Gender diversity will improve at N.S. legislature, but still falls below half of elected officials

Click to play video: 'Gender diversity to improve at Province House'
Gender diversity to improve at Province House
Women or gender diverse MLAs will soon make up 36 per cent of the Nova Scotia Legislature, up from 29 per cent before the dissolution. Elizabeth McSheffrey chats with some of those elected about what can be done to continue the trend. – Aug 19, 2021

Nova Scotians elected 20 women or gender-diverse candidates to the legislature on Tuesday night — an improvement from before dissolution, but still short of the 50 per cent mark many hope for during campaigns.

After they’re sworn in, those elected officials will make up 36 per cent of the 55 MLAs at Province House, compared to 26 per cent before the writ dropped on July 17.

“I think all of that together definitely shows that we still live in a society where our institutions, our systems of governance where power lies, are still shaped by gender identity, gender, by race,” said Lisa Lachance, the New Democrat MLA-elect for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island.

Lachance, who is genderqueer, knocked Liberal incumbent Labi Kousoulis out of the job — evidence that Nova Scotians “wanted change,” they said.

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Kelly Regan, Liberal MLA-elect for Bedford, said it’s ideal for at least 50 per cent of successful candidates to be women or gender-diverse, but she’s encouraged by the improvement in this election.

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“We make better decisions when we have more diversity, when we hear from people with different perspectives and that goes for the legislature too,” she explained.

“Any time we have input or participation from more than just the usual suspects, I think we end up with better ideas and better outcomes.”

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Regan, former minister for the Advisory Council on the Status of Women in Nova Scotia, said the council runs regular campaign colleges that encourage gender-diverse participants, and some of the women who ran in this provincial election had attended.

“There’s a whole lot of reasons why women don’t run and one of those is that women often have to be asked more than once,” she explained. “So it’s getting parties and party leaders and riding associations understanding that just because a women says no once, doesn’t mean that’s their final answer.”

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Lachance said the “hard work” of recruiting more diverse candidates must begin long before election season rolls around, and it’s the job of political parties to make themselves attractive for those folks to consider running.

Karla MacFarlane, PC incumbent MLA-elect for Pictou West, recommended mandatory civics classes in school, so that diverse groups of people start thinking about politics at an early age. She also encouraged anyone who is interested running, including women and gender-diverse individuals, to reach out to their local MLA for more information.

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“It’s not that us women have anything better to offer at the table, but we have something different to offer and of equal value, so when our voice is heard at the board table or the table of democracy, then it’s better for the whole general community that people are representing,” she told Global News.

MacFarlane said she’s less concerned with 50 per cent of Province House representatives being female or gender-diverse, than she is with those MLAs at the legislature feeling as though public service was the right choice for them.

One day, she added, that could mean there are more transgender MLAs than cisgender MLAs, more women than men, or any other combination.

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“I encourage people who sincerely want to be there and involved and serving the public sector to put their hand up.”

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