Quebec elected a record number of women in Monday’s election, reflecting a trend on the continent toward greater female involvement in politics.
The 52 women elected –representing 41.6 per cent of the province’s 125 seats– is the highest percentage in Canada, said Esther Lapointe director-general of Groupe Femmes, Politique et Democratie, which lobbies for a greater political role for women.
Quebec stole the title from Ontario, where 39.5 per cent of candidates elected last June were women.
READ MORE: Diversity at record high at Queen’s Park
South of the border, American media are regularly reporting on the “historic surge” of women candidates vying for spots in the congressional midterms being held in November.
Ruba Ghazal, newly elected member of Quebec solidaire, said women in the province are gaining “confidence in themselves” to run for office.
“Now we have more and more role models,” she said in an interview Friday.
Ghazal said it helps to see other women on the debate stage who aren’t engaging in aggressive arguments with other men.
The leader of her party, Manon Masse, was lauded for her debate performances, during which she refused to take part in what Ghazal described as “cock-fighting” between the three male candidates.
“It was a different way of doing politics,” Ghazal said. “That’s not saying women aren’t combative–Manon Masse can be very combative.”
Ghazal said her role models include Francoise David, a founding member of Quebec solidaire who quit politics in 2017 after representing the Montreal riding of Gouin since 2012.
Another role model is Valerie Plante, she said, who became Montreal’s first female mayor in 2017.
In a recent interview with The Canadian Press, Plante said “it’s fantastic” so many women were elected Oct. 1.
“It absolutely shows that when parties decide to take this issue seriously and invest–which means taking all the measures necessary to make sure there’s a lot of women being selected as candidates–then it works out,” Plante said.
Half of Projet Montreal’s candidates in 2017 were women, and the city’s executive committee now has six women and seven men.
Plante said she expects premier-elect Francois Legault, leader of Coalition Avenir Quebec, to live up to his pledge to form a gender-balanced cabinet.
Of the 74 Coalition lawmakers who won office, 28 are women.
“Women represent 50 per cent of the population overall, so it’s important to have a strong voice from women,” Plante said. “A big test will be: will women have access to powerful positions with decision-making opportunities as well?”
Some in Quebec have lobbied for a law forcing parties to run at least 50 per cent women candidates. But Ewan Sauves, spokesman for the Coalition, said his party has always opposed quotas.
“Monday night, we elected 28 female members of the legislature,” he said in a text message. “We therefore will have the government that has elected the highest number of women in Quebec history. It’s a major sense of pride for our team.”
Masse, however, said a law setting a quota is necessary.
On Friday, she presented her 10-member caucus to journalists for the first time since the election. Half of them are women, and she said that is no coincidence.
“In Quebec solidaire, it’s already in our rules, it’s a practice,” she said, regarding parity between men and women. “And that’s why you have (parity). Of course we think it’s important for there to be a law, a rule for the parties.”
Lapointe of Groupe Femmes, Politique et Democratie agrees, especially since Quebec’s political parties are funded with public money.
“Right before the start of the (2018) election, there were fewer women in office than in 2003,” Lapointe said. “Why? Because there are advances and steps backwards. If there is no law, there is nothing guaranteeing that in four years, there won’t be fewer female candidates.”
—With files from Christopher Reynolds