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Belinda Stronach's prescription for getting women into politics Add to ...

Since leaving Parliament Hill in 2008 after serving four years as an MP and cabinet minister - she arrived as a Harper Conservative and left as a Liberal - Belinda Stronach has had a chance to reflect on what it means to be a woman in politics and how to get more women involved.

Ms. Stronach, now the executive vice-chairman of Magna International Inc., the auto-parts company founded by her father, Frank, believes there is more to attracting women to the Hill than making Parliament more civil: The issues have to be relevant to women and women need to be able to fully participate.

In Ottawa Tuesday to accept Equal Voice's Eve award, which recognizes her promotion of women in public life, the 44-year-old Ms. Stronach offered her prescription for attracting women to Parliament Hill. Oh, and she did not rule out a return to politics.

Consider 'radical adjustments' to the way Parliament works.

Ms. Stronach suggested video-conferencing caucus meetings and committee meetings for MPs. She also suggested allowing for voting to be conducted off site, away from the House of Commons. In this way, women (and sometimes men) who are constrained by geography - not wanting to spend huge amounts of time away from their families - can participate.

"We have the technology. We have the know-how. We just don't have the leadership and the vision at the moment to make it happen."

End the 'winner-take-all cage match' in the House.

Ms. Stronach noted that women have been referred to as "bitches" and "whores" in the Commons. She said this kind of behaviour - which so many take for granted in politics, much like fighting in hockey - would not be accepted in the boardroom or in a court of law.

"We need to make the debate of Parliament look more like a discussion around an executive boardroom table or even a discussion around a family dinner table," she said. "If corporate directors behaved the same way as some parliamentarians do, the governance of that company would be in trouble. … Shareholders wouldn't tolerate it."

She praised Conservative MP Michael Chong for his efforts to make changes to Question Period and behaviour in the Commons.

Expand on the success of women in municipal politics.

Ms. Stronach is not pessimistic about the future of women in politics, believing that "the tide is turning."

"It may not be a tidal wave," she told a packed ballroom at Ottawa's Fairmont Chateau Laurier. "But perhaps it is as relentless as the Bay of Fundy."

Ms. Stronach noted that after Toronto's recent municipal election, one-third of the council is now made up of women - "the highest number ever."

"This makes municipal politics the front line of the wave," she asserted, referring to her thesis that geography is an impediment to women getting into federal politics, given the amount of time many have to spend away from their homes and families. That isn't the case with municipal politics. In addition, the issues are more relevant and closer to home.

"If we wish to attract more women to federal politics in Canada we need to do a much better job in explaining why this is relevant to our quality of life," she said. "I think that women might be even more willing to make that personal sacrifice required … provided they think they can make a real difference in the quality of life.

Ms. Stronach quoted former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who said: "If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman."

Currently, only 22 per cent of MPs are women.

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