Women in politics: Why Ottawa isn’t quite as equal as we think it is

GiC Baseline 2016.010Good story from the past.

Clearly, current government is determined to do better with GiC and other appointments (see my earlier baseline analysis Governor in Council Appointments – 2016 Baseline):

One day when Penny Collenette was director of appointments for Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, her executive assistant slunk into her office clutching a list. “You’re not going to like this,” she said. Collenette looked at it: 18 people recommended for an advisory group on a sensitive public policy issue. All of them were men.

Before the Liberal government was elected in 1993, they made a campaign promise to appoint more women. When they took office, Collenette asked to see the numbers: of about 3,000 people appointed by governor-in-council — deputy ministers, heads of agencies, Crown corporations, ambassadors, judges, returning officers and commission members — women made up between 26 and 29 per cent. Over the first year or so, Collenette kept an eye on that number like it was a stock ticker. With each list of proposed names, the proportion of women nudged upward, bit by bit.

She knew what this list of 18 men was going to do to the progress they’d made. She had a good relationship with the minister in question — even years later, she won’t say which one — so she called him up to say his department needed to do better. He whined a little, but three weeks later produced a new list: nearly half were women, and a few were Indigenous women, too. By the time Collenette left in 1997, the proportion of women in those posts had reached 39 per cent. “In a way, I suppose it was just naïveté,” she says. “We said we were going to do it, so I thought I guess we’d better do it. And of course, personally I wanted to.”

Two decades on, lagging progress — the ranks of women in top government positions is now lower than when Collenette left — has spurred a raft of highly visible attempts to rebalance the scales in Canadian politics and public service. The blunt, by-the-numbers approach of affirmative action is an imperfect and sometimes controversial way to move the ball forward, but­­ — particularly in politics — it may be the only way to upend the entrenched systems that favour men and overlook women. “That we’re still so far behind on this one suggests there are still some really pernicious ideas about women in politics,” says Melanee Thomas, a professor of political science at the University of Calgary. A large and growing number of countries employ gender quotas in politics, and many have seen dramatic improvements in representation as a result. Canada is well behind, and the country’s ranking on gender equity has been slipping for years. The major roadblock is also where the clearest solution lies: with political parties and nominations. “If parties demanded that this would be different, it would be different,” Thomas says.

Source: Women in politics: Why Ottawa isn’t quite as equal as we think it is

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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