Kelsey Wrightson and Grace Lore
On 14 May, 2013, Christy Clark became the first women to be elected as Premier of British Columbia. Although she was not reelected to her own seat in Vancouver Point Grey, Clark’s poll-defying victory was historic. Clark joins the ranks of current Premiers Allyson Redford (Alberta) and Kathy Dunderdale (Newfoundland) who first became premier as elected party leaders before receiving an election mandate from provincial voters. Whether Ontario’s Kathleen Wynn can do the same remains to be seen. In May 2013, the number of women provincial and territorial leaders was unprecedented in the entirety of Canadian political history. What makes Clark’s victory even more remarkable is that polls in the weeks and months prior predicted a NDP majority; the Liberal victory, where the party actually gained four seats surprised observers and the majority parties. While Clark led her party to victory, she lost her own seat to NDP newcomer lawyer David Eby. She now must win another seat in order to enter the Legislature. Ben Stewart, the former cabinet minister and MLA-elect for the historically safe Liberal seat of Westside-Kelowna, has resigned, and Clark is likely to win on 10 July 2013.
The May 2013 election also saw a slight increase in women MLAs. In 2009, 24 women were elected to the Legislature; women’s successes in three by-elections increased their number to 27 by dissolution. The 2013 election introduced 30, or 34%, surpassing the so called “critical mass” necessary to achieve substantive representation of women’s interest and perspectives. Seven Liberals and four NDP were elected for the first time. Nineteen incumbents retained their seats, including Vicki Huntington re-elected as an Independent for Delta South – an unprecedented achievement in BC’s party-dominated politics.
While there is good news for the overall representation of women within the legislature, there is still much room for improvement. Women remain under-represented among candidates and elected officials, scarcely a third for either of the major parties. Further, of the 19 seats the Liberals held at dissolution where the incumbent was not running again, 15 candidacies were filled by men and only four by women. Perhaps as a result of this inequity, 50% of Liberal women won their seats in comparison to 63% of Liberal men. The NDP had better success rates: women won slightly more frequently (39%) than their men (38%). At current levels of nomination, even if women were placed in winnable or held ridings and elected at equal rates, equality in representation would not be achieved.
Of course, women are not the only under represented group in the political arena and while women’s voices may add an important perceptive, women are not a homogenous group. Their experiences are further defined by (dis)ability, class, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and other characteristics. In this election, the NDP ran 19 visible minority candidates – 14 men (one of whom was successful) and five women (three victories). The Liberals ran 18 candidates from visible minorities – 11 men and seven women, with five men and two women victorious.
Just as this election marked a new high for women’s representation, individuals with visible disabilities have unprecedented success in the new legislative assembly. All three of the Liberals with visible disabilities won: cabinet minister Stephanie Cadieux and newcomers, Paralympic gold-medalist Michelle Stilwel and former Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan.
It remains to be seen what these shifts in representation may mean for BC residents. Increasing the range of voices is important, but whether this can counter the neo-liberal political trend that disproportionately injures women and other disadvantaged populations is unclear. Government policies need a major make-over if they are to reflect the needs of all citizens.
**Note: this article reflects the changes after Selina Robinson took the seat from Liberal Steven following a 4 June, 2013 judicial recount in Coquitlam-Maillardville***