Woman and Canadian Politics
Prior to 1921, men were the only members of the Canadian parliamentary system. With the first Canadian women being elected into the Canadian parliament in 1921, women have had the ability to participate and become elected into the House of Commons. Since then, Canadian women’s participation in the House of Commons has substantially increased from 1 female seat holder in 1921 to the present day 64 seats held by women. Although this increase is seemed as substantial, the debate about the underrepresentation of women in politics has been a central topic of debate by politicians, scholars and the general public in Canada.
Although it is widely agreed that representation of women in the House of Commons needs to increase, there are two fundamentally different views regarding this underrepresentation; the explanatory perspective and the feminist perspective. The explanatory perspective argues that “political institutions should reflect the composition of civil society” , while the feminists perspective argues that, “since women offer unique perspectives, their exclusion from political power means that their needs, demands, and interests would currently not be echoed in the political arena. However, through the assessment of the definition of democracy, and the evaluation of the feminist’s arguments and explanatory perspectives, the relatively low number of women elected to the House of Commons does not mean the Canadian political system is insufficiently democratic. In order to understand the underrepresentation of women in the Canadian political system, democracy must be defined. According to Rand Dyke, the definition of democracy is, “a political system characterized by popular sovereignty, political equality, political freedom, and majority rule. Popular sovereignty and political equality entails that everyone eligible to vote has: a vote to participate in a final outcome, and an equal weighted vote. Political freedom involves equal opportunities and rights to all. Majority rule entails that when it comes to making a decision regarding differences in opinions, the larger number should win. Therefore, democracy suggests that there should be representation for all genders and race, everyone should enjoy the equal opportunities, and everyone has an equal say when it comes to choosing their representatives.
Firstly, women hold approximately 20. 8 percent of the House of Commons in Canada. Although this is an underrepresentation of the women population in Canada, it is not undemocratic. Based on the definition of democracy as defined above, it is argued, and has been proven through the election of women into the House of Commons, that women have equal opportunity to become a member in the House of Commons. Out of the Canadian population of eligible voters, women approximately make up more then 50 percent of that population.
With women holding the majority of the votes in Canada, and an equal vote, it is puzzling that there are complaints regarding unfair representation. The fact that women have equal right to men shows that the Canadian political system is democratic. Perhaps the underrepresentation is not due to flaws in Canadian democracy regarding electing females to the House of Commons, but individual wants regarding representation. Women’s traditional role in society has been to stay home and take care of children as they are seen as nurturing creatures.
The ways politicians have been portrayed through the media are ruthless and powerful people. The portrayal of traditional roles of women verse politicians may be part of the reason the general public does not elect more into the House of Commons. Perhaps if women involved in politics became more involved with the media, to prove their authoritativeness, the general population would be more inclined to elect strong-willed, assertive women into the House of Commons.
Secondly, feminists have argued that females vying for political nomination face challenges finding monetary support for their nomination and campaigns. Although women face this difficulty, men do as well. To accommodate the financial difficulty of competing nominees the 1974 Election Expenses Act was implemented, and in 2004 Bill C-24. The 1974 Election Expenses Act introduced restrictions to the amount that candidates and parties could spend on elections, as well as gave tax deductions to sponsors, and partial reimbursement to parties and candidates wining more than 15 percent of the vote.
Bill C-24 introduced restrictions once again on sponsorship spending placing boundaries on who can sponsor and caps on how much can be sponsored, while giving parties subsidies for each vote they received in the last election. By placing these restrictions and caps on spending, the competition in the financial field became less of an issue. The facts that these barriers have been acknowledged and attempts have been made remedy these burdens, not only benefited women’s likelihood to get nominated, but made competing playing field equal.
Candidates who did not find finance as a burden were restricted to a cap, therefore made it more likely that all candidates would have around the same amount of money to spend on their promotion. Both men and women have to go through the same nomination process to become a candidate for elections; whether they choose to pursue the legislative route is based on personal choice, not political inequality. Thirdly, feminists are concerned that the small numbers of women in the House of Commons means that women’s interests and needs are not being represented.
