Michelle Rempel is one of the alpha-females of the male-dominated Tory caucus – with tongue in cheek, she has publicly described herself as bossy, abrasive, too brash and too young as a way of mocking the misogyny-speak of men who use these words to describe and demean women, especially those in the House of Commons.
The 36-year-old, two-term MP from Calgary, who served in Stephen Harper's cabinet, recently wrote an opinion piece taking on the sexism of Parliament, describing the treatment she and other young women there routinely face – occasionally, she says, her ass has been grabbed as a way to shock her into submission; she has been written off for not being serious, for being attractive, and judged because she does not have children.
Smart, accomplished and fearless, Ms. Rempel says how to get more women involved in politics is one of the issues "near and dear to my heart."
So, it is intriguing that she is not supporting a private member's bill aimed at doing just that. Why not? She calls it tokenism.
New Democrat Kennedy Stewart, 49, a two-term backbench MP from British Columbia, brought forward the private member's bill that Ms. Rempel does not like. It calls for political parties to be financially penalized if 45 per cent of their candidates are not female.
He has become the darling of women's groups and other advocates for more elected women.
His bill – the Candidate Gender Equity Act – also calls for 45 per cent of the candidates to be men, and the other 10 per cent at the discretion of the party, allowing for transgender people or non-identifying people, Mr. Stewart says.
Political parties receive rebates after an election – they are reimbursed with taxpayers' money for up to 80 per cent of what they spend on research, advertising and other campaign activities, Mr. Stewart noted.
Millions of dollars are paid out after each election, and Mr. Stewart's bill would take away a percentage of this reimbursement from a party for missing the 45 per cent target.
"If our system was fairer, 50 per cent of the House of Commons would be women," he says. "But it's not fair, so any good political scientist would try to fight for justice, so that's what I am doing."
Women occupy just 26 per cent of the seats in the House.
"The further you get away from parity, the bigger reduction in your public subsidy," he says. "It's free money going to parties with no strings attached. What they have done in other countries, like Ireland and France, is use this money in terms of an incentive. If you're going to get all this free money, you have to do something for it, and part of it is to make sure you are running gender-balanced lists of candidates."
Mr. Stewart's academic research has shown that the party selection processes are biased, and that men are five times more likely to win nominations just because the selectors are biased against women.
So, the problem is with the political parties, and their old-boy networks and structures.
Equal Voice, a non-partisan group that advocates for more elected women, notes that only 32 per cent of candidates in last year's federal election were women.
Based on the formula in his bill, Mr. Stewart says $1.25-million would be deducted from the Conservatives' reimbursement for the 2015 election, because 20 per cent of their candidates were female; the Liberals, with 31 per cent female candidates, would lose about $900,000, and the NDP, which ran 43 per cent female candidates, would have lost about $200,000.
Mr. Stewart's bill was debated earlier this month in the Commons; it comes back for a vote in September.
Some note that, even if it passes, the desired change might not come. Equal Voice says that in France, for example, the major parties will simply take the financial hit.
For Ms. Rempel, the bill would not make "real change." She says women need to be educated on how to win nominations – raising money, dealing with the media, and building networks – to prepare them for the "fiery furnace" of a federal election. She believes going through rigorous internal party vetting is a positive exercise for women.
"The propensity is – and frankly you see it in all political parties in Canada – I don't want to see women that are thrown into non-winnable ridings just to be a token so that [the party] is not financially penalized," she says. "I think that actually takes women a step back."
She fears a bill such as Mr. Stewart's will change the calibre of women in the Commons: "There are women in our House of Commons across party lines that have really strong CVs or really strong life experiences. All of the women that are in the House of Commons are there because they won elections, full stop. They are not there because of tokenism."