Statements and Speeches
of Susan Torosian, Executive Director,
Policy and Public Affairs
before the Standing Committee on the Status of Women
Barriers Facing Women in Politics
June 19, 2018
Thank you for inviting Elections Canada to contribute to the Committee's study on barriers facing women in politics.
Elections Canada is an independent, non-partisan agency that reports directly to Parliament. Its mandate is to be prepared to conduct a federal general election, by-election or referendum, conduct public information campaigns on voting and becoming a candidate, and administer the political financing provisions of the Canada Elections Act.
Charter Rights and Women's Representation
Elections Canada's raison d'Ítre is to ensure that Canadians can exercise their democratic right to vote and be a candidate as guaranteed by section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Data show that women tend to vote at higher rates than men. Our estimates indicate that 68% of women voted in the last federal general election, compared to 64% of men. A similar pattern occurred in the 2011 and 2008 general elections. This was the case across all age groups up to the age of 65, where men tended to vote at higher rates than women. This trend was observed in all provinces and territories, except PEI and Yukon.
As you can see, the underrepresentation of women is not at the voting booth, but in the House of Commons. In the last general election, less than a third, or 30%, of all candidates were women, and 26% were elected as members of Parliament.
However, we are seeing a small upward trend in the proportion of female candidates, from 28% in both 2008 and 2011 to 30% in 2015. The proportion of women who were elected as MPs has also gone up, from 22% in 2008 to 25% in 2011 and 26% in 2015. The proportion of female MPs in the House of Commons now stands at 27%, following the thirteen by-elections held since the last general election.
Elections Canada's Mandate and Barriers Facing Women's Participation in Politics
This Committee is well aware that the barriers to women's participation in politics are numerous and complex. I personally had the opportunity to speak at a Campaign School for Women organized by the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women this past May. Over the course of that event, I heard first-hand from women from a broad cross-section of society who have faced some of the barriers we see in the research.
These include the costs of the nomination process; a lack of political will; lower levels of self-confidence in the political field; the burden of caring for family members; and social barriers such as economic disparity, gendered stereotypes, discrimination and harassment.
I will speak to the issue in relation to two components of Elections Canada's mandate: administering the political financing provisions under the Canada Elections Act and offering public information on becoming a candidate.
The Canada Elections Act contains provisions that serve to level the financial playing field by imposing spending limits for nomination contestants, candidates and parties. Spending limits create equal opportunity for all participants by limiting the amount of funding that is required to compete in a nomination contest or an election.
The Act also regulates candidates' personal expenses incurred as a result of their candidacy. These include child care expenses and expenses relating to the provision of care for a person with a physical or mental incapacity.
Because these expenses are regulated, they must be paid from funds that a candidate raises. And, if they are not reimbursed by the campaign, a candidate who pays for their own personal expenses is making what is known as a contribution.
Candidates can contribute up to $5,000 to their own campaign. This limit, and the requirement that personal expenses must be paid using campaign funds, may place candidates with care-related expenses at an unfair disadvantage.
Recognizing that this can lead to unintended and undesirable consequences, the former Chief Electoral Officer recommended that Parliament remove the restriction that contribution limits have on personal expenses.
Bill C-76 includes provisions which would permit candidates to use campaign funds or their own funds to pay for these types of expenses. The use of the candidate's own funds would no longer be subject to the candidate's contribution limit. As well, candidates who receive 10% of the vote would also be eligible for a 90% reimbursement of their care expenses, compared to the current 60%.
This small measure would assist women, and all candidates, who have child care or other care related expenses, and would put them on a more equal footing compared to those who do not have these types of expenses.
Information on Becoming a Candidate
Elections Canada has put significant effort into understanding barriers to voter participation, providing clear information products, and improving our services to help people exercise their right to vote. We also offer a variety of information and training resources around the rules governing candidacy.
Our website includes general information on how to become a candidate, guidelines for candidates' representatives, training videos, and handbooks for contestants and candidates.
We also offer annual in-person training sessions and online training for agents and others who support nomination contestants and candidates.
During elections, the returning officer in each riding holds an all-candidates meeting to provide them with the guidelines and support they require. These efforts are complemented with year-round support through the Political Financing Support Network.
I would now like to come back to our work on removing barriers to voting. Each year we conduct sessions with various organizations representing target groups more likely to face barriers to voting, based on evidence. We also offer teaching resources and training for educators working with youth under 18 years of age in schools across Canada. We will be launching a new suite of curriculum-linked educator resources this fall designed to build the interest, skills and knowledge required to be active citizens.
In response to a rise in demand from civil society groups, we are considering producing information products and a discussion module that can be used at all of our Inspire Democracy stakeholder events across the country. Depending on the response, we could eventually integrate this type of programming into our educator resources for pre-voters.
In conclusion, the barriers that women face to entering politics are neither simple nor straightforward. Addressing them will most likely require a mix of solutions, and undoubtedly requires the involvement of various segments of society.
As the administrator of the Canada Elections Act, Elections Canada can play a small role on this important issue. I would appreciate hearing any additional ideas the Committee members have on how we can contribute and we would be pleased to assist the Committee in its study.
I would be happy to take any questions or comments you may have.