Kathleen Wynne has become the first female premier of Ontario, beating out her rival and front-runner Sandra Pupatello. Wynne is also the first openly gay premier. She joins five other women who are currently serving as premier of provinces or territories. This brings the male to female ratio in provincial leadership to 50:50 for the first time in Canadian history — now 75 per cent of Canadians are being governed by a female premier.
Although the media coverage mentions that Wynne will be the first female and openly gay premier of Ontario, there seems to be more concern about the struggles she will face as an interim Liberal Party leader, and how she will have to chart her own course separate from the legacy of the Dalton McGuinty. Wynne will most likely face a general election very soon, at which time she will either maintain her leadership or be history like Kim Campbell, former prime minister of Canada who remained in power for a mere four months.
Politics is one of the most visible places that lacks gender balance and diversity, but in the past three or four years, voters have been paying attention to the best ideas instead of the gender, race or sexual orientation of the candidates. People can see that these differences are becoming less of a barrier to having their voices heard. This can only be a good thing.
Having more women in prominent leadership positions means that the idea of a female leader will become normalized.
The fact that Wynne is also openly gay is another huge step for diversity representation. Recognizing that a person’s sexual orientation doesn’t affect what kind of leader they are is a great step for Canadian society.
There is still work to do in terms of overall political parity. Seventy-six women were elected to the House of Commons in the last federal election, out of 308 seats. This represents 25 per cent of the House. There are 38 women senators out of 104 seats — one is currently vacant — which is 37 per cent of the Senate. There are still gains to be made, but the trend seems to be that more women are running for office and winning.
One obstacle to political equality between the sexes is that political parties have a hard time finding women to run. Women under 40 are especially under-represented, especially when compared to the number of men under 40 who are elected. Some barriers for women include the lack of civility in the House of Commons and an excessive focus on female parlimentarians’ appearance instead of their skills and ideas.
The 1921 federal election was the first time women were allowed to vote. The Famous Five from Alberta won the Persons Case in October 18, 1929 which allowed women to become senators and be recognized as persons. In almost 100 years, women have made significant gains, but still more progress is needed.
Canadian society benefits when different viewpoints are heard. Having diverse points of view in governance allows a problem to be looked at from a multitude of angles.
Having more female leaders will reduce how certain female issues are latched onto during campaigns in the media. We should never be asking how much a woman politician’s wardrobe costs if we don’t care how much a man’s does. Female politicians have also been criticized for being too pretty or not good-looking enough. Having more examples of female leaders who are in politics to create policy instead of an image will reduce the idea that women in the media need to look a certain way.
The more women there are in politics, the more the attitudes surrounding them will change. Progress is being made even though the progress can be painfully slow.