I’m not much of a political junkie, but I was excited this week by our provincial politics. Jennifer McKenzie is taking over the leadership of the New Democratic Party. Ho hum, you may think, but seeing a female leader of a New Brunswick political party should have everyone celebrating.
I know, I know. Half of you are rolling your eyes now. ‘Sigh, another rant about gender equality; shouldn’t we be focused on a candidate’s abilities?’ Yes, we should. But the other half – not just the female readers – are cheering. Here’s why.
Did you know this province has one of the worst track records in the country for electing women? There have only ever been 37 women elected to the New Brunswick Legislature. Currently there are eight women sitting as MLAs, out of 49. That’s a far cry from even being remotely representative of the population. That’s just 16% female representation. Back in 2010, New Brunswick’s legislature had the fewest number of female MLAs in Canada. So, yes, despite it being 2017, we need to spend time talking about gender and politics.
New Brunswick has obviously made progress when it comes to having women involved in the front lines of the political process. As I write this, Moncton and Riverview both have female mayors. Of our 10 Members of Parliament, three are female. Three of the five MLAs in the Greater Moncton Area are women.
I don’t think it will be long before we can stop having discussions like this one, but I also don’t think we’ve made it there just yet. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s 2015 might be our 2022.
A recently-formed group, Women for 50%, is trying to make it our 2018. The group is working toward a goal of gender parity in provincial politics, encouraging each party to have an equal number of men and women on the ballot. After that, perhaps we can at least have the option of a gender equal cabinet like the Prime Minister’s.
It seems one of the biggest barriers to electing female politicians has been in having candidates who were placed on the ballot in the election rush. Aldéa Landry, a former deputy premier of New Brunswick and a Women for 50% founder, told CBC “[i]t’s like throwing them to the wolves,” pushing unprepared women into election races.
Women for 50% is meant to address this, offering ongoing networking and mentoring opportunities between current and former female politicians and business leaders with would-be candidates, regardless of party affiliations.
And we certainly have the role models for it. New Brunswick might not have the best track record for electing women, but when we do, they stick around.
Elsie Wayne spent nearly three decades in public office, starting with Saint John council in 1977, moving on to be mayor and then MP, even interim leader of a national party, before retiring in 2004. (She was an MP for 3,899 days, in case you need some trivia to share this weekend.) Elizabeth Weir was in office from 1991 to 2005. Fourteen years, often as a one-woman opposition party.
I grew up in another province and knew the power of these women. There’s no question New Brunswick has strong, capable female leaders who excel as politicians – and there are more of them, some waiting to shine. If we want to find creative thinkers who can change what’s broken in our systems and improve our province’s prosperity, than we need to encourage everyone to become involved. We need as many women as we do men sharing ideas and putting themselves forward, so that we can feel confident we’re voting based on the best ideas for New Brunswick.
She Said appears Saturday in the Times & Transcript.