Gender Representation in Cabinet: BC Election 2013

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 –


More women MLAs – what will it mean?

By Grace Lore and Kelsey Wrightson

via flickr bcndp

via flickr bcndp

The 2013 general provincial election was a step forward for women’s political representation in British Columbia – more women were elected than ever before (making up 34% of the legislature) and, although she didn’t win her own seat, Christy Clark became the first women to be elected premier in BC’s history.

What this means for women in terms of policy, however, remains to be seen.  It is often argued (including by the United Nations) that women start to make a difference to politics and policy after achieving a ‘critical mass’ of representation at 30%.   Some studies have found that having more women in politics is associated with greater provision of “women-friendly” social policies and more attention to women’s issues in the political arena (Dahlreup 1988; Grey, 2002; Bratton & Ray, 2002; Thomas, 1991).  Political parties remain a dominant force in legislative politics, however, and control over individual MLAs by leaders and party whips may limit the ability of individual women to push policy in this direction. Interestingly, the one elected Independent, and the first person ever to be elected twice as an Independent MLA in British Columbia, was Vicki Huntington.  Given women’s limited representation among parties and especially among Independents, her achievement is all the more impressive.

The Liberals’ track record on women’s issues has been heavily criticized.  One of their first actions upon election in 2001 was to cut the Ministry of Women’s Equality.  The NDP’s platform in 2013 election included its re-establishment.   Last year West Coast LEAF’s CEDAW (Convention on Ending Discrimination against Women) Report Card gave the BC Liberals several failing grades – including an F for women and access to justice and for action on missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls.  LEAF also assigned the government a D+ for social assistance and a C- for access to childcare.  Where the BC Liberals did make some progress is addressing domestic violence with the new Family Law Act, which changed the definition of abuse and improved protection orders, they received a B-.    Since the issuing of the 2012 report, and in the wake of the Missing Women’s Inquiry, the government increased funding to WISH, which allowed the Vancouver drop-in centre for sex trade workers to remain open 24 hours.  This directly addresses one of LEAF’s concerns; while the group commended the recommendation by the City of Vancouver and Vancouver police to ensure 24-hour access to drop-in centres for sex trade works, it had critiqued the failure to act on the recommendation.

The Liberal’s 2013 platform never explicitly mentioned gender equality, but did include measures, such as implementing the recommendations of the Missing Women’s Inquiry and establishing a Premier’s Women’s Economic Advisory Council to increase business opportunities for women.   The extent to which these measures are in fact introduced and are effective in addressing gender inequalities, women’s vulnerabilities, and reversing some of the damage done by previous cuts and reversals remains to be tested.

The 40th British Columbian Election marked improvements in the representation of women among MLAs.  Less clear are the implications for women residents of the province, particularly those most in need of governmental services and support.

Further Reading:

Dahlreup, D. (1988). From a small to large minority: women in Scandinavian politics. Scandinavian Political Studies, 11(4), 275- 298.

Dahlerup, D. (2006). The Story of the Theory of Critical Mass. Politics and Gender, 2(4), 502-510.

Bratton, K., & Ray, L. (2002). Descriptive Representation, Policy Outcomes and Municipal Day-Care Coverage in Norway. American Journal of Political Science, 46(2), 428-437.

Grey, S. (2002). Does Size Matter? Critical Mass and New Zealand’s’ Women MPs.  Parliamentary Affairs, 55, 19-29.

Saint-Germain, M. (1989). Does Their Difference Make  Difference? The Impact of women on Public Policy in the Arizona Legislature. Social Science Quarterly, 70(4), 956-968.

Thomas, S. (1991). The Impact of Women on State Legislative Policies. The Journal of Politics, 53(4), 958-976.

United Nations. (1981). The Convention to End Discrimination Against Women. Retrieved March 25, 2001, from


BC’s 40th Provincial Election: Democracy and Representation

Kelsey Wrightson and Grace Lore


Image from BC Government Newsroom


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***