Six years shy of a century after Agnes Macphail became the first woman ever elected to the House of Commons, women are poised to hit another political landmark this week when Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau announces his Liberal cabinet.
Trudeau has promised gender parity in the top benches. If he follows through, it will be the first time in Canadian history.
“We are extremely encouraged,” says Nancy Peckford, spokeswoman for the political action group Equal Voice. “We are extremely confident that he will have no trouble living up to that commitment.”
Of the 338 MPs elected this month, 88 are women – 26 per cent. Fifty of the Liberals’ 184-member caucus are women – the largest number of women in any federal party caucus in Canada’s history, Peckford points out.
But the proportion of female candidates overall was disappointing, says Lydia Miljan, an associate professor of political science at the University of Windsor.
“The key to getting more women in cabinet is you’ve got to elect more women in the first place,” she says.
Gender equality is not just about having the same number of women at the cabinet table, Miljan tells Yahoo Canada News.
“If he wanted true parity, the parity would have been in the nominations. You’ve got to have more women candidates to begin with.”
Peckford agrees. Equal Voice would like to see a minimum of 40 per cent female names on the ballot.
“More women won’t win until far more women run,” she says.
That said, Trudeau has a “myriad of talent” to choose for female cabinet ministers.
Some of the top contenders include:
Carolyn Bennett – The MP for Toronto-St. Paul’s has been minister of state for Public Health and the chair of the Liberal Women’s Caucus. She has also been Liberal critic for Aboriginal Affairs in the last Parliament.
Celina Caesar-Chavannes – The newly minted MP for Whitby, the research consultant was the Toronto Board of Trade’s 2012 Business Entrepreneur of the Year and the 2007 Black Business and Professional Association’s Harry Jerome Young Entrepreneur Award winner.
Judy Foote - a former Newfoundland cabinet minister whose portfolios included development, industry and education, Foote is elected in Bonavista-Burin-Trinity.
Chrystia Freeland – First elected in a 2013 byelection, the former business journalist and author represents Toronto’s University-Rosedale.
Pamela Goldsmith-Jones – A former mayor of Vancouver West, Goldsmith-Jones was elected in West Vancouver–Sunshine Coast–Sea to Sky Country.
Mélanie Joly - A former Montreal mayoral contender who surprised the city by finishing second to Mayor Denis Coderre, Joly is now the MP for Ahuntsic-Cartierville.
Yvonne Jones - A former cabinet minister in the Newfoundland provincial government, Jones was first elected to represent Labrador federally in 2013. She is Metis and has served as the Liberal critic for Northern Development and the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency.
Linda Lapointe – A businesswoman and former Action démocratique du Québec member of the Quebec National Assembly, Lapointe represents the Quebec riding of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.
Catherine McKenna – The newly elected MP for Ottawa Centre is a competition and international trade lawyer who served as a legal advisor and negotiator for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in East Timor.
MaryAnn Mihychuk- A former Manitoba NDP industry and trade minister, Mihychuk now represents Kildonan-St. Paul.
Joyce Murray – The former B.C. environment minister has represented Vancouver Quadra federally since 2008.
Jane Philpott - Markham-Stouffville’s new MP is a family physician who worked in the Niger Republic for nearly a decade training African health workers.
Carla Qualtrough – A human rights lawyer and past president of the Canadian Paralympic Committee, the visually impaired swimmer is also a three-time Paralympic medallist and winner of four World Championships medals.
Judy Sgro – the former city councillor and longtime MP has represented York West since 1999. In addition to service as immigration minister from 2003 to 2006, Sgro has been chairwoman of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, parliamentary secretary to the minister of public works.
Jody Wilson-Raybould - a former Crown prosecutor, treaty commissioner and B.C. regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Wilson-Raybould represents Vancouver Granville.
Miljan says which cabinet posts the female MPs receive is key.
“It’s not that comforting just to say you’ve got that 50 per cent quota. Great. We’ve got gender equality,” she says.
“It will be interesting to see and important to see whether or not senior cabinet positions are women’s positions. For example, we’ve never had a woman finance minister.”
She is not a fan of promising gender parity in cabinet with such a proportion of female MPs. More than 70 per cent of the current Liberal caucus is male.
“As a feminist I find it frustrating that women be selected merely on the sake of their gender because I think, in some respects, it does demean the work of women,” she says. “You want to be selected not as a token but as someone who was best for the job.”
It can send a message that women were given the job because they’re women, as opposed to being the most qualified, she says.
“I think that sometimes does women a disservice if they’re just there to fill a quota.”