By Kelsey Wrightson
On 14 April 2013, eligible voters will gather at the polls to determine the political leadership of British Columbia. Four major parties are vying to determine the policy future for Canada’s western-most province. In contention for the top spot are Liberal Party leader Christy Clark and NDP leader Adrian Dix. Vying to achieve first-time representation in the legislature are the BC Conservatives led by John Cummins, and the BC Green Party led by Jane Sterk. Despite equal representation of women in party leadership, across the four major parties only 27.7% of candidates are women.
Unfortunately, this paltry showing is only one example of the systemic gender disadvantage that continues in governments. Analysis of party platforms and campaign promises, though they are often purposefully vague, is a starting point to judging if and how parties plan to remedy gender (and other forms not discussed here) discrimination.
Documenting inequality in Canada, Brodie and Bakker (2008) argue that many public policy decisions made in the first part of the 21st century have disproportionately negative effects for women. Strong-Boag and Creese (2013) similarly condemn neoliberal state policy in British Columbia. In April 2013, a report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Analysis found that Canada ranked 12th in the world in terms of gender equality (“Gender Gap Report”). This so-called ‘solid B-‘ resulted from the small numbers of women in political office and continuing gender wage discrepancy. These analyses confirm the ongoing discrimination against women and girls in social welfare, the economy, and politics. This is the hard reality that party platforms may choose to confront or ignore.
To begin with the positive, the Green Party and the NDP both campaign on platforms embracing gender equality. The Green Party specifies “gender equality” as one of ten “guiding principles” and states that “ethics of cooperation and understanding must replace the values of domination and control” (BC Green website). However, no specific policy recommendations are attached to these high-sounding phrases.
The NDP has three proposals that explicitly address gender inequality. Plans to allocate funds to training for traditionally male-dominated trades include support for women. In addition, one policy section directly tackles inequality with endorsement of a ministry of Women’s Equality “to promote social and economic equality through all government programs and enhance services to women and children” (NDP Party Platform). It also plans to “address the recommendations of the Missing Women Inquiry” (MWI). The proposed NDP budget offers at least $7,000,000 in funding for gender equity services in the first three years.
Though not campaigning on “gender equality” as such, the BC Liberal Party promises to “implement the recommendations” of the MWI, and to “create a new Premier’s Women’s Economic Advisory Council to provide face-to-face feedback on how government policy changes can help further women’s business opportunities in the province” (Liberal Party Platform). The Liberal platform does not indicate any financial support for the first proposal and allocates only $100,000 for the second.
Living up to its name, the Conservative Party largely ignores issues of equality. Though stating that “the BC Conservatives do not support discrimination based on age, gender, race, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, family circumstance, political opinion, religion, disability or other distinctions” (BC Conservative Platform), it offers no substantive policies to remedy gender bias. Women as rights-bearers are in effect absent from its platform.
All four major parties nevertheless pay some attention to child and senior care, services that traditionally employ women, who also disproportionately bear the ‘hidden costs’ of unpaid labour. The BC Liberal Party promises tax benefits for families with children, including up to $660 per year per family to offset cost of childcare. The NDP plans to invest $210 million in the “Family Bonus Program” for those in need and to reduce childcare fees. Neither the Greens nor the Conservatives offered such explicit proposals, though the Conservatives mention childhood education as a “concern.”
With regard to BC’s seniors, the NDP commits itself to improving community care and funding to community and residential care facilities, (from $5,000,000 to $40,000,000 in 2015/16). The Liberals propose doubling funding to senior care by 50% (from $5,000,000 to $10,000,000 per year), but emphasize private sector partnership with a continued commitment to work with the United Way. The Conservatives only discuss economic viability of health care, and the Green Party notes “Healthy Seniors” as a concern (Green Book). Neither of the latter two parties mention funding or policy specifics.
