Women as Candidates and MPs in Canada (2004-2012)

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Women remain notably underrepresented in political institutions in Canada – a mere 24.7% of federal representatives are women.  Internationally, Canadian ranks 47th, well behind many European, African and South American countries.  This post provides information about and reflects on women in Canadian politics as candidates and elected officials in recent elections.

In order to understand and address gender inequality in political representation, it is crucial to have a sense of where the under-representation occurs in the electoral cycle.  Are women under-represented in Canada because they don’t run or aren’t nominated as candidates?  Or are women under-represented because female candidates aren’t elected to Parliament?

The tables below show the number of male and female candidates for each of the major parties as well as the percentage of women candidates and of male candidates who were successfully elected. As they show, the number and proportion of female candidates has increased for most parties in most years over the last four elections. While this trend is positive, the number of candidates, with the exception of the NDP in all years and the Liberals in 2008, who are women still remains below 30% – the level the United Nations and others have identified as necessary for a critical mass – the level where women are able to effect politics and policy.   Women will not achieve equality or even a critical mass as long as the number of female candidates remains low for most, or all, major parties.

The trend is still less positive when it comes to the success of women candidates relative to men.   The last two columns in each table indicate the proportion of successful female and male candidates.   While there had previously been concerns that women were more likely to be placed as sacrificial lambs in losing ridings by political parties, by 2006 Julie Cool observed that women were only slightly less likely to win than men.  In 2004, women were in fact more likely to win elections than their male counterparts (except among the NDP).  By 2008, however, male candidates for both the Liberals and Conservatives won at a rate ten percentage points higher than women. Again in 2011, men in the same parties won more often than women; women in the NDP were in contrast slightly more successful.  In other words, women constitute less than a third of candidates and in two of the three major parties have in 2008 and 2011 been winning at lower rates than men.  Of course, the latter election also saw Elizabeth May become the first elected Green Member of Parliament – while 33% of Green candidates were women, 100% of their successful candidates were women!

These numbers provide no indication of the cause of difference – is it gatekeeping by political leaders who place women in losing ridings? Or are voters responsible, systematically voting more often for men than women?  The second explanation seems unlikely, given the propensity of Canadian voters to vote primarily, if not solely, on the basis of party identification.  What is clear, however,  is that in order to remedy gender inequality in political representation political parties will not only have to nominate more women but they will also have to nominate women in competitive or secure ridings.

 

2004 Candidates Elected
Women Men % women % men Women Men % women elected % men elected
Conservatives 36 272 11.69 88.31 12 87 33.3 32.0
Liberals 75 233 24.35 75.65 34 101 45.3 43.3
New Democrats 96 212 31.17 68.83 5 14 5.2 6.6
Bloc 18 57 24.00 76.00 14 40 77.8 70.2

 

2006 Candidates Elected
Women Men % women % men Women Men % women elected % men elected
Conservatives 38 270 12.34 87.66 14 110 36.8 40.7
Liberals 79 229 25.65 74.35 21 82 26.6 35.8
New Democrats 108 200 35.06 64.94 12 17 11.1 8.5
Bloc 23 52 30.67 69.33 17 34 73.9 65.4

 

2008 Candidates Elected
Women Men % women % men Women Men % women elected % men elected
Conservatives 63 244 20.52 79.48 23 120 36.5 49.2
Liberals 113 194 36.81 63.19 19 58 16.8 29.9
New Democrats 104 204 33.77 66.23 12 25 11.5 12.3
Bloc 20 55 26.67 73.33 15 34 75.0 61.8

 

2011 Candidates Elected
Women Men % women % men Women Men % women elected % men elected
Conservatives 68 239 22.15 77.85 28 138 41.2 57.7
Liberals 90 218 29.22 70.78 6 28 6.7 12.8
New Democrats 123 204 37.61 62.39 40 63 32.5 30.9
Bloc 23 52 30.67 69.33 1 3 4.3 5.8

 

Lore, Grace

Lore, Grace

PhD Student in the Department of Political Science - University of British Columbia

This article was written by: Lore, Grace

PhD Student in the Department of Political Science - University of British Columbia