Yes, Women Won, but Their Fight for Gender Parity is Far from Over
Who Won, Who Lost
On Monday, Canadians went to the ballot box to elect their new government. Despite low polling in recent weeks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party maintained power despite losing the popular vote to their main rival the Conservative Party led by Andrew Scheer. While losing 20 seats, the Liberal party remains in power with a minority government, 14 seats shy of the 170 needed for a majority. The Liberal Partygarnered 33 percent of votes while the Conservative Party which gained 23 seats from 2015, won the popular vote with 34 percent.
The Green Party gained one seat in this election cycle, bringing their total to three; the Bloc Québécois had a surge of support winning a total of 32 seats; the New Democratic Party (NDP) won a total of 24 seats and are expected to be one of the ruling Liberal Party’s legislative allies; and the far-right People’s Party lost all of their seats including leader, Maxime Bernier’s incumbent seat.
How Canada’s Electoral System Affected the Results
The minority government and the seeming unimportance of the popular vote in the 2019 Canadian election is a result of their majoritarian, first-past-the-post electoral system; a system it has in common with the United States. In Canada, this system produces a ruling party according to whichever one earns a plurality of seats in the House of Commons.
Despite winning the popular vote, the Conservative party only picked up 121 seats compared to the Liberal Party’s 156; this is because the majorityof the votes came from Saskatchewan and Alberta, which don’t translate into a large number of seats. Meanwhile, the Liberal Party held on to their majorities in the seat-rich ridings in Ontario and Toronto. Zack Beauchamp from Vox, states “in this kind of system the division of votes between the different parties really matters. A riding with a progressive majority of voters could end up electing a Conservative parliament if progressive voters split their votes.”
For this reason, in recent months, the Liberal Party campaigned on a message that voting for alternative progressive parties like the NDP or Green Party would equate to a vote for the Conservative Party. A majoritarian winner take all electoral system which the U.S. also has can often result in a campaign to not lose rather than campaigning to win. The system also unduly benefits incumbents, who tend to be white men hurting the chances of more diverse and new candidates.
Yes, Women Won, But —
Women’s fate in the 2019 election was similar to that of the Liberal Party, yes women won, but their fight for parity is far from over and their situation has not really improved from 2015.
Women made up a record number of candidates from all four of the major parties, and this is in part due to the concerted party efforts to recruit more women to run. The NDP topped the pack with women making up 49 percent of candidates; the party also had one of the most full-throttled approach to recruiting women, which included returning to women up to ten times to see if they would stand as candidates and Niki Ashton who ran for party leadership while pregnant with twins in 2017, published a webinar on the experience of being a woman candidate and tips for any women who might be interested in running.
In the Green Party, 42 percent of all candidates were women; party mobilizers in charge of recruiting candidates held some ridings open until a woman or non-binary person entered the candidacy, even if there were male prospective candidates. The Liberal Party saw an eight percent increase in women candidates from 2015, bringing the total up to 39 percent; the party also has the Judy LaMarsh fund which give party financial support to women candidates nationally.
The Conservative Party had the fewest women candidates, with women only making up 32 percent; while this is up 12 percent from 2015 it lags behind the other three major parties and the party still has no official strategy or goals for recruiting women.
Despite the successes in the percentage of women candidates, it failed to translate into electoral success due in part to the electoral system. Women won an additional seven seats, bringing the total number of seats held by women in the House of Commons up to 98, out of 334, roughly 29 percent. To put this into context, women made up roughly 27 percent of the House prior to this election.
There are now more women than ever before in the House of Commons. But data maintained by the Inter-Parliamentary Union shows that this recent change is not as dramatic as it first appears. And though it is also true that, with this election, Trudeau's self-proclaimed "feminist government" has retained power, and more women than ever before are being recruited to run for political office, Canada fails to come close to gender parity at the parliamentary level. The 2019 election results call for a more concerted and national effort in electing women at equal numbers as men to all levels of Canadian government.