Committee suggests penalizing political parties that don’t run enough women

A special all-party committee examining Canada’s electoral system says parties should be rewarded, or penalized, financially depending on how many women they run on the ballot.

The idea is not a new one, but it may be getting new life through the committee’s report to Parliament, which was tabled in Ottawa on Thursday.

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The document’s big headline was the recommendation that the Trudeau government design a new proportional voting system and hold a national referendum to gauge how many Canadians would support it.

But buried in the 333 pages were several other suggestions, and one was aimed at tackling a perennial problem: the low proportion of women in the House of Commons. It currently sits at 26 per cent.

“The Committee recommends that the Government amend the Canada Elections Act to create a financial incentive (for example through reimbursement of electoral campaign expenses) for political parties to run more women candidates and move towards parity in their nominations,” the report states.

READ MORE: Where are all the women on House of Commons committees?

NDP MP Kennedy Stewart proposed this same idea as part of a private member’s bill, Bill C-237, which was defeated in late October after the majority of the Liberal caucus did not support it. The Conservatives voted against the bill, while the NDP and the Greens voted in favour of moving it to second reading.

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Specifically, the bill would have amended the Elections Act to reduce the reimbursement any party receives for its election expenses if there is more than a 10 per cent difference in the number of male and female candidates on its list of candidates.

Currently, parties can receive a reimbursement of 50 per cent of their election expenses after those expenses are reported to Elections Canada and if they’ve followed all the rules.

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef explained that her party felt it was important to wait until the committee on electoral reform had issued its report, “and then we can address this conversation (about gender parity) through a different means.”

That may now occur, with the recommendation written in black-and-white from the committee. The group included several Liberal members.

WATCH: ‘Daughters of the Vote’ aims at involving more women in politics

The document made public on Thursday also tackles some of the reasons why women don’t move forward with the nomination process, even if they’re actively recruited by parties.

One expert, University of Calgary political science professor Melanee Thomas, told the committee members that “money matters” for women looking to make the leap into politics.

Thomas suggested that limiting the amount of money that can be used in a nomination contest, focusing on developing personal networks for women in riding associations, and funding child care and related expenses at the nomination stage would encourage more women to run.

“Women tell us that money becomes a barrier also at that nomination stage, and it matters in ways that don’t matter for men,” Thomas said.

“It’s not just about getting money for getting on the ballot and mounting a campaign, but for things like after-hours child care. It’s for things like hair and clothes and the whole presentation in which women are required to engage in ways that men aren’t.”

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