The minister responsible for the status of women in P.E.I. wants to see evening sittings of the legislature eliminated to encourage greater diversity and remove barriers to women from entering public office.
Paula Biggar has tabled a motion in the P.E.I. legislature calling for an adjustment to the sitting hours and to move the two weekly evening sittings to the mornings.
This would not lessen the number hours MLAs spend in the house, but rather would make the legislature hours more accessible, Biggar said.
She noted that women’s advocacy groups including the P.E.I. Coalition for Women in Government have identified the evening sessions as a barrier to women’s participation in politics.
Such a change would also open up the playing field for other Island demographics who are currently underrepresented in the P.E.I. legislature, Biggar said.
“It promotes an opportunity for younger members to participate in the legislature and also it promotes a life balance for families who are involved in politics,” she said.
“We can’t be all talk here. We have to have some small incremental change to open up more opportunities for other people to come forward in the next election process and I think this is a small way to do that.”
In her motion, Biggar points out the four hours of evening house meetings are not televised, as the afternoon sessions are. Also, the evening sessions generally see smaller numbers of visitors to the public gallery.
As a result, eliminating evening hours and moving the legislative day to begin earlier in the daytime would make house deliberations more accessible to the public overall, she said.
She also points out P.E.I. is the only provincial legislature in the country except Quebec that sits past 7 p.m.
“It promotes an opportunity for younger members to participate in the legislature and also it promotes a life balance for families who are involved in politics ... We can’t be all talk here. We have to have some small incremental change to open up more opportunities for other people to come forward in the next election process and I think this is a small way to do that.”
Calls for this change have been made for a number of years. When she first took office in 2007, Biggar says the request came to the legislative rules committee to make this change. But at that time, it didn’t get past the committee stage.
That’s why she has now tabled a motion to be debated in the legislature.
Biggar says she has the support of her Liberal caucus for this motion, which means the government’s majority could easily see it pass.
But she hopes to get the support of all parties in this motion.
Coming as it is at what appears to be the end of the current session, the motion may stay on the order paper until the spring. That would mean next fall’s session of the house the most likely time a change in sitting hours could be implemented, if the motion passes. It would then go to the Standing Committee on Rules and Regulations, which would have to make the recommendation before a change could officially be made.
“I think it’s the right time to do it,” Biggar said.
“All parties have been talking about making change, this is a small change that I think could make a difference in opening up more opportunities for others to come forward for election… Justin Trudeau said, ‘Because it’s 2015,’ well I’m going to say, ‘Because it’s 2017.’”