OTTAWA—On International Women’s Day, Equal Voice marked the one-year anniversary of Daughters of the Vote by recognizing the accomplishments of two very different politicians, Progressive Conservative Ontario MPP Lisa MacLeod and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Daughters of the Vote (DoV) was Equal Voice’s historic and ambitious Canada 150 initiative, which brought 338 diverse and dynamic young women, one from every federal riding, to Parliament Hill to take their seat in the House on March 8, 2017.
The initiative was a life changing experience for Daughters of the Vote delegates, aged 18 to 23, many of whom had no prior experience with formal politics, and had never visited Canada’s Parliament. Among the 338 young women, 67 were Indigenous and nearly 40 per cent were women of colour. Many were first generation Canadians.
Delegates had the opportunity to hear from all federal party leaders in the House, as well as seasoned advocates and leaders in the non-governmental and corporate sectors. Several delegates were selected to appear at special hearings of the House Status of Women Committee dedicated to Daughters of the Vote.
Progressive Conservative Ontario MPP Lisa MacLeod. Within a year of her arrival at Queen’s Park as an opposition MPP, Ms. MacLeod successfully petitioned her peers to support a fundamental change in the sitting hours at the legislature. Photograph courtesy of Equal Voice
All of EV’s DoV delegates remain passionate and committed young women determined to make a difference in their communities. Since their experience, many have sought to occupy influential leadership positions. Many women have taken the decision to run for student government, municipal council, community, national board positions, and beyond.
Throughout Daughters of the Vote, Equal Voice underscored that, without multi-partisan support, the initiative would have been impossible. Further, EV emphasized that the purpose of Daughters of the Vote was to ensure that future generations of women are well-represented within every political party.
Equal representation is, fundamentally, a matter of fairness and respect for those women in Canada who express a desire to run and serve in public office. It is imperative that women have the same opportunities as their male counterparts to contest a party nomination, stand for municipal office or band council, run for a party leadership position and/or serve in office.
Yet, research continues to demonstrate that women are not approached as frequently to run by party officials, professional networks, or even family members. Alternatively, many women count themselves out as candidates because of the erroneous perception that they are ‘inexperienced,’ or because they are pessimistic about politics and women’s place in it.
This is why systems-level changes are so critical, and it’s why Equal Voice chose to recognize two political game-changers: with its 2018 National EVE Awards on this International Women’s Day. Consequently, for likely the first time, Ontario MPP Lisa MacLeod and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, representing two very distinct parties, ideologies, and levels of governments, found themselves in the same room, and on the same stage as Equal Voice 2018 National Award Recipients.
In 2006, Lisa MacLeod was the youngest MPP in the Ontario legislature and the proud mother of a one year old. Within a year of her arrival at Queen’s Park as an opposition MPP, MacLeod successfully petitioned her peers to support a fundamental change in the sitting hours at the legislature. At the time, the schedule at Queen’s Park reflected the realities of an all-male provincial Parliament from 150 years ago.
With the support of the Ontario Speaker, Queen’s Park’s sitting hours changed dramatically. The legislature now regularly convenes at 9 a.m., Question Period is before noon, and midnight debates are a rarity. Changes likes this weren’t just for MacLeod, but for all MPPs present and future. MacLeod subsequently became an early and crucial champion for Equal Voice’s ambitious initiative, Daughters of the Vote.
Equal Voice’s Nancy Peckford and Ontario PC MPP Lisa MacLeod. Photograph courtesy of Equal Voice
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on the other hand, was recognized by Equal Voice for his unflappable commitment to amplifying women’s role in public life. In 2015, when Trudeau appointed his gender-balanced cabinet, he was the first prime minister to do so in Canada’s history. While premiers Jean Charest and Rachel Notley had previously appointed gender-balanced provincial cabinets, Notley just months before, Trudeau’s move unquestionably raised the bar in Canada—and across the globe—and compelled many others to aim for better gender balance in their own cabinets.
Consequently, in Canada today, women hold a critical mass (defined by the United Nations as 33 per cent or more) of cabinet positions in seven provinces and territories. Further, in addition to Canada’s Parliament, British Columbia, and Alberta both have cabinets with 50 per cent women.
It’s clear that system level changes like this don’t happen without concerted action and the confidence that it is simply the right thing to do. In the case of both MPP Lisa MacLeod and Trudeau, their efforts to create more inclusive political spaces have had significant ripple effects beyond their own parties, and legislatures. Their actions also highlight how seemingly “small” acts can matter a great deal. On the cusp of an Ontario election, and a year and some out from a federal election, we need more women than ever to heed the message that politics is an arena where their talents and commitment can be fully leveraged.
Nancy Peckford is with Equal Voice which aims to elect more women in Canada.