The nailbiter election in Alberta in which former Premier Rachel Notley is facing off against sitting Premier Danielle Smith gives us the illusion that Canada has more women in power than we actually do.
In fact, close to 70 percent of parliamentarians – including those in the current Alberta legislature – are men. Interestingly, however, that might change once Albertans have gone to the polls. Because the two leaders’ candidate pools are markedly different.
Less than a quarter of UCP candidates are women, in contrast to half of those running under the NDP banner.
Why does this matter?
Because women’s lives differ from men’s in myriad ways. And if women aren’t present to influence the formation of policies and spending priorities to reflect their realities, it’s impossible to ensure that they will.
On the other side of the Rocky Mountains, British Columbia provides an instructive case study. Since 2019, the BC government has been providing funds to ensure girls and women can access free tampons and pads in a bid to end “period poverty.”
Then, earlier this spring, the province made doctor-prescribed IUDs, morning-after pills and birth control pills available to BC citizens free-of-charge.
Which is pretty awesome. Because for millions of women in this country, menstrual products and contraception are – like toilet paper, soap and water – essentials of life.
But it’s not a coincidence that these reproductive health measures were introduced in BC. Because unlike almost every other government in Canada, the province’s governing party boasts a slight majority of women MLAs.
This is what a balance of power delivers: a world in which women’s experiences and insights inform policies and impact spending.
Representation is fundamental to democracy, and Canadians have always recognized that. It’s why Quebec’s 22 per cent of the population is matched by 22 per cent of the seats in Ottawa. It’s why every Prime Minister in history has ensured that, regardless of their party’s geographic base, prairie and maritime provinces have a voice in Cabinet.
But why is geography the sole representation default?
Many other countries have evolved from this approach and prioritized meaningful change to ensure that the 50 per cent of the population who give birth to everyone are equally represented in the halls of power.
Informed Opinions, in collaboration with political scientists who specialize in comparative politics, reviewed the paths to parity they pursued. Here’s what we learned:
1. Some recognized early on the critical benefits that flow from gender equality and started advancing women’s access to power decades ago. As a result, northern European nations like Iceland, Sweden and Norway have all achieved more than 45 per cent women’s representation.
2. Others brought in parity laws or constitutional reforms and imposed sanctions on political parties that don’t comply. Mexico, for one, rewrote its constitution, and now fully half of its legislators are women.
3. Still other countries passed laws requiring all political parties to apply gender quotas when they select candidates. Some have financial penalties, others disqualify those that fail to comply. Costa Rica and Spain both follow this approach.
4. Finally, some countries, New Zealand included, have reformed their electoral systems abandoning first-past-the-post for alternatives that have a demonstrated impact on ensuring the diversity of the population is reflected more broadly – and not just in terms of gender.
Canada, in contrast, has voluntary quotas. These acknowledge that gender parity is a worthwhile goal, but lets parties who don’t care much off the hook.
Voters in Alberta will consider many issues when casting their ballots. Those invested in gender equality have a clear choice.
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