Former PM proposes dual-member ridings to gain gender parity in Ottawa

Kim Campbell tells A Bold Vision women’s leadership conference electing a woman and man in each riding would make powerful statement

Teresa Wright
Published on September 25, 2014

Women who hold or held office at every level of Canadian politics were represented at the head table Wednesday of the Bold Vision conference. Attending are, from left, Valerie Docherty, provincial minister of community services and seniors; former prime minister Kim Campbell; Irene Dawson, long-serving councillor for the Town of Cornwall; and former P.E.I. premier and retired senator Catherine Callbeck. Campbell was the first woman to hold the office of Prime Minister and Callbeck was the first woman premier of P.E.I. The meeting of 23 invited visionary women from across Canada is underway at the Brudenell Resort.

©Guardian photo by Nigel Armstrong

GEORGETOWN ROYALTY — Former prime minister Kim Campbell says Canada needs more women in Parliament, so she proposes federal ridings should be split to include one woman and one man elected in each riding.

Campbell is in Prince Edward Island this week for the women’s leadership conference, A Bold Vision.

In her keynote address Wednesday evening entitled Time to Colour Outside the Lines, Campbell said dual-member ridings would be the simplest way to shift the country’s electoral system to gain true gender parity in Ottawa.

“I think we need something that we can actually implement and I think the process would make a powerful statement that Canada really believes what it says when, in its Constitution, it is enshrined prohibition of discrimination based on sex,” Campbell said.

“I think it would be a beacon to other countries.”

She added her belief that such a move could also help to change the combative tone that often dominates debate among MPs on Parliament Hill.

Campbell, who remains the only woman to ever hold the office of prime minister in Canada, also pointed to corporate boards as a place where the number of women in leadership and management roles is not reflective of the population.

In 2012, women held just 14.5 per cent of board director positions among Canada’s Financial Post 500 companies. More than 40 per cent of these companies had no women directors at all.

Without parity, some research now shows this diminishes the performance of those corporations, Campbell said.

But she stressed her concern that the greatest gaps exist in political leadership.

That’s why she included her push for dual-member male/female ridings to be adopted in Canada as part of her submission in the A Bold Vision book, to be launched in Charlottetown later this week.

The conference and the accompanying book are meant to act as a contrast to the historic meeting of the Fathers of Confederation in Charlottetown in 1864, when women were not yet even considered persons under the law.

Campbell says she believes a dramatic change to include more women in government is not only necessary, but would likely include a host of yet unforeseen rewards.

“I think it’s important for us to understand that in our bold vision and in being assertive, we are not just serving the interests of women, we are serving the interests of our whole society,” Campbell said.

“Now is the time for us, as women, that we’ve now come to a certain level to take that step, demand those changes. And I believe what I’m proposing for gender parity in our legislative bodies is the closest possible to how we’ve developed our legislative bodies, the least difficult to implement but the one that would be most powerfully effective.”

Dianne Porter of the P.E.I. Coalition for Women in Government said she believes Campbell’s idea is not only a good one, but one that is attainable.

She pointed to the fact P.E.I. had dual-member ridings from 1883 right up until 1996.

“P.E.I.’s experience proves that Ms. Campbell’s ideas are possible, they’re important and it’s a realistic dream,” Porter said.