In one day, more women represented Canadians in the House of Commons than ever before.
On International Women’s Day (March 8), 338 women sat in the House of Commons in Ottawa as part of the Daughters of the Vote Initiative Leadership Summit. It’s a number that’s larger than the 315 women who have been elected as MPs throughout Canada’s 150-year history.
And that statistic was a driving force behind one woman’s question about why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau abandoned his promise of electoral reform.
Trudeau repeatedly promised to get rid of the first-past-the-post voting system in time for the 2019 election but in February, he announced electoral reform would not be part of the mandate of newly-appointed Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould.
“We know that your government has given the reasons of how a referendum (on electoral reform) can be divisive and there can be challenges, but those challenges – if they were met – would be better and ensure more women would make it here,” participant Chelsea Montgomery said.
“Instead of waiting ‘til 2090, and that is the year it would take if we keep on the path that we are going on right now to see gender parity in this house. So what commitments are you making and what is the plan to go forward?”
Trudeau, while admitting Canada does need to improve the voting system, pointed to other changes offered by the Canadian government as well as the Liberal party. He said one of those steps was the repealing of changes to the Fair Elections Act. He also pointed to the fact that four out of five (Liberal) candidates running in federal byelections are women.
WATCH: Prime Minister Trudeau thanks his wife Sophie during emotional moment in the House of Commons Wednesday.
Montgomery, 24, was chosen to represent her riding of Wellington-Halton Hills in western Ontario at the House of Commons summit, which was put on by Equal Voice.
The small business owner is a self-proclaimed “political nerd” and decided to use the platform offered by International Women’s Day to talk about electoral reform because it’s linked to female representation in government.
“It’s amazing that we have 88 women elected to the House of Commons… I do not want to diminish that accomplishment,” Montgomery said.
“But it’s not enough… Countless studies have shown that through electoral reform, we would see more women, more visible minorities and hopefully more indigenous leaders in the House of Commons.”
A report from Equal Voice, released in 2016, says the first-past-the-post system is a majoritarian or plurality system and countries with those tend to have less women in government than other systems (on average, they have female representation of 20 per cent).
Canada is above average, with women making up 26 per cent of MPs in the House of Commons and 39 per cent of senators, which places Canada 64th in the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s rankings.
But the report, which was initially prepared for the government committee looking into electoral reform, says despite some benefits to women’s representation in politics, the first-past-the-post system “would not, itself, result in long-term, sustainable increase to women’s participation and representation.”
The report suggests the countries with the highest percentage of women in government have proportional electoral systems along with other strategies like quotas in place.
Proportional representation is when voters cast ballots for a party rather than a politician, and once all the votes are counted, parties are awarded a number of seats in proportion to the percentage of votes each received.
Dr. Grace Lore, who prepared the report, told Global News while there have been incremental increases in women’s representation in Canada, there would need to be a drastic change unless we want to wait 90 years for gender parity in government, echoing Montgomery’s statements in the House on Wednesday.
She also said electoral reform has only a small part to play in the grand scheme of things. According to Lore, political parties, as well as everyday Canadians, need to encourage women to go into politics.
That’s a sentiment Trudeau said he shares as well.
“We need to be better at convincing women to run for politics,” Trudeau said while responding to Montgomery on Wednesday.
The Daughters of the Vote Initiative Leadership Summit was part of a plethora of events happening to promote International Women’s Day.
*with a file from Leslie Young and the Canadian Press
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