The Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (the CWP) is a network that provides
the opportunity for its Members to share experiences, discuss topics of
interest and seek solutions to the special problems faced by the female
minority in Parliaments. The CWP-Canadian Region was established in 2006
and is comprised of women parliamentarians from across Canada. In May 2007,
the CWP conducted its first Outreach Program.
The purpose of the CWP Outreach Program is to increase womens rep- resentation
in all levels of government. Discussions served to enhance awareness of
the roles of parliamentarians and the election process. As Chair of the
Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians - Canada, I led a delegation of CWP
members to the first Outreach Program held in Yellowknife from May 1-4,
2007. Other participants included the Honourable Carolyn Bolivar-Getson,
MLA, Nova Scotia, Nancy Heppner, MLA, Saskatchewan, Judy Junor, MLA, Saskatchewan,
Jane Groenewegen, MLA, and Sandy Lee, MLA, Northwest Territories.
During the program, the delegation met with members of following institutions
École Allain St. Cyr
St. Patrick High School
Youth Parliament of the Northwest Territories
Sir John Franklin High School
Centre for Northern Families
Status of Women Council
Native Womens Association
The delegation also had the opportunity to discuss the CWP outreach program
and the importance of womens representation in politics with:
the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories, Anthony W. J. Whitford
the Speaker of the NWT Legislature, Paul Delorey
the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, Charles Dent
In addition to its numerous meetings, the delegation participated in the
Youth Parliament Program at the Legislative Assembly.
There was significant discussion on the political landscape in Canada and
internationally, the political situation in the Northwest Territories,
barriers that exist for women who wish to enter politics and the importance
of engagement in politics and public service as well as, the the role and
objectives of the CWP-Canada Region. The aims and objectives of the CWP
- to provide opportunities for strategic discussion and development for future
and present parliamentarians;
- to increase female representation in our Parliaments;
- to foster closer relationships between women parliamentarians in all Branches
of the Region;
- to foster relations with other countries having close parliamentary ties
with the Region; and
- to discuss, strategize and act on gender-related issues in Canada and internationally
The CWP members provided an overview of the activities of the CWP both
internationally and within Canada. The position of Canada with regards
to female representation and the records of the various legislatures were
The situation of the Northwest Territories is very unique given the non-party
system of its legislature and the small population of the territory. Consensus
government limits the nomination barriers that exist in other provinces
and territories. Despite the lack of party-based limitations, only two
female MLAs sit in the legislature with no cabinet representation. Aboriginal
women currently do not hold any seats which must be urgently addressed.
In discussions with the Native Womens Association, the role of many community
leaders within the aboriginal self-governments rather than the territorial
legislature was highlighted. Many NWT women candidates who were unsuccessful
last election lost by a very slim margin. There was consensus regarding
the importance of encouraging these candidates to run again.
There are many barriers that must be overcome to increase womens representation
in politics. Participants questioned whether the numbers were low because
women do not get elected or because they do not run. It was agreed that
encouraging women to run is the key to increasing representation.
The instability of minority parliaments has an affect on all candidates.
The availability and access to winnable ridings was another area of concern.
Family friendly hours and childcare could lessen the barriers that exist
with regards to family responsibilities. The long travel distances were
of concern to many potential candidates.
It was agreed that to equal a critical mass that can make an impact in
legislatures, women must hold at least 30% of seats. The importance of
diversity within parliaments is crucial. The 30% minimum target has not
been met by any legislature in Canada. The CWP delegation encouraged women
to engage in all levels of government and stressed the important role of
NGOs, grassroots organizations and community groups. The opportunities
for community service are vast. The power of an elected official to make
a difference was a driving force behind the parliamentarians decision
to enter politics. The importance of having more women in cabinet was
agreed upon and Québecs current female cabinet representation of 50% was
Recommendations and Conclusion
The CWP is committed to increasing womens representation in all levels
of government. During the outreach program, many initiatives were developed
to reach this goal.
First, the need for Campaign Schools in all regions was identified. There
exists a lack of awareness of the opportunities within political process
and understanding of the nomination and election process. Many regions
have developed very successful campaign schools where winning candidates
were trained. The CWP will work in partnership with existing campaign schools
and encourage other legislatures and advocacy groups to develop similar
The importance of awareness campaigns on the parliamentary system and political
process in schools is key to increasing youth engagement. The CWP will
provide feedback on the program to the legislatures to encourage all parliaments
to engage in outreach activities.
The CWP encouraged second-time candidates to run again in the upcoming
elections and identified and encouraged NGOs and community groups that
can provide support to female candidates.
The issue of family-friendly hours will be further explored at the CWP
Steering Committee meeting for proposal to the legislatures.
Given the success of the first Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Outreach
Program, the CWP-Canada will continue its outreach activities throughout
the country. In 2008, the program will take place in Nova Scotia.