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Newly elected NDP MP Helene Laverdiere speaks to reporters following a post-election news conference in Montreal, Tuesday, May 3, 2011. (Graham Hughes/Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)
Newly elected NDP MP Helene Laverdiere speaks to reporters following a post-election news conference in Montreal, Tuesday, May 3, 2011. (Graham Hughes/Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Parliamentarians

Voters send a record 76 women to Parliament - most of them NDP Add to ...

For the first time in Canada's history, and exactly 90 years since the first female Member of Parliament strode into the green chamber, women make up a quarter of the 308 seats in the House of Commons.

That record high is nothing to sneeze at, advocates say - but it's also nothing to be overly proud of. Canada remains 52nd in the world when it comes to female representation in political office, and it's falling further behind as other countries take more aggressive measures to even out the gender balance.

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"It's not insignificant, obviously… It signifies that Canada is moving forward. That said, clearly there's some work to be done," said Nancy Peckford, executive director of advocacy group Equal Voice.

Newly elected Conservative MP Kellie Leitch said she saw that new political engagement in her riding of Simcoe-Grey.

"I was really pleasantly surprised to meet a lot of young women who became engaged in the political process for my campaign," she said. "A number of [the campaign volunteers]were young women, some moms, all actively engaged because the issues were what were important to them."

The 41st Parliament will have 76 women - up from 69 elected in 2008. Most are from the NDP, whose 40 women make up 39 per cent of its caucus.

That's the highest number of women in a Canadian federal caucus, but the percentage is lower than the NDP's figures from the 2006 election.

But that percentage drops dramatically when it comes to other parties: Seventeen per cent of the Tory caucus is female, and the same goes for the Liberals, who lost many of their female Members of Parliament in Ontario on Monday.

The Conservatives have 29 female MPs in the House now; the Liberals six.

There's one female Bloc MP, Maria Mourani, a prominent incumbent returning to the house as a quarter of her party's caucus.

And among the new female MPs is the Green Party's Elizabeth May - the first female party leader since Alexa McDonough led the NDP.

Ms. May, whose struggle for a single seat was rewarded on Monday night, said she plans to make civility in the House a priority. Many have argued the raucous nature of Question Period turns off potential political hopefuls.

The argument in favour of promoting gender parity is that it's a basic issue of fairness according to the fundamentals of democratic representation - the people governing a population should represent the people for whom they're drafting legislation.

"To get to a quarter in 2011, yeah, that's okay," Ms. Peckford said. "But is it where we need to be? I think what we would say is, 'Canada can certainly do better.'"

Irene Mathyssen, head of the NDP's women's caucus in the last Parliament, called 25 per cent "a good start.

"We want 50 per cent. And we're going to keep working towards that," she said. "It is a victory because it's an all-time high. I think the House is going to be a better place for it, because we need that talent."

Monday's results were bittersweet for Hedy Fry and the Liberal Party's greatly diminished female caucus.

"We lost some pretty strong people," she said, before adding, "But given that the women that are there do not take a backseat to anyone, I would say they'd be equivalent to two to one."

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