Men won almost twice as often as women this federal election, CBC analysis shows

CBC with Melanee Thomas 22 November 2019


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s second gender-parity cabinet might be putting the party’s best feminist foot forward but, away from the spotlight, the makeup of Parliament is still tilted heavily in favour of men.

Female candidates were once again underrepresented and more likely than men to find themselves running in hard-to-win ridings, a new CBC data analysis of the Oct. 21 election results has found.

This week, 98 women were sworn in after winning seats — 10 more than in the previous federal election in 2015.

That amounts to just under 30 per cent of the 338 seats in Parliament, while 71 per cent of MPs are still men.

CBC’s analysis also found that women who ran for one of the five major parties were still elected less often than men. In this election, 596 women ran for a major party and 97 of them were elected, compared to 830 men running with 240 elected. B.C. MP Jody Wilson-Raybould brought the total number of women elected to 98, but she ran as an independent candidate.

Put differently, for every 100 women running, 16 won their races, while for every 100 men running, 29 were elected.

“I’m not surprised,” says the University of Calgary’s Melanee Thomas.

The political scientist, whose work focuses on gender-based political inequality, says this shows the system of running for office in Canada still disproportionately favours men. 

“The issue is that parties consistently across the board keep nominating women in places where they can’t win.”

Parties run men in strongholds 

In 2013, Thomas and her co-author Marc-Andre Bodet of Laval University published an academic study which found women are elected less often than men in part because they find themselves running in hard-to-win ridings instead of party strongholds.

CBC tested this thesis with the 2019 election results and found similar trends.

This election, 23 per cent of all candidates running in strongholds — safe ridings — were women. The raw figures are 14 women and 48 men.

Strongholds or safe ridings were defined as ridings where a party had won the two previous elections or byelections with a margin of at least 10 per cent of votes.

Interestingly, when women or men run in safe ridings, they have roughly the same chance of winning again. More than 80 per cent of them were elected across Canada.

“The problem with women’s lack of representation is not with voters,” says Thomas. “The evidence is very clear that when women are candidates in places where they can win, they win.”

Indeed, the gender gap among new candidates running in open ridings was much starker: 6.2 per cent of all new women running were elected as opposed to11.3 per cent of men.

Parties defend their efforts

CBC has shared its figures with all five major parties included in the analysis and asked for comment.

The Liberals pointed out that this was their first election under new nomination rules which required riding associations “to conduct a thorough search for women candidates” and that nearly half of their new recruits were women. 

The Conservatives reiterated that this year was a milestone, with “the most female candidates in the party’s history,” adding that their team of MPs is “the most professionally and personally diverse group we’ve ever put forward.”  

The NDP told CBC that, when incumbents stepped down in London-Fanshawe and Edmonton-Strathcona, they were replaced by women. “We agree more needs to be done to elect more women in politics, and we’re committed to doing that work,” the national director of the party, Melissa Bruno, wrote in an email.

The interim leader of the Green Party said two of their three winners are women, and four of the seven ridings where the party came second had women candidates. “We believe these results show we are serious about putting women where they can win,” writes Jo-Ann Roberts. 

The Bloc Québécois had not provided a comment at the time of publication. 

While the outcome may be underwhelming, Thomas argues there’s been a sea change among party leaders, who are now demanding evidence of candidate search. “There is an increasingly large portion of Canadians who think that parity is both appropriate and expected,” says Thomas.

Equality matters, young voters say

So how much does gender representation matter to voters? CBC asked McGill University female students who voted for the first time what they thought.

Economics and international development student Justine Coutu says women in positions of power can be role models for young women like her. “It’s very important to have those people to look up to and to kind of, you know, use them as an example to see that women are able to kind of break through in the sector.”

Iyanu Soyege, a political science and African studies student, also wishes we could see the same diversity in Parliament that we’ve recently seen in the entertainment industry, with box office successes like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians.

“It’s just important that whoever represents us in government is reflective of what we see in Canada every day,” says Soyege. “Everywhere you walk around, you see women. I believe that should be the same case in Parliament, where you don’t have to struggle to find a woman.”

Thomas says history has shown that equal representation doesn’t happen overnight or in a linear fashion, but the impact can be immediate when parties commit. She points to Quebec, where over 40 per cent of elected representatives are women, after all parties signed a parity pledge.

Melanee Thomas is a political science professor at the University of Calgary.