BC Election 2013 – Getting more women elected

On 15 April 2013  the British Columbia Legislature was dissolved and the campaign for the election of the 40th Legislative Assembly began.    At dissolution, women comprised 29% of all provincial MLAs.   This is just below the so called “critical-mass” level (30%) cited by the United Nations and other prominent organizations as necessary to achieve a different type of politics and a voice for women but still well below equal representation.

The province has a long history of women active in politics. Propertied women were first granted the right to participate in municipal l politics, beginning in Victoria in the 1870s.  In 1917 all white women were granted the right to vote and stand for election provincially. In 1921, Liberal Mary Ellen Smith became the first women elected to BC’s legislature and the first female cabinet minister in the British Commonwealth. Several decades later, British Columbia provided another ‘first’ when Liberal MLA Nancy Hodges became the first woman Speaker, a position that Smith had been offered and refused.  In the 1970s, British Columbians elected the first Black woman, NDPer Rosemary Brown to the BC legislature; a few years later Brown became the first woman to run for leadership of a Canadian political party.  In 1991, Rita Johnston became the first female premier in Canada’s history.    Despite such firsts, overall female representation has remained low. Since the 1991 election the level has increased by a mere 1 percentage point. Indeed it decreased from 28% to 24% in 2001 before rising to 29% over the course of the following two elections.

Achieving higher levels of representation involves, somewhat simplistically, nominating and electing more women every election.  The first week of a campaign provides an important opportunity to discuss and explore political participation.    Are women nominated?  Where are they nominated?  Are they in ‘winnable’ environments?   Will the next election get us closer to parity of representation?  These questions are, however, rarely addressed, one more reason why womensuffrage.org should be watched in the coming weeks.

In 2009, the BC New Democratic Party adopted a voluntary quota that would require women to be nominated in ridings won by the party in the last election or where the current MLA was retiring.   Partially a result of this initiative, an additional five NDP women (as opposed to two men) were elected in 2009.    While the BC Liberals elected seven new women, they also elected eleven new men, decreasing the party’s proportion of women from 32% to 24.5%. As a result,  Liberals lost an important opportunity to level the playing field.

The 2013 campaign offers another opportunity to improve women’s representation.  Although a few candidacies remain unfilled at the end of the first week, more than a third of candidates nominated by both major parties are women (35% for the Liberals, 38% for the NDP).  The numbers of new candidates (nominated candidates who are not incumbents) are even better – of potential new NDP MLAs nearly 40% are women, while %35 of potential new Liberal MLAs are women.  If the proportion of elected MLAs reflects the proportion of candidates, women’s representation should improve after May 14th.  There is, of course, more to the story.  As a result of the quota policy, women are running in five of the six ridings which the NDP won in the last election but where the current MLA has retired.  A less promising situation exists in the Liberal Party: less than 20% of new female Liberal candidates are running in ridings the party currently holds – this compares to nearly 80% of new male Liberal candidates. By this measure, the proportion of women among the BC Liberals is unlikely to increase

BC’s two most prominent minor parties – the BC Conservatives and the Green Party – do not currently hold a seat.  Female representation in both is, however, strikingly low.  Among currently nominated Green candidates only 22% are women; among the BC Conservatives the number is even lower at 8%.

Despite room for optimism, much clearly remains to be done: in 28 of BC’s 85 ridings both candidates from the major party are men and in 20 of those ridings the candidates from all four parties are men.  In only three ridings are both the Liberal and NDP candidates women.   In many ridings, women interested in politics will not see their gender reflected in candidates.  Equally problematic is a significant absence of significant diversity in women’s voice, perspectives, and experiences.   What precise effect this will have on the 2013 campaign’s dialogue and discourse remains to be seen, but issues of particular importance to women, from sexualized violence to accessible childcare , will find fewer champions than they should.


Daurene Lewis

from blackhistorysociety.ca

from blackhistorysociety.ca

(9 September, 1943- 26 January, 2013)

Daurene Lewis scored important “firsts,” including the title of Canada’s first female Black mayor. Her favourite quotation was from Rosemary Brown, Canada’s first Black female member of a provincial legislature:  “Remember you are twice blessed … you’re Black and you’re a woman.” (McRae). Her lifetime resonated with protest against injustice.

