In 1975, NWT leader, Nellie Cournoyea stated in the Status of Women report ‘Speaking Together’ that ‘Paternalism has been a total failure’. Unfortunately it’s still true.
When I entered medical school women were 20% of the class, over 25 years later when I entered Parliament women were 20% of that House of Commons ‘class’, but medical school enrollment has changed dramatically – reaching 50-60% women. Unfortunately Parliament is not a meritocracy; structural barriers remain. In 1992, the Lortie Commission identified money and the nomination process as major barriers. Many of us believe that it will be impossible to achieve parity until the electoral system in Canada is changed to a more proportional system.
We’ve made huge progress in some areas – 5/10 of provincial premiers are women, 1/3 of our territorial leaders. These women are fantastic role-models for girls and young women in Canada. But surprisingly there are fewer roadblocks in the process to run for leader of a political party in Canada than to get your name on the ballot in a constituency. Leadership style is important, but evidence has shown that it is not possible to change the culture until women make up at least one third of an institution. Even with the small jump to 24% women after the 2011 election, Parliament still feels at times like a male locker room. Gotcha politics, winner/losers, take no prisoners & zero sum approaches are turning citizens off. Less than 5% of Canadians belong to a political party, they are turned off by the uber-partisanship. In their own lives they know that good ideas can come from many places and that cooperation and consensus lead to better results.
Every day I am inspired by the motto of Women’s College Hospital – Non quo sed quo modo – it’s not what we do but how. It’s true in health care and it’s true in politics. Women are different. Leadership styles that once were called ‘feminist’ – flattened structures and inclusive decision making – are now taught in all the MBA schools. Leadership is better described as the centre of a circle, not the top of a pyramid. Women usually enter politics with a genuine motivation to serve their community ‘bottom-up’. It’s always inspiring to hear the stories of why certain women agreed to run – fighting for a crosswalk, against lead in the soil, better classroom size. In my experience, women don’t run for a title, but they run for the opportunity to truly make a difference in the lives of their neighbours and/or the planet! 2015 isn’t far away. I don’t want to hear ever again – “We couldn’t find any qualified women to run”. We know you’re out there. We need you ‘in the House’!