We’ll always need more women in politics

Women are under-represented in politics at every level, whether it’s at the council table, provincial legislature or federal Parliament.

A panel is coming up tomorrow (June 11) that aims to look at women in politics. It’s free, and from the traction the event is getting on my social networks, I’d sign up soon, because it seems like there’s a lot of interest in the topic.

That’s a good thing. Women are under-represented in politics at every level, whether it’s at the council table – two of nine councillors in Nanaimo are women; the provincial legislature – 30 out of 85 ridings are represented by women; or federal Parliament – 76 women represent the House of Commons’ 308 ridings. At the federal level at least, it’s significant growth over all previous elections, but when women commonly make up a little more than 50 per cent of the population, that number needs to increase to show true representation of gender.

Common themes and ideas get bandied about a lot at these forums, such as  how more childcare would help women enter politics by taking away the guilt and pressure of time away from families.

Last year we thought we’d made significant progress with five of 10 provinces represented by women: Christy Clark, Kathy Dunderdale, Kathleen Wynne, Alison Redford and Pauline Marois. Within the year, however, three were ousted from office from their own party or election defeat, and one is fighting for her political life. I doubt anyone could have predicted that out of that list of immensely talented women that Clark would be the most secure in her position.

These women, like others from around the globe – Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Angela Merkel – are examples of smart, sophisticated women whom we can all emulate. Regardless of their politics, these women are all well-educated and ambitious, and exactly what we are looking for when we say we want more women in politics. They all have families, for what that’s worth.

So why can’t we convince more women to be like Merkel? We can certainly convince them to look like Barbie, or Gisele Bündchen, regardless of how unlikely that it is in the real world. We have examples like Clark, or Elizabeth May, or even our own MLA from Parksville-Qualicum, Michelle Stilwell. Why is it so hard for us to get young girls to want to grow up to be Stilwell?

Some point to the adversarial nature of government. Politics in B.C. is a bloodsport, and along the way a lot of people – not just women – get fed up with the politicking at the expense of the greater good and drop out to find meaningful, fulfilling work in the private sector or caring for children.

I don’t have kids, but I have friends who do and it’s pretty clear that their tolerance for fools is directly related to how long it’s been since they last saw their kids. When children are learning to walk, talk and discovering how easily peanut butter sandwiches fit in the DVD player, suddenly arguing points of order in the chamber seems like a pointless endeavour.

Do we then leave government to the menfolk and retreat to our own chambers of business at home or the office? Many men are just as turned off by the current political machinations as women. Perhaps we should change the question – rather than why are women not attracted to government, we should ask why government fails to attract a greater cross-section of smart, educated and ambitious people.

A proportional system often creates minority governments, and while normally we abhor these because it means a cycle of elections every two years or fewer, if it became the norm, perhaps officials would be more inclined to collaborate rather than confront.

The forum runs 7-9 p.m. tomorrow at the Grand Hotel. You can RSVP at 250-729-2802. I’m looking forward to hearing your ideas.