A national organization that advocates for more elected women in Canada is planning an ambitious initiative that would put young women from across the country in every one of the 338 seats in the House of Commons.
The idea is to select a young woman from each federal riding, then bring all of them to Ottawa, and on International Women's Day, next March, have them take their MPs' seats in the House of Commons. The women will be between 18 and 23.
"We are putting 338 young women in the House of Commons who look and feel like Canada," said Nancy Peckford of Equal Voice, the group leading the initiative. "That diversity we hope to carry through to future Parliaments. I think it's powerful to show parliamentarians what a House filled with young women looks like, because it's pretty atypical."
Right now, the Commons has 88 female MPs, or 26 per cent – and given the slow pace of the increase in the number of women being elected federally, it will be 90 years before there is parity in the House of Commons, Equal Voice says.
"Each of these young women would be unlikely to see parity in the House of Commons in their lifetimes … if we take past progress as an indicator of future progress," Ms. Peckford said.
All of this is part of a broader project called Daughters of the Vote that will mark the 100th anniversary of some women being allowed to vote in Canada and the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
It will cost a little less than $1-million – half of the funding is coming from Canadian Heritage, the rest from corporate sponsors – to bring the young women to Ottawa, where they will also participate in a leadership summit aimed at cultivating the next generation of female leaders.
Equal Voice is talking with the House of Commons Speaker and his officials about the plan.
There is more, however, to the initiative than the symbolism of seeing an all-female Commons.
In addition, the plan is to have the 338 women walk together from the Canadian Museum of Nature in downtown Ottawa, up Metcalfe Street north a few blocks to Parliament Hill. The museum is the site of where some women first earned their suffrage in 1917. (It took decades for other groups, aboriginal women, for example, to be able to vote.)
Ms. Peckford and her colleague, Denise Siele, are setting up provincial and territorial selection committees – at least one member of each committee will be an indigenous woman, and two will be provincial politicians. The young women who are selected will not only participate in the leadership conference in Ottawa, but also in an event in their own provincial and territorial legislatures. There has been collaboration from elected officials – for example, Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod, who represents an Ottawa-area riding, pitched the idea of the march to Parliament Hill.
The participants will also have to share what they learned from their experience in Ottawa and the House of Commons with 50 of their peers – women and men.
A website – www.daughtersofthevote – has been set up for the event.
The end goal, Ms. Peckford said, is to close the gap between the number of elected men and women.