raise the overall percentage. Nevertheless, the Yukon’s commitment to women political leaders remains undisputed. Audrey McLaughlin, our first woman leader of a national political party, began her political career in the Yukon.
Women in Municipal Politics
As of August 2005, the average percentage of women councillors in Canada was at 28.3 per cent, only a few points behind the critical mass of 30 per cent. The average percentage of 14.6 per cent women among heads of Council, though still very low, was definitely higher than the total absence of women as party leaders or heads of provincial or federal governments. It is particularly interesting to note that women play a major role in the non-elected management of city, town and village governments as Chief Administrative Officers.
FCM 2005 Statistics on Male and Female Participation in Municipal Government
|Province/Territory ||Mayor ||Councillors ||Chief Administrative |
| ||Male ||Female ||%F ||Male ||Female ||%F ||Male ||Female ||%F |
|AB ||288 ||59 ||20.5% ||1174 ||377 ||32.1% ||177 ||165 ||93.2% |
| BC ||148 ||37 ||25.0% ||850 ||338 ||39.8% ||150 ||33 ||22.0% |
|SK ||724 ||64 ||8.6% ||3206 ||508 ||15.8% ||264 ||537 ||203.4% |
|MB ||191 ||8 ||4.2% ||865 ||125 ||14.5% ||93 ||101 ||108.6% |
|ON ||377 ||64 ||17.0% ||2159 ||653 ||30.2% ||279 ||161 ||57.7% |
|QC ||1043 ||145 ||13.9% ||5723 ||1744 ||30.5% ||521 ||668 ||128.2% |
|NB ||91 ||14 ||15.4% ||404 ||136 ||33.7% ||48 ||55 ||114.6% |
|NS ||52 ||4 ||7.7% ||295 ||86 ||29.2% ||45 ||10 ||22.2% |
|PE ||63 ||12 ||19.0% ||274 ||108 ||39.4% ||25 ||49 ||196.0% |
|NL ||225 ||54 ||24.0% ||934 ||360 ||38.5% ||66 ||208 ||315.2% |
|NT ||15 ||6 ||40.0% ||76 ||49 ||64.5% ||14 ||6 ||42.9% |
|NU ||20 ||5 ||25.0% ||92 ||54 ||58.7% ||21 ||3 ||14.3% |
|YT ||5 ||3 ||60.0% ||24 ||10 ||41.7% ||6 ||3 ||50.0% |
|TOTALS ||3260 ||475 ||14.6% ||16076 ||4548 ||28.3% ||1709 ||1999 ||117.0% |
|Municipal councillors || 28.3% (as of September 2005) |
Then and Now
In Canada, women have come a long way since getting the right to
vote and finally being recognized as persons in the constitution less than a century ago.
Women’s right to vote is due to the incredible battles suffragettes fought across Canada in the early 20th century. The table below provides the dates when women gained the right to vote in each province.
Women Winning the Vote in Canada
| Manitoba || Jan. 28, 1916 |
| Saskatchewan ||March 14, 1916 |
|Alberta ||Apr. 19, 1916 |
| British Columbia ||Apr. 5, 1917 |
|Ontario ||Apr. 12, 1917 |
|Nova Scotia ||Apr. 26, 1918 |
|New Brunswick ||Apr. 17 , 1919 |
|Prince Edward Island ||May 13, 1922 |
|Newfoundland ||Apr. 13, 1925 |
|Quebec ||Apr. 25, 1940 |
| * In Newfoundland, women 25 years of age and over received the right to vote in 1925, while at the same time men could vote at 21 years of age. Women did not vote on an equal basis until the referenda on Confederation in 1948. |
Reference: Parks Canada Website
Today, more and more citizens support women's representation in
elected office. A 2004 study conducted by the Centre for Research
and Information on Canada reveals that “strong majorities in every region support increasing the number of women in elected office in order to achieve a well-functioning political system.” And, the support crosses genders, with 90 per cent of younger men 18 to 35 indicating support for increasing the number of women in politics.
That commanding declaration of support cannot and
should not be ignored if we are to reduce the democratic deficit that
exists in Canada today.