Former PM sparks debate with controversial idea about bringing gender parity to Parliament

Canada Politics
Former Prime Minister Kim Campbell speaks at an event celebrating the 20th anniversary of her time as Canada's first female Prime Minister, in Ottawa November 5, 2013. REUTERS/Blair Gable (CANADA - Tags: POLITICS ANNIVERSARY)

Former prime minister Kim Campbell has a bold idea to improve gender equality in Canadian politics. 

During a speech at the University of Acadia, earlier this week, Canada’s first and only female prime minister again raised the idea of dual-member ridings that would be represented by one man and one woman.  

"We shouldn’t just sit back and say ‘oh well it will work itself out,’" Campbell said according to the Kings County News.  

"At the rate we’re going, [gender parity in the House of Commons] will take more generations than I will live to see. I think we really do need to push and continue to care about it."

Campbell’s proposed model of dual-member ridings is similar to one turned down by Nunuvut voters in a referendum prior to their first elections in 1997. 

In that model, political parties would be expected to nominate two candidates in each riding — one male and one female  and voters would be entitled to cast two ballots — one vote for each gender.

[ Related: Interim Toronto councillor takes another shot at making ‘O Canada’ gender neutral ]

Dual-member ridings are not completely new to Canada. 

According to  Elections Canada, at various times in Canada’s history, a few federal ridings were represented by two members so that political parties could “field both a Protestant and a Roman Catholic candidate in the same riding.” 

Campbell’s idea  which she has mused about before  has, however, sparked a lot of criticism on both social and traditional media.

The National Post's Kelly McParland called it “the latest bad idea for reforming Canada's electoral system.”

"Once a law was passed requiring a woman MP in each riding, there would inevitably be pressure to expand the mandate," he wrote in an article published on Thursday.

"Gays have as much right to demand more gay MPs, as do transgendered Canadians, and all the colours of the Canadian sexual rainbow. Once you start down the LGBT path, more issues arise: for instance, could one MP suffice for LGBT voters, or would there have to be an L a G a B and a T?"

Campbell, however, does have support from at least one gender equity group. 

"Dual-member ridings are a practical and effective means of permitting Canada to live up to its Charter commitment to gender equality and, at the same time, benefit from the incalculably enriched thinking and decision-making capacity that would result," Shari Graydon of  Informed Opinions  told Yahoo Canada News.

"Banks and other competitive private sector companies are scrambling for female talent because research has made clear that better outcomes flow from gender diversity. Our democratic institutions need similar advantages."

In theory  aside from the complexities of potentially having to redraw boundaries and/or constitutional reforms  the idea would certainly fix the gender inequalities in our legislatures and parliaments. 

And it does need to be fixed. 

The gender gap in parliament has changed much since Campbell was prime minister in 1993.  In the 2011 federal election, 76 women  a record number  were elected to the House of Commons. That record, however, still only represents 25 per cent of the seats in parliament. 

What do you think of Campbell’s plan of dual-member ridings?

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below. 

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