N.B. Liberals face $40K penalty stemming from own reforms to encourage women candidates

·5 min read

A law introduced by the former government of Brian Gallant to financially reward parties who recruit women candidates, and penalize those who don't, has backfired on New Brunswick Liberals.

They stand to lose over $10,000 in public funding next year, and $40,000 over the next four years, after they ran mostly men in September's general election.

Almost all of that lost money will be paid out to the Green Party instead, which fielded 25 women candidates, two and a half times more than the Liberals did.

Green Party executive director Marco Morency said he is not sure paying parties to run women candidates is good public policy, but Greens will happily accept the gender bonus since that is the law.

"We won't refuse it," said Morency

"I think there's a ton of other ways that we could encourage more women to participate in politics, and clearly the financial incentive is not on the top of the list. The result is telling us that it didn't work. And I doubt that it will work in the future."

Formula divides up $630K in public funding

The formula dividing up a pot of about $630,000 in annual public funding for New Brunswick political parties is based on votes each received in the most recent election, but was reconfigured by Liberals in 2017 to make votes cast for women count 50 per cent more than votes cast for men.

It was an idea recommended by the New Brunswick Women's Council to the province's Commission on Electoral Reform. Gallant said he believed it would push parties to recruit more women to run for office.

Submitted by Liberal Party of New Brunswick
Submitted by Liberal Party of New Brunswick

"The proposal by the electoral reform commission will provide a real tangible incentive for parties to nominate more women as candidates," said Gallant.

"There is still much that needs to be done to have more women in positions of influence, but this is a good start to having more women sitting in the legislature."

But the plan fell flat this year, at least with the Liberal Party, which nominated just 10 women among its 49 candidates. It's well below the 19 women Liberals put forward in 2018, and the fewest number of women to run for the party since 2006.

In September, Kevin Vickers, the Liberal leader at the time, said the party was unable to find many women able to "drop everything" on short notice and run in the snap election which was called suddenly by Premier Blaine Higgs in August.

In a statement issued Sunday about the financial penalty Liberals are now facing, Isabelle Thériault, Caraquet MLA and opposition critic for women's equality, said the party accepts the consequences.

"The snap election made candidate recruitment more difficult this year and unfortunately we had fewer female candidates than last time, but that in no way changes our position on the funding formula we put in place in 2017 to incentivize parties to recruit more women," said Thériault in the statement.

"This reform happened because more needs to be done to increase the number of women involved in politics."

Elections New Brunswick has not formally calculated how the election results will affect what each party will receive from public funds beginning in the next fiscal year, but the formula is straightforward.

Submitted by Green Party of New Brunswick
Submitted by Green Party of New Brunswick

Overall, Liberals received 34.5 per cent of votes among the five parties that are part of the public funding pool, but will qualify for just 32.8 per cent of the money linked to votes because it received so few for women candidates.

By contrast, Greens are eligible for nearly 17 per cent of the funding pool, despite receiving just over 15 per cent of the vote. That is because over half of its total was made up of high-value ballots cast for women.

Every one per cent of the funding pool is worth about $6,300.

Progressive Conservatives had 17 women run as candidates, up from 14 in 2018. It is the most it has ever fielded.

The PCs and the People's Alliance were less affected by the gender formula. Each qualified for funding within a fraction of one per cent of their overall vote share.

Although most of the NDP's candidates were women, its vote totals overall were less than two per cent and were only boosted by a few hundred dollars.

Submitted by Marco Morency
Submitted by Marco Morency

Morency said he believes recruiting women candidates should be a matter of principle. He said he is uneasy with the idea of political parties having to be rewarded financially for doing something that should require no inducement.

"It's a matter of values for us," he said. "It's never been about the money and I think it would be a wrong reason. Such a profound issue, mixing it with financial incentives, it sends the wrong signals."

PCs get biggest share

PCs will receive the most from public funds next year, approximately $250,000, based on their share of the vote and nearly 46,000 ballots cast for the women who ran for the party.

Liberals qualify for approximately $207,000, followed by the Green Party ($106,000), the People's Alliance ($56,000) and the NDP ($11,000).

Direct payment based on vote totals is the most important of four sources of public money offered to New Brunswick political parties to assist in their political operations.

Legislation also grants each party just over $7,000 per year to pay for financial audits required by law and tax credits to attract donors, estimated to be worth $380,000 in 2017.

In election years, parties are also offered rebates of election campaign expenses in ridings where they are able to attract 15 per cent of the vote or more. In the 2018 election, that provision resulted in $1.5 million in payments to parties.