Born in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia in 1943, her family proudly claimed descent from Black Loyalists who settled in Canada after the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Upon graduation from high school, she trained as a nurse, worked in Toronto and Yarmouth, and taught at Dalhousie University.  Later she ran her own weaving and design business and earned a Master of Business Administration from Halifax’s St Mary’s University.  She was also director of the Centre for Women in Business at Canada’s women’s university, Mount Saint Vincent, a board member of the Vanier Institute for the Family and chaired the Africville Heritage Trust to address the loss of Halifax’s north-end Black community. At her death she was principal for the Nova Scotia Community College.

Her family history provided a firm foundation for achievement. She never questioned that she would be attending university after completing high school. The National Film Board documentary Black Mother Black Daughter (1989) portrayed a woman who was determined to get all the education she could. Lewis never married and had no children. She offered a humorous explanation for those choices, suggesting that if she had taken a planned trip to Europe with two high-school friends, she might have returned with a husband as they did (Sage).

Like many other women, single or married, Lewis dedicated herself to care-giving, both for her mother and in the public sphere. Her desire to care for her ailing mother prompted her return home from Toronto when she was between nursing jobs. It also offered her an opportunity to take up the family tradition of weaving. This in turn led to her second career as a textile artist and entrepreneur.

Lewis also took up a political career, first serving on the Annapolis Royal Town Council in 1979. Three years later, she was appointed deputy mayor. In 1984 she won the top job, marking her as both the province’s first Black mayor and the first Black woman elected to such a position in Canada. In 1988, her unsuccessful bid to join the House of Assembly as a Liberal made her the first woman and African-Canadian to run for such office in Nova Scotia.

Lewis remained wary of defining her political career only by notable “firsts.” Shortly after her election, she told Nova Scotia’s Herald Chronicle that she just wanted to be known as a good civic official “not a good lady mayor or a good black lady mayor.” At that time, there were only 13 Black residents in Annapolis Royale. As she explained in 1989, “the black vote did not put me in” (Lightstone).

Despite such denials, the racial and gendered dimensions of her victories remain remarkable: they represent a significant shift in Canadian social and political practices. Lewis was born only a few years before Black women could register in the province’s nursing schools. She was three years old when Viola Desmond (1914-1965) made history by refusing a segregated seat in a cinema in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia (Backhouse), and ten when school segregation ended in her province. Although a prominent and productive member of his community, Lewis’ father could never get his hair cut in a local barber shop (Lightstone). Political welcome was similarly slow across Canada. Not until 1968 did Ontario Conservative Lincoln Alexander became Canada’s first Black Member of Parliament and not until 1972 was New Democrat Rosemary Brown elected on the west coast.  Nova Scotia lacked a Black legislator until 1993 (the Liberal, Wayne Adams).

When not in office, Lewis remained an active member of the community. Her explanation set out her philosophy: “Involvement on boards, commissions and advisory councils allows me to have input that will help shape policy and practice. Too many of us are limited by societal convention and geographical perspectives to live life to the fullest. I want people to feel valued, happy and excited about their very existence.”  (McRae). She served as Chair of the Africville Heritage Trust Board, which aimed to restore some of the iconic community that had fallen to bulldozers and racism in the 1960s. In 1993 she received an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from Mount Saint Vincent University. Two years later, she accepted the United Nations Global Citizenship award. In 2002 she became a Member of the Order of Canada and was awarded the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal.

Lewis’ path from a daughter whose father could not receive basic services to a distinguished citizen captured Canada’s slowly shifting attitude to racial prejudice. Her life also confirmed the value of individual action.  As she said, “If I could teach one thing to the next generation, it would be that no one should accept the status quo” (McRae).


Backhouse, Constance. Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada, 1900-1950 . Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999.

Hamilton, Sylvia and Claire Preito. Black Mother, Black Daughter National Film Board of Canada, 1989

Lightstone, Michael. “Respected Trailblazer Daurene Lewis Dies,” January 27, 2013

Mahoney, Jill. “Mayor was a trailblazer for black women,” Globe and Mail, January 27, 2013.