However, this can be proven false through the fact that for a long time the Canadian politics has mostly been based on the brokerage system. The brokerage system theory suggests that since Canada has such a diverse population, in order for political parties to win elections, they must appeal to the masses. Since Canada follows the brokerage system, it is suggested that everyone will receive representation in the Government because political parties have compromised in order to gain their support. One of the ways the Canadian political parties have gained more support by women was by bringing more into their party.
Since 1921 women candidates in parties have increased from 4 female candidates to present day 380 female candidates. The increase shows that parties are accepting women in as candidates, in hopes to better accommodate women’s wants and needs; however, the general population is not voting them in. Not only does it allow from more female candidates, but it makes it easier for Feminists to belong to a political party. However, more feminists in the House of Commons may not be the best strategy for meeting needs, demands and interests of women. Women rather vote for “women as women” rather then feminists.
Finally, although the underrepresentation of women in the House of Commons does not mean that the Canadian political system is insufficiently democratic, it does need to be improved. Some solutions suggested to improve this underrepresentation is to look at the how seats get distributed, quotas, and greater promotion for women in politics. Canada bases their government off of single member plurality. Single member plurality means that the candidate that wins the most votes wins a seat in the House of Commons no matter how marginal their victory is.
This “first-past-the-post” technique leaves parties completely unrepresented, including women, when there is support for them. A suggestion to remedy underrepresentation is to implement a mixed member system. A mixed member would entail that a portion of the seats in the House of Commons is elected by the “first-past-the-post” system, and the remainder of the seats are chosen based on proportional representation. Another suggestion is to place quotas on parties as to a specific percentage of women must be elected. Countries such as Costa Rica, Argentina and Belgium have legal quotas as to percentage of women elected.
A further suggestion would be to create greater publicity to promote women’s involvement in politics. Promoting interest in politics may trigger more women to get involved in politics, therefore possibly increasing the number of female candidates. Through some of these suggestions, female representation in the House of Commons may increase; however, this will take time. Underrepresentation of women in the House of Commons is a problem in the Canadian political system which does need to be addressed and remedied. However, this issue did not result because Canada’s politic system is undemocratic.
Through the dissection of the definition of democracy, it was proven that both women and men are equally liable to be elected into the House of Commons. Through the assessment of the feminist argument that women have greater monetary burdens, it was proven that competition for nomination and candidacy has been regulated through Bill C-24 and the Election Expenses Act to assure expense equality. And the fact that the Canadian government has been based on the brokerage theory system suggests that political parties would want women to be elected therefore making their party more appealing to the masses.
Although the number of women in the House of Commons has grown significantly, females are still underrepresented due to then general public’s decision not due to undemocratic functioning’s. Steps need to be taken to increase female interest in politics and the single member plurality system needs to be re-assessed to make female representation in the House of Commons more representative of its population. Bibliography Cool, Julie. Women in Parliament. [cited 1 November 2006] Available from http://dsp-psd. pwgsc. gc. ca/Collection-R/LoPBdP/PRB-e/PRB0562-e. pdf Dyck, Rand. Canadian Politics: Critical Approaches. th ed. Scarborough: Nelson, 2004. Government of Canada. Population by Age and Sex Group. [cited 1 November 2006] Available from http://www40. statcan. ca/l01/cst01/demo10a. htm Heard, Andrew. Elections: Women Candidates in Canadian Elections 1921 – 2006. [cited 1 November 2006] Available from http://www. sfu. ca/~aheard/elections/women-elected. html Tremblay, Manon. “Do Female MPs Substantively Represent Women? A Study of Legislative Behaviour in Canada’s 35th Parliament. ” Canadian Journal of Political Science / Revue canadienne de science politique 31, no. 3 (1998): 435-465.
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