By Grace Lore and Kelsey Wrightson
On 14 May 2013, more women were elected to the British Columbia Legislature than ever before. The election saw the first women to be elected premier and if Premier Clark wins her seat on 10 July, 2013, as is largely expected, the proportion of women will reach a historic 37%. Given the dominance of the executive in the decision-making process and control of government backbenchers in terms of both votes and political discourse, the number of women in cabinet matters as much and perhaps more. Women constitute a record 40% of the new cabinet.
Historically, women in executive positions have been confined to the ‘pink collar ghetto’, designated portfolios associated with traditionally feminine roles. On the other hand, the so-called ‘dirt’ portfolios, including energy, mines, and environment as well as those with significant power, including central ministries such as Finance, have been overwhelmingly monopolized by men. Women now hold posts not traditionally managed by their sex – Jobs, Tourism, and Innovation (Shirley Bond), International Trade (Teresa Watt), and Environment (Mary Polak). Much was made of the fact that Bond became the first female Attorney General before the 2013 election and the subsequent appointment of Suzanne Anton continues the break with the past. While Stephanie Cadieux became Children and Family Development minister, men were appointed to several traditionally feminine portfolios including Social Development Minister Don MaCrae and Education Minister Peter Fassbender. The most powerful and important ministries including Finance and four of the five largest ministries (in terms of budget), however, continue to be captained by men.
Women comprise 41% of the NDP shadow cabinet. Indeed all their female MPs are included in this group only one NDP MLA (a man) does not hold a position. Most women hold more traditionally feminine critic positions including – Women’s Issues, Child Care, and Early Learning (Maurine Karagianis, whose portfolio also rather peculiarly includes ship building), Children and Family Development (Carole James), Seniors and Seniors’ Health (Katrine Conroy), and Social Development (Michelle Mungall). Other ports are less traditionally female, including Small Business (Lana Popham), Transportation and BC Ferries (Claire Trevena), and ICBC (Mable Elmore, who is also Deputy Finance Critic).
Of course, gender is not the only under-represented characteristic in British Columbian politics and politicians more generally. Further, women are not a homogenous group but further defined by ethnicity, sexual orientation, and class. While both Liberal visible minority female MLAs were appointed to cabinet, only one of five such men holds a position in the executive (Amirk Virk as Minister of Advanced Education). Stephanie Cadiuex is back in cabinet, while the other two candidates with visible disabilities, Sam Sullivan and Michelle Stilwell, remain backbenchers.
While the 2013 British Election did improve the number of women, it is important to distinguish between descriptive representation –the numbers – and substantive representation– the representation of issues important to women and the active pursuit of policy that serves under-represented groups (Pitkin, 1967). It remains to be seen what influence more women in the legislature and the executive will have on policy and discourse, particularly given the relative absence of women’s issues from Liberal platforms and previous policy agendas.
To see BC’s 2012 Budget –
The June 2013 update leading up to the 2013 Province budget can be found here as of 27 June, 2013:
The list of Cabinet ministers and their portfolios and bios can be found here –
The BC NDP caucus and shadow cabinet is found here –