McRae, Ricardo. “Dr. Daurene Lewis,” Who’s Who in Black Canada, Accessed April 5, 2013

Sage, Amanda. “Dr. Daurene Lewis, nurse-educator-politician-catalyst” August 17, 2011.


Park Geun-hye


Photo via US State Department's Michael Gross.

Photo via US State Department’s Michael Gross.

On 19 December 2012 Park Geun-hye won the tightly fought election that would make her in February 2013 the first female president for South Korea, which ranked 115th in the 2009 World Economic Forum’s Gender Equality Index. In 2005, the country had seen the appointment of its first female prime minister, Han Myeong-Sook (b 1944), a former Minister of Gender Equality (2001-2003), a long time progressive politician, and graduate of Ewha Woman’s University. Park in contrast represented the ruling conservative New Frontier party and had no history of feminist politics. Like many other ‘firsts’, Park, who trained as an engineer and was first elected to the National Assembly in 1998, is a member of a political dynasty, the daughter of former dictator, general, and President Park Chung-hee (1961-79).  Her father, who was assassinated (as was her mother), remains a divisive figure in South Korea, remembered both for uneven regional industrial development and for jailing opponents. Nick-named ‘the ice queen’, a moniker that implies qualities like Margaret Thatcher’s ‘the iron lady’, Park has never been known as a feminist. She nevertheless promised a ‘women’s revolution’, including child care. To distance herself from the influential business interests closely associated with the ruling party and the country’s massive gap between rich and poor, Park presented herself as a maternal figure that recalled something of the appeal of her contemporary, the German chancellor Angela Merkel and of Elizabeth the First, Britain’s ‘virgin queen’ whom Park cites as a model. Her claim that “I have no family to take care of and no children to pass wealth to. You, the people, are my family and your happiness is the reason that I stay in politics” was powerful in a nation where kinship is prized (McElroy). As the Executive Director of the Center for Korean Women and Politics (CKWP) observed, however, Park was a female leader “only in biological terms” and lacked any history of promoting equality (channelnewsasia.com). The CKWP and the Women’s News rated Park’s liberal opponent better on women’s rights. Unmarried and childless, Park appeared a surprising choice in a nation characterized by Confucian beliefs and substantial gender gaps in most aspects of its economic, social, and political life. Indeed the vast majority of feminists supported the opposition and there are suspicions that Park’s candidacy was a ploy by the old guard to stay in power. Her gender allowed them to bask in the appearance of change while drawing on the pervasive, among conservatives and older voters, near-worship of her dictator father.


Further Reading & Resources

“Park Geun-Hye adds to Asian women’s rise to power,” 21 December 2012, channelnewsasia.com, http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_asiapacific/view/1243955/1/.html

“The Situation of Women in South Korea,” http://www.20-first.com/1360-0-the-situation-of-women-in-south-korea.html

Patrick Boehler, “Behind the Story: TIME’s Emily Rauhala Dicusses South Korea’s First Female President,” http://world.time.com/2012/12/20/behind-the-story-times-emily-rauhala-discusses-south-koreas-first-female-president-2/

Pino Cazzaniga, “Hann Myung-Sook, a Christian woman now prime minister,”  Help AsiaNews.it, http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Han-Myung-Sook,-a-Christian-woman-now-prime-minister-5965.html

Justin McCurry, “Park Geun-hye becomes South Korea’s first female president,” http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/dec/19/park-geun-hye-south-korea-election

Heike Hermanns, “Women in South Korean Politics: A Long Road to Equality,” Portal: Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies , v. 3, no. 2 (2006), http://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/journals/index.php/portal/article/view/134

Michael Kugelman, ed., Edging Toward Full Empowerment? South Korean Women in the Workplace and the Political Arena, Asian Program. Special Report. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. September 2006.

Damien McElroy, “Park Geun-hye becomes South Korea’s first female president,” The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/southkorea/9755820/Park-Geun-hye-becomes-South-Koreas-first-female-president.htmlAlexander Mette, “Park Geun-hye: South Korea’s First Female President Carries a Complicated Legacy,” policymic, http://www.policymic.com/articles/21153/park-geun-hye-south-korea-s-first-female-president-carries-a-complicated-legacy