These are percentages feminists once dreamed of. Equal Voice, founded in 2001 to get more women elected, believed it would take four generations before women achieved electoral equality. Canada isn’t there yet – indeed the outlook at the federal and municipal levels is daunting – but almost half of the premiers are female.
No one is declaring victory. B.C. Premier Christy Clark, who won the leadership of her party and became premier in 2011 has to go to the polls in 2013. Odds-makers don’t give her Liberals much chance.
Ontario’s premier-designate – who will be chosen by the Liberals on Jan. 26 – will soon be in the same position. The two front-runners in the leadership race, Sandra Pupatello and Kathleen Wynne, are women, but their party is trailing the Conservatives by a significant margin and running neck-and-neck with the New Democrats.
By mid-2013, Canada could be back to three female premiers. But all of them – Kathy Dunderdale of Newfoundland, Pauline Marois of Quebec and Alison Redford of Alberta – are seasoned, capable leaders. They know how to stand their ground and how to meet half-way when it makes sense. Last month, for example, Marois and Redford agreed to have a joint committee of officials take a serious look at supplying Quebec’s refineries with Alberta crude. This month, Dunderdale achieved what had eluded her predecessor, the mercurial Danny Williams. She pulled together a three-way deal involving Ottawa, Manitoba and Newfoundland that will allow the $ 7.7-billlion Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project to proceed.
Female politicians aren’t always collegial, as the clash between Redford and Clark over the Northern Gateway pipeline demonstrates. Nor are they any more similar in beliefs and personalities than their male counterparts. But women do bring a different style and sensibility to politics.
There are still too few of them in Canada’s legislatures. Just 24 per cent of federal MPs are women;, as are 26 per cent of provincial MPPs in Ontario, and 33 per cent of councillors at Toronto city hall. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his inner circle are solidly male. The only female leader in Ottawa is Elizabeth May of the Greens.
But it is no longer unthinkable – or even odd – to see a woman running a senior government. It’s getting to be normal.