Women in Politics: A Prince Edward Island Perspective

Article excerpt

Prince Edward Island women have made history when it comes to politics. This article looks at the evolution of women's involvement in PEI politics as well as some recent developments.


Although it has been less than one hundred years that women have had the right to vote, it was not until 1951 that a woman--Hilda Ramsay--stood for election on Prince Edward Island. She ran for the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation but was not successful in her bit to win her seat. None of the three CCF candidates won seats, but Mrs Ramsay opened the doors for Island women to enter the political fray.

The first woman elected in PEI was Jean Canfield in 1970, representing the Liberal Party. She was appointed Minister without Portfolio and Minister Responsible for the Housing Authority in 1972. Since then, there has been a woman in every cabinet post in Executive Council. In 2002, Premier Pat Binns appointed my colleague Gall Shea as Minister of Transportation and Public Works, the first time a woman has held this traditionally male-dominated position in this province.

Prince Edward Island also elected the first female Premier in Canada, Catherine Callbeck in 1993. Prior to that, a fellow Progressive Conservative, Pat Mella who served as our Provincial Treasurer was the first female leader of a provincial political party, when she was chosen leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Prince Edward Island in 1990.

I would like to also mention another fellow Progressive Conservative woman, Marion Reid, who has many "firsts" to her credit. In 1979, Marion was appointed Deputy Speaker, making her the first woman in provincial history to hold this position. In 1983, she became the first female Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, and in 1990, she was sworn in as the first female Lieutenant Governor in the Island's history.

So, we can claim our share of firsts in Prince Edward Island and we are proud of this. However, I wish we did not have to discuss this topic at all. I wish it was simply accepted that women play an equally important role in our political process ... end of discussion! I guess that is why my mother always said, "if wishes were fishes, we'd all be throwing nets."

Maybe before this can happen, we need to determine why women are more reluctant to stand for nomination, and to run in an election. When reviewing this material 1 realized that all of the women who have been elected in our province came from rural PEI. I do not know if this is an important fact or simply a coincidence.

Our population of roughly 139,000 people is gravitating to the urban areas of the province, but historically our province has been more rural, with families relying on the primary industries of farming, fishing and forestry.

The stereotypical view of a farm wife is the "little" woman in the kitchen, wearing an apron, baking bread and caring for children. In reality, for any small family farm or fishing operation to operate effectively, everyone has to pitch in.

This means women, children and men work side by side in the barns, in the fields and on the fishing boats. This is the way things have been for rural families and it has been the way for centuries.

Perhaps it is this history of working side by side with men that first gave rural women in our province the confidence to break into politics. Perhaps it is the sense of community involvement and community service that is so important in rural areas that fosters rural women's commitment to service politically.

Currently in Prince Edward Island, seven out of twenty-seven members of the Legislative Assembly are women, with two women holding cabinet positions. Actually with my campaign win earlier this year women comprise almost 26 percent of the make up of the legislature and this percentage is now at an all-time high. …