A Quebec Perspective on Women in Politics
L'Ecuyer, Charlotte, Canadian Parliamentary Review
Women currently hold 40 of the 122 seats in the Quebec National Assembly. In the April 2003 election, there was a remarkable 7.2% increase in the number of women elected, the second largest increase in Quebec's contemporary parliamentary history. While there has been considerable progress women still occupy significantly fewer positions. This article considers some of the obstacles to increasing the number of women in politics including the organization of political parties and the electoral system. It also looks at the impact of women in politics and some recent government initiatives in Quebec.
Let me review some factors that may prevent women from getting involved in politics. Institutional barriers are the first such factors. Traditionally, the political system has placed obstacles in the path of women considering political careers because its values are rooted in conflict and coercion, whereas women generally prefer discussion and consensus building. Thus the political system is not as attractive for women as it is for men. As one speaker at an Interparliamentary Union symposium in 1989 succinctly put it "whether explicitly or subtly, the philosophy of power and the language and rules of politics are still defined by men". (1)
In 1994, Quebec's Conseil du statut de la femme even evoked the possibility of a "certain male conspiracy" limiting the evolution of our institutions and political culture and the number of women in government. The Council did not accept or reject the conspiracy idea, but simply reported that certain researchers had suggested it as a possible explanation.
In a 2003 survey, the Quebec Secretariat a la condition feminine found that women and women's organizations felt that the political system--with its emphasis on economic development rather than social progress--was an unwelcoming and hard-to-access environment for women, who tend to share "social" values and work in the "social" sphere, notably healthcare, social services, and education.
Party discipline in parliament also plays a role by limiting women's ability to join forces with members of other parties to defend women's issues, although discipline can also be an advantage for women when party members get a particular point included in the party program. This makes it an issue that all party representatives, men and women alike, are required to defend.
Sexism has not completely disappeared from the candidate nomination process either. It may take the shape of maneuvers to discredit a housewife seeking nomination. Sexism is all the more present in electoral districts deemed winnable by the party in question. However, it is not customary in Quebec to "save" women candidates for ridings where there is no chance of victory.
Job type and career prestige are major factors in party candidate selection. Since women are often less active than men from a career perspective, and less numerous in management positions, they also have fewer opportunities to develop the kind of high-profile professional reputation that political parties look for. Male party members are much more likely to be asked to run for office than their female counterparts.
Economic barriers are a second factor. In 1988, a study of the women members of the National Assembly and Montreal City Council found that nomination and election financing was not a major obstacle for Quebec women seeking to get involved in politics. In this area, women in Quebec probably have an advantage over their counterparts in the rest of Canada. Indeed, the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing (the 1991 "Lortie Commission") found that in a federal election campaign, many women consider the nomination a much greater challenge than the election itself.
It would seem that the financing rules introduced under the Quebec Election Act in 1977 have had a positive impact on how political parties select candidates. …