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Leadership candidate Paul Dewar takes part in the first round of NDP debates in Ottawa on Dec. 4, 2011. (FRED CHARTRAND/Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)
Leadership candidate Paul Dewar takes part in the first round of NDP debates in Ottawa on Dec. 4, 2011. (FRED CHARTRAND/Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

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Dewar would tie per-vote subsidy to recruiting women candidates Add to ...

NDP leadership candidate Paul Dewar is proposing a novel scheme to attract more women to politics by tying the amount of a per-vote subsidy to the success of political parties in nominating female candidates.

As Stephen Harper’s government moves to abolish the taxpayer stipend for political parties, Mr. Dewar’s proposal would bring back public financing for political parties at an estimated cost of $10-million based on the results from the May election.

But there’s a twist. The Ottawa MP is vowing to bring it back as a way “to end gender inequality in Canadian politics.”

Inspired by his late mother, Marion – a former mayor, NDP MP, and champion of elected women – Mr. Dewar will outline his proposal Thursday.

It works like this: A political party would have to nominate a minimum of 30 per cent women candidates to qualify for basic subsidy of $1.50 a vote, according to documents explaining Mr. Dewar’s plan.

This would increase, however, as parties nominate more women. For example, a party that has between 40 and 49 per cent of female candidates would receive $1.75 per vote and a party that runs 50 per cent women candidates would qualify for a $2 stipend.

The subsidy is tied to the number of candidates, not the number of women are actually elected.

Mr. Dewar notes that the United Nations “minimum benchmark for a critical mass of women in Parliament is 30 per cent.”

In the May election, 76 women were elected in the 308-seat House of Commons. That works out to 24.7 per cent female representation. In the 2008 election there were 69 women sent to Ottawa as MPs.

Political parties have long struggled to encourage more women to run for federal politics. In 2008, for example, Liberal leader Stéphane Dion committed to have one-third of his candidates women. He engaged veteran Liberal organizer Isabel Metcalfe to recruit women and she delivered: nearly 37 per cent of Liberal candidates in that campaign were female. The trick, however, is to get them elected.

Mr. Dewar notes that in the May election only the NDP would have qualified for his $1.75 per vote subsidy as 40.3 per cent of its candidates were women. The Bloc Québécois and the Green Party would have received $1.50 while the Liberals and the Conservatives would have been shut out.

“Neither party nominated the minimum threshold of 30 per women candidates,” Mr. Dewar’s plan observes. “Parties that are unable to run at least 30 per cent women candidates on their slate would not qualify for public financing.”

The per-vote subsidy was introduced in 2004 by the Liberal government as way of getting big corporate and union money out of politics. The Harper government, however, has long been opposed to it and campaigned on scrapping it.

Armed with its majority government it will now phase out the subsidy over several years. It will be reduced to $1 in 2013 and to 50 cents in 2014. When Canadians next go to the polls in 2015 it will be entirely eliminated.

Dewar spokesman Joe Cressy says his candidate’s work in Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo promoting women’s participation in politics helped to frame his thinking on this issue.

“A common theme he’s heard when he’s abroad is surprise at how few women are represented in Canadian politics,” Mr. Cressy said. “So, for the past year or so Paul has been discussing ways to increase women’s participation and equality within the political process here in Canada.”

The Dewar campaign is hoping this policy will “create a cultural shift within political parties that will fundamentally change the composition of parties and the [House of Commons.]

Troubled times for Tories as new year approaches

There’s been a few interesting eruptions in the Conservative caucus of late.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay is threatening to sue MPs who accused him “lying” about his controversial helicopter trip from a Gander fishing camp last year. Though it’s not clear exactly who he would sue.

Peter Goldring, an Alberta Conservative MP, has apologized to his Edmonton constituents over the spot of trouble he is in after he refused to take a breathalyzer test over the weekend. He has temporarily withdrawn from caucus to sort out his legal issues.

And then there’s Jim Hillyer, who enraged the opposition with juvenile hand gesture during the vote to scrap the long-gun registry.

A YouTube video of the Alberta MP’s bang-bang flourish was posted on Tuesday, the 22nd anniversary of the massacre of 14 young women at Montreal’s École Polytechnique. On Wednesday, Mr. Hillyer made an apology of sorts, which iPolitics described as the most awkward moment of the 41st Parliament.

A Bloc Québécois MP had sought one, but Mr. Hillyer initially refused and instead decried the timing of the YouTube video’s release. NDP MP then reminded the House that Speaker Andrew Scheer had ruled that there can be no clapping, gesturing or booing during votes. Mr. Hillyer’s gestures, she complained, were “juvenile” and showed “a blatant lack of either judgment or maturity.”

After conferring with Government Whip Gordon O’Connor, Mr. Hillyer finally offered a qualified mea culpa.

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