This article looks at factors that determine the number of women in politics. It suggests that family influence and role models are important. It also outlines some personal experiences that culminated with the election of Alberta’s first female Premier.
Members of Provincial Parliament are elected to represent their constituents, fight on their behalf in the Legislature and in Government and to legislate on issues of local importance. Despite their job description, Members are not always able to represent their constituents as well as they might. The practises and Standing Orders of the House make representing local constituents difficult. Changes could be made to the Standing Orders to enable local representatives to put their constituents first.
The first area we should look at relates to Private members’ Bills. A number of surveys have shown that people have little faith in Government’s ability to fix problems; it’s not hard to see why. In a previous era, Private Member’s Bills throughout the Commonwealth were used to cause sea changes in the law.
Declining rates of political participation demand practical reforms to enhance citizen engagement in our democratic institutions. Tabled in the House of Commons on February 13, 2013, Motion 428 aims to modernize and improve Canada’s antiquated paper-based petitioning process by establishing a system for electronic petitions. It further proposes allowing petitions to trigger short debates in Parliament if they receive a certain threshold of signatures from the public and are sponsored by at least five Members of Parliament. After providing comparative information on similar reforms implemented in other jurisdictions, this article argues that empowering citizens to initiate and sign petitions online will make our democracy more accessible, participatory, and responsive. It concludes with a brief discussion of the prospects of success for a motion submitted by an opposition Member during a period of majority government.
This article looks at some of the reasons that have tended to discourage women from running for elected office and why increased participation is desirable.
In our Canadian Parliament, only 24% of elected parliamentarians are women. In 2007, in Manitoba, we hit the magical number of just over 30% of elected legislators being women. In the 2011 election, however, it fell to 27% – we lost ground. Overall, women hold only about 20% of all seats in parliaments globally. But, it is not just in politics where the numbers of women are low. In Canada, only 10% of directors of public company boards are women, and only 29% of senior managers in Canada are women.
Many countries are considering the formation of Parliamentary Budget Offices to improve transparency in the budgetary process. They face stiff resistance from key political stakeholders. The divergence of opinion between PBOs and other branches of government has at times put the very existence of the institution at risk, and the very credible threat of reprisals by other governmental institutions through funding cuts, staff removal, or outright institutional abolishment have hung over PBOs like a perpetual Sword of Damocles. In order to promote collaboration among Parliamentary Budget Officers a conference was held in Montreal in June 2013. It consisted of a comprehensive series of lectures, workshops, group reflections, case clinics and debates that allowed participants to coalesce into an extremely active and highly motivated community. The PBO delegates to the seminar agreed to form a symbiotic group, henceforth known as the Global Network of Parliamentary Budget Officers (GNPBO), that would allow for dynamic information-sharing between members using a variety of cutting edge tools and collaborative mechanisms. This article looks at the key role Canada played in the seminar and the establishment of the GNPBO.
In the words of Sahir Khan, Assistant Canadian Parliamentary Budget Officer for Expenditure and Revenue Analysis, the PBO is an institution that can be likened to bitter medicine that faces stiff initial resistance from the legislative organism that it is trying to heal. The PBO will find political ‘antibodies’ pushing back this ‘foreign invader’ because of its astringent effects in the short-run, even though the legislature will be strengthened by a healthy dose of the Budget Office in the long-run. Furthermore, the PBO is an institution that speaks an alien tongue in the political arena: its vernacular is economics and finance, but it speaks to an audience that is accustomed to a political and legal orientation. Additionally, as political space is an inherently zero-sum equation, any political room that a PBO can gain as an institution has to come at the expense of some other political actor, which means that every inch of political space that it wrests away ‘encroaches’ on a previously entrenched political entity. In effect, the salubrious long-term benefits of the PBO are oftentimes ignored by parties that view the PBO as a disruptive force within the political paradigm, and Canada has been no exception to this phenomenon.
The 2011 federal election was notable in many respects. The Liberal party won the fewest seats ever in its long history. The New Democratic Party elected its largest ever contingent of MPs enabling the party to form the official opposition for the first time. Another development was the first-ever direct election of a Green Party candidate. The election also produced record levels of gender and racial diversity within Parliament. When the votes were finally tallied, 76 women had won their way into the House of Commons, an increase of seven over the number elected in 2008. This article focuses on visible minority representation which also attained a high water mark in the 2011 election.
Canada’s 41st general election was held on May 2, 2011. There were bitter disputes over the results in some ridings after certain candidates won their seats with razorthin margins. To determine once and for all who won and who lost, judicial recounts were ordered in four ridings: Montmagny–L’Islet–Kamouraska–Rivière-du-Loup, Etobicoke Centre, Nipissing–Timiskaming, and Winnipeg Centre. This article looks at the history of judicial recounts, the process that was used to examine the ballots in Montmagny–L’Islet–Kamouraska–Rivière-du-Loup, and Mr. Justice Gilles Blanchet’s rulings on the disputed ballots.
Judicial recounts involve having a judge review the ballots to determine the election results in a riding. The process first appeared in federal electoral legislation in 18781 shortly following the introduction of the secret ballot.2
The Senate’s lack of popular legitimacy gives disproportionate significance to the other problems besetting the institution. Relying on the so-called ‘democratic deficit’ argument, many ask for its abolition or want it to become elective. This article suggests that both these solutions would exacerbate the democratic deficit by extending to all our parliamentary institutions the strong hold of political parties and the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister would agree to delegate power to recommend the appointment of senators to a House of Commons’ committee whose decisions would be taken by consensus, the risk of radical solutions would be avoided, and the Upper Chamber would gain in popular legitimacy. It could thus continue to contribute to Canadian democracy through the independence of mind and non-partisanship of parliamentarians chosen for their eminence and the sincerity of their commitment to the well-being of all Canadians.
The Senate has only one problem, but it is considerable: it has no popular legitimacy. This amplifies the severity of its other imperfections. For instance, the inappropriate use of their allowances by some senators has called into question the very existence of the Upper House, whereas when MPs commit similar offenses, their distractedness is rightly condemned but without any claim to abolishing the House of Commons.
Across the Aisle: Opposition in Canadian Politics by David E. Smith
Not satisfied with a Triple Crown for his previous three works on the Crown, the Senate and the House of Commons, David Smith has gone for the Grand Slam with this work on parliamentary opposition. In some ways this is his most important work partly because so little has been written about the subject but mainly because of the insight it offers not only into the murky waters of opposition and also the ongoing constitutional struggle betweem advocates of classical Westminster style responsible government and those who are more radical democrats.