Women in Canadian Legislatures 1978-1998

By Gauld, Norma | Canadian Parliamentary Review, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Women in Canadian Legislatures 1978-1998


Gauld, Norma, Canadian Parliamentary Review


Norma Gauld is a Senior Reference Librarian, Reference and Information Services, National Library of Canada. She co-ordinated the research for the National Library's electronic resource: "Then & Now: Women in Canadian Legislatures." It is available on the Internet at http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/digiproj/women/women97/ewomen97.htm. The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of several colleagues with research and editing.

In recognition of Women's History Month in October 1997 the National Library of Canada launched a project featuring historical and biographical information about 20 women who have made significant contributions to Canada's history by holding elected office at the federal and provincial levels. This article looks at the development of female representation in Canada and particularly progress accomplished during the last 20 years.

Not all Canadian women won the right to vote at the same time. For example Inuit women have only had the federal vote since 1950 and it was not until 1960 that Status Indians received this right. (1) However, between 1916 and 1925 the right to vote had been won in all jurisdictions except Quebec.

By 1930, the right to stand for election had been won everywhere except in Quebec and New Brunswick. In Western Canada women had been elected to legislatures in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba as well as to the House of Commons.

Also in 1930 the first women were appointed to the Senate following the successful termination in 1929 of "The Person's Case". The present Parliament, pursuant to a motion sponsored by Jean Augustine, MP and Senators Joyce Fairbairn and Marjorie LeBreton has agreed to honour the five women who initiated the case with a monument on Parliament Hill. Deborah Grey, MP (first Reform Party member of the House of Commons), speaking about these women said: "These girls were reformers. They went against the status quo. They were outsiders. And they made a pretty huge impact. I wouldn't be here if they didn't do that". (2)

The women first elected to the House of Commons and the provincial and territorial legislatures is shown below.

                            First Women Elected

Roberta MacAdams (1917)             Alberta
Louise McKinney (1917)

Mary Ellen Smith (1918)             British Columbia

Agnes Macphail (1921)               House of Commons

Edith Rogers (1920)                 Manitoba

Brenda M. Robertson (1967)          New Brunswick

Helena Squires (nee Strong) (1930)  Newfoundland

Lena Pedersen (1970)                Northwest Territories

Gladys M. Porter (1960)             Nova Scotia

Margarette R. Morrison Luckock
(1943)                              Ontario
Agnes Macphail (1943)

Ella J. Canfield (1970)             Prince Edward Island

Marie-Claire Kirland-Casgrain
(1961)                              Quebec

Sarah K. Ramsland (1919)            Saskatchewan

G. Jean Gordon (1967)               Yukon

Source: National Library of Canada, "Then & Now: Women in Canadian

Legislatures"

The Situation Since 1978

On January 1, 1978, 45 women sat in Canadian legislatures. By the beginning of 1998 this figure had increased five fold to 231 and overall the percentage of women legislators grew from 4.2% to 20%. The figures show a steady rise in numbers and this twenty year span corresponds to the largest increase in the number of women in Canadian legislatures. "From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s there has been a slow but steady increase in the number of female candidates and MLAs. That increase was substantially quicker in the second decade than in the first." (3) The greatest provincial gains occurred in the West (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, British Columbia), followed by Quebec and Newfoundland. However, it is important to note the increase in the number of legislative seats in eight of the twelve provinces/territories as well as in the House of Commons. …

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