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Ruling Tories leave gender out of the hiring equation

Liberal MP for Winnipeg South Centre Anita Neville.

Adrian Wyld/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

A quarter of a century after Brian Mulroney said his government was "already two-thirds of the way" toward meeting his commitment to give 30 per cent of federal appointments to women, little additional progress has been made.

The government has hit the 30-per-cent target set by the former Conservative prime minister. But that's where the push to place more women on federal tribunals, agencies, boards and Crown corporations ended.

Numbers released last month by the Privy Council at the request of Liberal MP Anita Neville show that, between February, 2006, when the Conservative government took office, and May of this year, 32.43 per cent of appointments made by the federal cabinet went to women.

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That number would be lower if women had not been given 36.77 per cent of the appointments in one of the three categories of federal appointments, administrative tribunals such as the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the National Parole Board, and the Immigration and Refugee Board.

In the past four years, just 26.71 per cent of the appointments to Crown corporations and 28.7 per cent to agencies and boards such as the Canadian Wheat Board, the Canadian Space Agency and the Toronto Port Authority have gone to female candidates.

The Privy Council was unable to say how that compared with the record of the former Liberal government.

But Ms. Neville said it is clear that there is a lack of commitment to gender parity on the part of the Conservatives. "Government, if anybody, should be leading on this," she said.

Unlike under the Mulroney government, which took gender into consideration, the Privy Council says the current criteria is suitability for a position, including education, experience, knowledge and abilities. Gender is not part of the equation.

"Frequently, you will get the response that 'we cannot find enough women who are qualified,'" said Ms. Neville, "... and I think that's bogus."

A spokeswoman for Rona Ambrose, the minister responsible for the Status of Women, said getting qualified women to apply is a consistent challenge.

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But Heather MacIvor, a professor of political science at the University of Windsor who has written about women and the electoral system in Canada, points out that Mr. Harper has made no promises to appoint more women.

"So it's not as though he's breaking a pledge because two-thirds of his order-in-council appointments are going to men," Dr. MacIvor said. "That's one part of the old Reform ideology that seems to have persisted in the Conservative Party: no 'preferential treatment' on the basis of gender."

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