Long-time former MP Libby Davies reflects on what's changed for women in Parliament

Long-time former MP Libby Davies reflects on what's changed for women in Parliament

When it comes to women in politics, Libby Davies has seen a few things change.

Davies was a Vancouver NDP member of parliament from 1997 until 2015 and in her new book, Outside In: A Political Memoir, she reflects on what's changed for female leaders in Ottawa.

Ahead of Wednesday's book launch in Vancouver, she spoke with On The Coast host Gloria Macarenko about those changes, and what it was like to be a self-described "outsider" in Ottawa.

Take us back to that first day. What was it like for you as a woman starting out on Parliament Hill?

I remember the first day so well. There was actually an anti-choice rally taking place — a big one — on Parliament Hill. I remember pushing my way through because I was late for the election of the Speaker.

And I remember looking up at those buildings, these sort of Gothic castle-like buildings and thinking, I know why I'm here. I know what I have to do. There were literally life and death issues in the community: people dying of overdoses, the missing and murdered women, homelessness, housing issues.

But I didn't quite know how to go about what I needed to do. I figured it out fairly quickly. But I remember feeling overwhelmed, even though I'd been in politics myself at city hall. Ottawa is a very different place. It's very hierarchical. It's the old playbook. It's this old boys network and it took me awhile to figure that stuff out and learn how to navigate it.

How would you say things have changed for women in politics?

When I was first elected in 1997 there were 62 women in the House. When I left there were 77 and in the 2015 election there's 90 women who were elected. We're still below 30 per cent. The UN talks about 30 per cent being the critical mass needed to bring about a systemic change. So there's still a ways to go.

The fact that there's more young women in politics has been critical. We saw that in 2011 with the so-called Orange Wave with the NDP and I was so excited when these new young MPs from Quebec suddenly appeared on the Hill and it literally changed the face of the Hill. It changed the debate.

But still, that environment is still there, this sexist, discriminatory, old boys club. It is changing and I believe this new generation of people who want to be in politics is changing that.

What do you make of the state of the NDP nationally today?

I'm very happy that Jagmeet Singh is in the house. That's been very important. I met some of our new candidates in Toronto last week when I was at the book launch in Toronto and I was just blown away. It really is a new generation and so it gives me a lot of enthusiasm.

I believe the NDP has got to be very bold in this election. We've got to take on global warming and climate change and the economy and talk about a just and fair transition for workers. I don't think we can shy away from these. This is what we've got to take on. Time is running out. There is that sense of urgency.

Listen to the full interview

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.