The British Columbia election campaign highlights the challenges female candidates throughout the country have faced when it comes to equal representation, with women who are not incumbents more likely than their male counterparts to be in hard-to-win ridings. The campaign has also shown the differing ways in which the province's two primary political parties have tackled the issue, with the BC Liberals stressing they do not choose candidates based on quotas, while the BC NDP has touted an equity policy that it says ensures a better mix of nominees.
Researchers say some progress has been made on gender representation in Canadian politics, but it is not unusual to see more women in tough races, with these contests sometimes described as "lost-cause ridings."
"There's a lot of organizations where women will take an opportunity that's more deserving of a condolence or sympathy," Sylvia Bashevkin, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said in an interview.
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Using the results of the 2013 election and factoring in new riding boundaries, The Globe and Mail identified races that are expected to be competitive for each party – either because they lost by fewer than 10 percentage points last time or because they had more votes but are running a non-incumbent candidate (due to a retirement, for example).
The BC Liberal Party has far more non-incumbent men running in potentially winnable ridings than non-incumbent women, a result that differs from the near 50-50 split of the BC NDP.
But when it comes to ridings that are not as close and could prove much more difficult for non-incumbents to win, both parties have nominated women at a higher rate than men – more than 60 per cent of the time.
In a statement, a Liberal party spokesperson touted the diversity of its team in a statement that did not mention the number of female candidates specifically.
"Today's BC Liberals have put together a diverse slate of candidates that includes representation from the LGBTQ community and many different cultural backgrounds," the statement read. "Our team is youthful, energized, experienced and the best group of British Columbians to lead our province to a bright future."
Raj Sihota, the BC NDP's provincial director, said in an interview that the party is very proud of its team, adding that this is the first time in the province's history a major party has had more women as candidates than men.
"I think it's important that our slate be as diverse as our province," she said.
Ms. Sihota said the BC NDP established its equity policy several years ago to ensure constituency associations looked far and wide for nominees. She said the policy called for better representation across the board and said if a female MLA steps down, she should be replaced by a woman.
"Women take such active roles in our community life and that wasn't translating to the legislature. And it was important to bring those voices," she said.
Melanee Thomas, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Calgary, said parties generally view nomination equality in one of two ways.
Parties on the right of the political spectrum, she said, are more likely to favour equality of opportunity – that is, they are more likely to say the nomination process has no problems if everyone has the opportunity to participate.
Parties on the left, she said, are more likely to focus on results to see whether "everyone is getting to the same spot."
Interactive: Results from the 2013 election based on new riding boundaries in place for the coming vote.
Source: Elections BC and The Globe and Mail
Graphic by Danielle Webb
Dr. Thomas co-authored a 2013 study that examined representation of women in Canadian politics. The study, which used data from federal elections between 2004 and 2011, found women were more likely than men to run in ridings with little prospect of success – or to be "sacrificial lambs."
"Across levels of government, gender is one of the areas where we see some of the most severe under-representation by population," she said in the interview.
The Globe's analysis found that in 19 potentially winnable races involving non-incumbents, the BC Liberals nominated men 14 times, or in 74 per cent of instances. The party has nominated women five times, or 26 per cent.
In 26 races involving non-incumbents that could prove more difficult to win because the party lost by more than 10 points, the Liberals have nominated women 16 times, or in 62 per cent of instances.
When it comes to the NDP, the Globe's analysis identified 21 competitive ridings involving non-incumbents. Eleven of those races – or 52 per cent – feature candidates who are men, while 10 have women.
In 38 races involving non-incumbents that could prove more difficult to win, the NDP nominated women 23 times, or in 61 per cent of instances.
Ms. Sihota, when asked about the higher number of women in difficult ridings, said the campaigns can serve as a valuable training ground.
"In our party, there's a lot of women that support women to get into those races so you can build a profile. Often, women who run in those sorts of races then find themselves with the experience to take on running for school board, or city council," she said.
Bowinn Ma, the NDP candidate for North Vancouver-Lonsdale, said in an interview her party could absolutely win the riding.
Ms. Ma is competing against Naomi Yamamoto, the Minister of State for Emergency Preparedness, who was first elected in 2009. Ms. Yamamoto won the riding by just under 5 percentage points in 2013.
Ms. Ma said she has lived in the riding for several years and worked on the 2015 campaign of a federal NDP candidate who did not win.
"Rather than sit back and feel defeated, I decided instead to look forward to what else I could do personally to help make the world a better place," she said. "And the upcoming election after that was the provincial election."
Ms. Ma said she is extremely proud to be with the New Democrats, particularly during this campaign with its emphasis on women.
"Nothing in my experience suggests that the BC NDP has positioned women in less likely ridings to win than men," she said.
Forty-four of the 87 BC New Democratic candidates, or 51 per cent, are women.
Thirty-six of the BC Liberal candidates, or 41 per cent, are women. The Liberals have more women seeking re-election than the NDP – 15 to 11.
The BC Green Party – which had one seat in the legislature last term – is running 83 candidates, 31 of whom are women, or 37 per cent.
Thirty-eight per cent of seats in the provincial legislature were held by women at the time of dissolution.
Dr. Bashevkin, who wrote Women, Power, Politics: The Hidden Story of Canada's Unfinished Democracy, said female candidates have long run in lost-cause ridings. Some of them, she noted, have had strong campaigns and won in constituencies in which their parties had been weak.
Janni Aragon, an adjunct assistant professor of political science at the University of Victoria, said parties can also unexpectedly gain momentum – as the federal NDP did in 2011 – and turn long-shot ridings into seats.
Dr. Bashevkin said while female candidates have been willing to take on difficult races, men sometimes "insist on being run in a winnable seat.
"… For a guy, it's standing up for himself. For a woman, it's being pushy," she said. "And it's not unique to politics, a lot of it just relates to norms and traditional standards about what is appropriate behaviour for women versus men."
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