Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged that he will once again create a cabinet with an equal number of men and women, but the number of female MPs in the House of Commons still falls well below the 50-per-cent mark.
There were 102 women elected on Sept. 20, and so women will make up 30 per cent of the new House of Commons. That’s the highest number and percentage of women that have held federal office in Canada.
Though a gender-balanced cabinet helps ensure women will be in positions of power, advocates are disappointed that gender parity is still out of reach and say they’re concerned that a culture of online toxicity discourages women and members of other minority groups from running for office.
The number of elected women is up from the last vote in 2019, which at the time broke records with 98 women making up 29 per cent of the House of Commons. Iceland’s recent election saw nearly 48 per cent women in the new parliament, after a recount of results that initially showed a female-majority elected to office.
Eleanor Fast, the executive director of advocacy group Equal Voice, said the change isn’t happening quick enough in Canadian politics.
“I wouldn’t call 30 per cent anything to celebrate. … It’s important both for representation and for the way that Parliament operates that we have more women sitting in seats,” Ms. Fast said, adding that women tend to work more collaboratively and across party lines.
The Liberals have 35 per cent female MPs and the Conservatives have 19 per cent, according to Equal Voice. The NDP is the closest to parity of the three major parties, with women making up 44 per cent of MPs.
Ms. Fast said that having a gender-balanced cabinet makes women in positions of power more visible, something that can help change perceptions of the Parliament.
Speaking in Ottawa on Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau said that gender parity is a “base starting point” for any cabinet he forms, though the Liberals lost four female ministers in the last election – three who didn’t get re-elected and one incumbent who chose not to run again. He confirmed that Chrystia Freeland will retain her position as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister.
In addition to giving candidates adequate resources to run their campaigns, Ms. Fast said it’s also important for parties to run women in ridings they can actually win. According to data from the Library of Parliament, 38 per cent of candidates running in the 2021 election were women, and 62 per cent were men, but those numbers change to 30 per cent and 70 per cent respectively for elected MPs.
Ms. Fast added that another barrier is the “tremendous amount” of online harassment and abuse many female candidates face. Women who consider putting their name on the ballot, she said, are concerned about what they’ll be subjected to.
The Samara Centre for Democracy, which advocates for democratic engagement in Canada, examined this issue during the campaign using a machine learning program called SAMbot, which tracked and categorized toxic tweets sent to incumbent politicians.
“There’s a difference between the type of abuse a female is likely to receive compared to someone who is male,” said Sabreena Delhon, Samara’s executive director. “Toxicity aimed at women is generally going to be more personal or threatening or sexually explicit.”
Ms. Delhon said that well-known candidates face more toxicity, as do people from minority groups. She mentions the vitriol that was directed toward Green Party Leader Annamie Paul, a racialized woman.
“We understand that equity-deserving communities bear the brunt of abuse online,” Ms. Delhon said. “Online toxicity is a barrier to leaders from these communities stepping into the political arena, and that is harming the representativeness of our democracy.”
The Liberals said that more than 30 per cent of their elected MPs are Black, Indigenous or people of colour, and the NDP confirmed that 24 per cent of their elected MPs are racialized. Slightly less than 6 per cent of Conservative MPs are part of a minority group.
There are four elected Liberals who are part of the LGBTQ community, and two NDP MPs who are members of the SOGIE community, a designation that encompasses sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. The Conservatives confirmed that two of their MPs are part of the LGBTQ community.
Arielle Kayabaga, the newly elected Liberal MP for the Ontario riding of London West, has first-hand experience with what it’s like to be a racialized woman running for Parliament. She said that she had a stalker for several months, but that she tries to focus on the reasons why she’s there.
“For me, it was more about what’s at stake if we’re not running,” Ms. Kayabaga said. “As a young Black woman, there’s so much at stake for so many people in the same shoes as me.”
She added: “I tried to keep my head above it, but I cannot say that glass ceilings do not cut you back.”
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