Women’s Representation in the House of Commons: A Stalemate?

Article 4 / 10 , Vol 34 No 1 (Spring)

Women’s Representation in the House of Commons: A Stalemate?

This article looks at female representation in the House of Commons. It shows that in terms of numbers, a plateau seems to have been reached over the last two decades. The paper also argues that even if demand for female candidates were to increase significantly, this factor on its own would not redress the limited supply phenomenon that originates from other sources – including stereotypic treatments of women in public life.

Since the creation in 2001 of Equal Voice, a group dedicated to increasing the numbers of women who hold public office at all levels in Canada, the issue of gender differences in political involvement has been raised with some frequency. Media stories have celebrated progress and, occasionally, what are presented as breakthroughs in female engagement. One recent example followed the fall 2010 municipal elections in Toronto, when 15 women won seats on the 45-member city council. A prominent story in Canada’s largest circulation daily explained the reason for “cheering” as follows: one-third of the new council would be female.1 The story neglected to mention that multiple borough councils in pre-amalgamation Toronto, alongside the former Metro Council, had attained roughly the same levels or higher, with Etobicoke’s borough council reaching 42% women members in 1996 – or nearly 15 years earlier.2