Feminists in Power: Women Cabinet Ministers in the New Democratic Party (NDP) Government of Ontario, 1990-1995
Byrne, Lesley Hyland, Policy Studies Journal
The difference between quantitative representation and qualitative (or "substantive") representation has become of interest to scholars exploring the impact of the number of women elected to political institutions. Where once the focus was on the number alone, the most recent work emphasizes the significance of "interest representation." Ultimately, the question is: Does it make a difference to have substantive representation of women, especially in positions of power? Does it make a difference in terms of policy outcomes? Does it make a difference in terms of institutional change? This research examines a case study of women cabinet ministers in the New Democratic Party government of Ontario, Canada, from 1990 to 1995. based on lengthy interviews and an analysis of policy outcomes, this paper concludes that it did indeed make a difference, on both fronts, but that those transformations were not as dramatic as the feminist progressive components might project nor as extensive as the women's movement had hoped.
In September of 1990, in the province of Ontario, Canada, an extraordinary event occurred. The New Democratic Party (NDP), the democratic socialist party, was elected in Canada's wealthiest and most populous province. Of the 74 New Democrats elected in 1990, 19 were women. The Premier, Bob Rae, appointed 11 women to his cabinet of 26. This was a groundbreaking move. No premier in Canadian history had ever formed a cabinet with such a high percentage of women (42.3%), nor had there ever been anywhere near that number of women in positions of power in previous Ontario governments (Table 1).
Lovenduski and Norris (1993) point out that once women candidates are more successful, as in European and Scandinavian countries, where 20% to 30% of the legislature is female, women may be able to transform the agenda. Rosabeth Moss Kanter's (1977) organizational theory finds that when a "minority culture" reaches over 40% of a group, the result is a balanced group. So, here we had an ideal situation: Over 20% of the legislature was female and over 40% of the cabinet was female. Further, the government was formed by a party that put women's issues at the forefront. From the earliest days of the NDP mandate, these women were expected to change the style of government. An article (Gray, 1991) in Chatelaine, a mainstream Canadian women's magazine, named the new cabinet ministers "Women of the Year." "Women do things in a different, more [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 1 OMITTED] consensual, way," argued the new citizenship minister, Elaine Ziemba. "Issues that affect women's lives will have a priority they never had before," promised Anne Swarbrick, minister without portfolio with responsibility for women's issues.
By 1995, it was all over. The economic recession of the early 1990s and numerous scandals led to the NDP government being soundly defeated at the polls. Only 4 of the 23 New Democratic women who ran in 1995 were elected. One of the central tenets of the platform of the victorious Progressive Conservative party was to abolish the employment equity legislation, a keystone of the previous government's feminist legislative initiatives. 1 Only 4 of the 18 new Conservative cabinet ministers are women.
So, did it make a difference having that many women around the cabinet table? Were they substantive representatives? Did they change the institution of government in any way, or did they have an appreciable impact on policy?
Quantitative vs. Qualitative Representation
In this paper the term "quantitative representation" will refer to the concept of numerical representation of women in legislative institutions referred to in the literature by such various terms as gender interest theory of representation and numerical representation. The term "qualitative representation" refers to a kind of representation that speaks and acts for women in the population and pursues feminist policies. Qualitative …
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Publication information: Article title: Feminists in Power: Women Cabinet Ministers in the New Democratic Party (NDP) Government of Ontario, 1990-1995. Contributors: Byrne, Lesley Hyland - Author. Journal title: Policy Studies Journal. Volume: 25. Issue: 4 Publication date: Winter 1997. Page number: 601+. © 1999 Policy Studies Organization. COPYRIGHT 1997 Gale Group.