Caregiving costs hold women back from seeking office

Mitch MacDonald
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Dawn Wilson, executive director of the P.E.I. Coalition for Women in Government, presents several recommendations to the special committee on democratic renewal yesterday at the J. Angus MacLean building. Wilson's major recommendation involved reimbursing caregiving expenses incurred while on the campaign trail as a way to encourage more female candidates.

Reimbursing caregiving costs incurred while on the campaign trail will encourage more women to run for public office, an advocate told a special committee looking at electoral reform yesterday.

Dawn Wilson, executive director of the P.E.I. Coalition for Women in Government, made the recommendation during a presentation to the special committee on democratic renewal at the J. Angus MacLean building on Tuesday.

Wilson said the coalition had interviewed women candidates from all parties following the 2015 provincial election, with many pointing to a financial barrier preventing others from running.

"This can make it challenging for candidates with caregiving responsibilities to take part in events and campaign effectively," said Wilson, noting that caregiving costs are not eligible for reimbursement under the Election Expenses Act.

Wilson asked the committee to look at amending the current act to allow candidates to claim both child and elder care costs.

"Making changes like this would not only make it easier for women to run but would also support male candidates who have caregiving responsibilities," she said. "This will contribute to the fairness of the act and allow P.E.I. to support gender equity."

P.E.I. is currently among the lowest in the country in terms of gender diversity with women making up 18.5 per cent of provincial MLAs.

However, it's not due to a lack of voter support.

Wilson said women traditionally do well once nominated as a candidate and that most voters tend to support a party rather than the individual candidate.

"The biggest barrier to electing women lies with getting womens' names on the ballot in the first place," she said.

MLAs Janice Sherry and Paula Biggar, who both sit on the committee, agreed that most Islanders approached on the campaign trail are welcoming regardless of gender.

"The biggest barrier to electing women lies with getting womens' names on the ballot in the first place." Dawn Wilson, executive director of the P.E.I. Coalition for Women in Government

Sherry also voiced some concern for "bending or changing the rules" in an attempt to achieve a 50/50 split of men and women in any field or industry.

"As a woman who was elected and serves publicly, I find that my heart sinks a little bit whenever we talk about that," she said. "There are lots of women who are extremely confident and would make great representatives for their communities and for their province. But they have to want it first."

While parity may not be achievable in every profession, Wilson said it's an important aspect to strive for among elected representatives.

"Because they are elected to represent the population, and women are 52 per cent of that population," she said.

The coalition also recommended that the Election Expenses Act be amended to provide for a subsidy to candidates winning at least 10 per cent of the vote within their riding.

Wilson noted that 17 women candidates in P.E.I.'s last provincial election reached the 15 per cent threshold to receive reimbursement of election expenses.

If lowered, four more candidates would have been eligible for reimbursement, she said.

"That might sound like a small number, but these four women were more likely to be younger, first-time candidates, and some had young children," said Wilson. "Having the ability to recoup some election expenses may make a huge difference when women are already disadvantaged economically compared to men."

The coalition's final recommendation was that the committee ensure a "gender and diversity lens" be applied to the electoral renewal process moving forward.

Organizations: P.E.I. Coalition for Women

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Recent comments

  • Angelina
    March 02, 2016 - 20:55

    How about we all grow up and stop calling for more bureaucracy for this and that. Don't anybody know that every time demands are made it will cost us more in taxes. How about we eliminate that useless office about women in government. There is nothing holy about women, they can be just as stupid and corrupt as men, and I see many candidates running just for a job that is well paid and pensioned.

  • Lone wolf
    March 02, 2016 - 09:43

    One of the things holding Canada back is lack of productivity. It would be interesting to see an analysis of how these unold numbers of useless, tax payer funded agencies fit into that picture. Political pandering is costing Canadians untold grief on the economic side. This is never mentioned, --- of course. We just vote - and pay,- blind fools that we are.

  • alvilda
    March 02, 2016 - 09:37

    PEI Coalition for Women in Government is a government funded agency that should be eliminated, and the money used for the betterment of those very women they think should be in government. It is a ludicrous notion that society now should be funding people, who think they should be decision makers for the rest of us. Their time and attention could not be 'bought and paid for'. In all aspects of life, our actions and endevours are based on our planning and circumstances of our lives. In other words, - our action depends on when 'the time is right'. Further, with our vast numbers, there are no person that cannot be replaced by an other as good. It is an amazing thought that any one person should be so NEEDED to seek office, that we should all rally around and pay for that person, through our taxes, to enter politics. The old saying, 'there will always and other streetcar coming along,' goes for politicians and would be politicians as well.

  • Truth Seeker
    Truth Seeker
    March 02, 2016 - 08:27

    Why is this gender specific? There are a lot of opportunities I have to pass up because I'm a parent and I'm a man. This is completely irrelevant to how many women are in political office.

  • Quiet Observer
    March 02, 2016 - 08:15

    Traditionally, and wrongly, poltitics has been thought of, and designed, as a men's playroom. I think adapting the system so that it is equally inviting to both men and women would be a great move. I would not want to see it done to move from being preferential to men to being preferential to women - 2 wrongs do not make a right, and equality is not about that - it is about making rules/policies that are equally beneficial to both. Similarly, I do not support anything that gives preferential treatment to one sex over the other in any aspect of life today, be it in enabling candidates from both sexes, to considerations given in public policy and workplace hiring. I have long felt, due to the lack of consideration and support given to male aspects of social and health things (access to children, maintenance enforcement issues, mental health, spousal abuse, etc), that for true equality we need a "Advisory Council on the Status of Men" legally established to work with the "Advisory Council on the Status of Women" to strive for true equality for both sexes.

    • no thanks
      March 02, 2016 - 13:29

      how about just one advisory council for all the different variations of sexes around these days--BETTER YET -no council at all

      March 02, 2016 - 18:25

      As Janice Sherry herself says, you have to want it first. What needs to be done is to get rid if Wilson and her ilk who live off the fat of the land,being in a position that has no value, subsidized on the taxpayers dime. Go out and get a real job, better yet, run for office like the men and women who are elected did and stop whining.Did Tina Mundy get child allowance when she ran?

  • no thanks
    March 02, 2016 - 07:09

    Never mind more expense claims !!! it's bad enough what politicians do with others' money after they are elected !!!better watch what you wish for !!! politicians need to be replaced by something-better or worse but DIFFERENT !!!! Donald Trump and his friends prove that !!! So do Mike Duffy , Robert Ghiz, Pamela Wallin etc etc etc

  • As a woman
    March 02, 2016 - 06:20

    As a woman, it offends me that women scream for equal rights and then ask for special treatment. Ladies, I raised a child on my own and had no issue running a business, volunteering in my community and participating in Provincial politics. If you want to be equal, stop asking to be treated differently.

  • mary
    March 02, 2016 - 05:55

    So lets get women running just for the sake of running? Shouldnt only qualified "people" run regardless of gender? Your all sounding like Justin now! Have ya ever sat back and thought maybe for one minute most women have no interest in the hrs, the corruptness, scandals, thanklessness from Islanders in being in office? Maybe most want to spend that time with their families? Why is it on PEI we are so concerned about telling "women" what to do? You tell them in one breath they cannot have an abortion but than knock them for not running for office! Only on PEI!