Equal Voice and Abacus Data Release Canadian Opinions about Women in Politics

Majority of Canadians believe there are ‘too many’ or ‘the right number’ of women in politics; would not recommend a female they know run for public office.

OTTAWA, March 6, 2016 –Findings of a new national survey about Canadians’ views and perceptions of women in politics were released today by Abacus Data and Equal Voice.  Among the key findings:  people overestimate the number of women in politics; Canadians are more optimistic about how long it will take to reach gender parity, relative to the slow incremental pace of progress to date; and there are clear differences in the policy priorities of men and women. 

The survey found 58% of Canadians think there are “too many” or “the right number” of women in Canadian politics, even though, on average, Canadians estimate that women occupy 31% of the seats in the House of Commons.  “Since in fact women occupy only 28% of the seats in Parliament, clearly there’s still work to do educating Canadians on the issue of underrepresentation of women in Parliament, as well as other levels of government,” said Nancy Peckford, Executive Director of Equal Voice.

The Abacus survey also found a majority of Canadians believe that it will take “18 years or longer” for there to be gender parity in the House of Commons and 25% think it will never happen.    

Canadians have mixed views on the nature of the biggest obstacle to electing more women to public office, with 30% responding it is the negative and adversarial nature of politics.  Twenty-eight percent said it’s because political parties don’t recruit enough women, while 26% point to family obligations of women. 

Here there are differences across gender and generations, with 32% of women saying political parties do not recruit women to run in winnable electoral districts, versus just 24% of men.  Only 13% of millennials (respondents aged 18- 36) attribute family obligations to preventing women from running for office, while 27% of boomers (aged 53+) thought this was the biggest obstacle. 

Most disturbingly, only 40% said they were likely to recommend a woman they know well run for public office, while 22% would “definitely not recommend” a career in elected politics.

The survey also found women and men would focus on different issues if they ran for Parliament. When asked to identify three priorities their campaign would focus on if they ran for office, there were substantial differences between genders. Women were more likely to say they would campaign on making housing more affordable, improving public healthcare, and taking action to address climate change. Men were more likely to focus on reducing public debt, cutting taxes for corporations, and spending more on public infrastructure.

“It’s going to take way longer to reach parity than people think unless we make dramatic changes,” said Dr. Grace Lore, Equal Voice’s Senior Researcher.  “This is why initiatives like Daughters of the Vote are critical to accelerating progress to close the gender gap in politics and ensuring issues that matter to all Canadians are adequately represented at decision-making tables.”  

“The biggest obstacle women identify to running for elected office is that parties don’t recruit enough women for winnable ridings,” added Peckford.  “Political parties, this is your call to action,” she said. 

Speaking at the news conference, Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) Secretary General, Cassandra Hallett DaSilva said, “CTF and Member organizations are staunch supporters of democracy and women’s rights,” the findings of this research are disappointing and illustrate how far we have to go until women are fully represented at every level of government, be it municipal, provincial/territorial or federal. This is why CTFis a proud partner of Equal Voice’s  Daughters of the Vote initiative which will be transformative on so many levels.”

As part of Daughters of the Vote, to mark International Women’s Day on Wednesday, March 8th, 338 young women – one for each federal riding in Canada – will literally ‘take their seat’ in Parliament, to have their voices heard and mark a century since some women first got the federal suffrage. 

These 338 young women leaders, between the ages of 18 and 23, were among over 1,500 DOV applicants from across Canada.    They were selected by Equal Voice, with input from community, on the basis of their demonstrated leadership potential, interest in public policy issues, and level of community engagement. 

Daughters of the Vote is designed to underscore the still incomplete and often challenging journey of women's full political participation at all levels of government in Canada -- and to cultivate the female leaders of tomorrow.   

Speaking at the news conference, Teanna Noel Ducharme, the DOV delegate from Skeena-Bulkely Valley in British Columbia, and a member of the Nisga’s Nation said, “Support for electing more women to positions of leadership in many First Nations is also challenging.  Too many people are satisfied with the status quo, which means women are underrepresented when decisions that impact the well-being of youth, women and our entire communities are made.”

Women comprise just 26 % of politicians currently elected to the House of Commons.  Only three Premiers are women and municipally, only 28% of city councillors are women and 18% of mayors.  Representation of women on Band and Treaty Council is also very low.  Canada is ranked a distant 63rd in the world on the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s list of Women in National Parliaments

Equal Voice is a multi-partisan organization, with chapters across Canada.  For more information visit:  www.equalvoice.ca

Contact: 

Susan King: 613.724.1518 or susan@equalvoice.ca

Valerie Gervais: 613.741.9376 or valerie@equalvoice.ca