Despite differences with regard to so-called ‘social’ policies, all party platforms target the provincial economy in ways that often favour male employment. The NDP promises $226,000,000 for a ‘Sustainable Economy’ and ‘New Jobs’ and a further $71,000,000 in 2015/16 for “Resource Economy and Rural Economic Development” (including forestry, agriculture and mining). The BC Liberal Party is less explicit in its budget projections but its policy book emphasizes trades training, resource and Liquefied Natural Gas development, and a $10,000,000 investment in silviculture. Few women have jobs in these sectors and their absence is not specifically identified as a problem in any party platform. Both NDP and Liberal proposed investment in natural resources and trades training continues the preference for ‘shovel ready’ initiatives preferred by previous administrations, as with the Gordon Campbell Liberals in 2008 (Hunter, 2009). While the NDP embraces recruitment schemes for women to the trades, these limited programs are unlikely to significantly change the workforce demographics.
In contrast, the determination of all parties to hold the line on government expenditure threatens women’s well-being in terms of both services and employment. As Strong-Boag and Creese have revealed, the threats to public sector funding and the increasing precariousness of employment in that area have disproportionately injured women. Though no party outrightly promotes public sector cuts, the budget reallocations advocated most explicitly by the Liberals and Conservatives are likely to hit women hardest.
In the last weeks before the election, the wishes of the British Columbia electorate remain uncertain. Polls from 26 April 2013 gave the NDP 45% of the committed vote, the Liberals 31%, Conservatives 11%, and Greens 10%. Female voters favoured the NDP at 43% compared to 35% for the Liberals (Baily, Woo and Bitonti). By 4 May 2013, however, polls and headlines suggest that the NDP is falling in popularity (to 44%) with the Liberals rising to 36% (Grenier).
A close examination of the 2013 platforms suggests that no party adequately addresses the experience of 50.4% of the population. Although the provincial NDP has a history of greater commitment to equality (including the creation of Canada’s first Ministry for Women’s Equality and some high profile feminist candidates such as Carole James) and is generally identified as the most sympathetic to feminism, its platform is a work in progress. The province’s second female premier, Christie Clark, has developed a highly personal campaign that emphasizes her status as a mother but her political prescriptives offer little support for women and families in need. As for the Greens and the Conservatives, their limited policy proposals do not suggest that gender parity is a key concern. Ultimately, women in all aspects of their lives appear to play a limited role in party platforms in the 2013 election.
Bailey, Ian & Woo, Andrea & Bitonti, Daniel. “Liberals no longer far behind in B.C election Poll” Globe and Mail, May 2, 2013.
BC Conservative Party. “We Believe in BC: The BC Conservatives 2013 Pre-Election Platform,” March 2013
BC Liberal Party. “Strong Economy, Secure Tomorrow: 2013 Platform,” March 2013
BC NDP. “Change for the Better: 2013 Platform” March 2013
Brody, J. & Bakker, I. Where are the Women? Gender Equity, Budgets and Canadian Public Policy. Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2008.
Green Party. “Green Book 2103” April 16, 2013
Green Party of BC. http://www.greenparty.bc.ca Accessed March 8, 2013
Grenier, Eric. “BC Liberals closing gap with NDP in Election polls” Globe and Mail, May 6, 2013.
Hunter, J. “Two years of deficit, public sector battle brews,” Globe and Mail, p. A1. February 18, 2009
McInturff, Kate. “Closing Canada’s Gender Gap” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, April 2013
Statistics Canada. “Women and men caring for a senior, by the senior’s place of residence, Canada, 2010”, 2010
Statistics Canada. “Unpaid Work (20), Age Groups (7) and Sex (3) for Population 15 Years and Over, for Canada, Provinces, Territories and Federal Electoral Districts (2003 Representation Order), 2001 Census – 20% Sample Data,” 2003
Statistics Canada. “Unemployed women and men, by reason for leaving last job” 2009.
Strong- Boag, Veronica & Creese, Gillian. ‘Forthcoming in The Campbell Revolution: Power and Politics in British Columbia from 2001-2011, edited by Tracy Summerville and Jason Lacharite (UBC Press).