OTTAWA — Former prime minister Kim Campbell spoke frankly Monday about how increased representation of women in politics can sometimes be followed with pushback from extremist groups.
Speaking virtually to delegates at Daughters of the Vote, an annual summit organized by Equal Voice Canada to encourage more women to get into politics, Campbell called the timing “fortuitous” for the 338 participants to apprentice as members of Parliament for the day.
“We see resurgent authoritarianism coming out of Vladimir Putin and others, Asia and Europe or in China,” she said, adding there’s been a growth in extremist groups “and particularly right-wing and racist extremist organizations.”
Campbell did not name a specific extremist organization but said there’s a common thread. If you look at the fine print, she said, those movements are advocating for a regression in the status of women.
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Campbell says the global COVID-19 pandemic is one of those rare lifetime events that has made multi-generational impacts on society, beckoning a need for new resources, and more women in politics.
“We are dealing now with a global pandemic, a challenge to our society, a challenge to our health and well-being, a challenge to our economic survival, a challenge to so many things,” the former prime minister said.
“If we don’t understand the importance of government, if we pooh-pooh it, if we think, ‘Oh, it’s not for me’ or ‘I don’t want to get involved in politics,’ we set ourselves up for serious failure.”
How Parliament functions now has never been more important, Campbell added, including “the wisdom that people bring to making decisions.”
Included in the list of events is a mock sitting of the House of Commons, which this year has been moved online due to COVID-19-related travel and public health guidelines. This year’s delegates made statements on a wide array of issues, from the representation of Indigenous women in politics to farmers protesting in India.
Campbell is a founding and active member of the Council of Women World Leaders, a network of former and current women prime ministers and presidents established in 1996. She said there’s been a “sea change” for how women are perceived as leaders since she was in office.
By the end of the 1990s, the former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada said there were about 34 members on the Council of Women World Leaders. Today, there are 82.
On a domestic level, a federal milestone was reached last year after two Liberal candidates, Marci Ien and Ya’ara Saks, won their Toronto byelection contests, bringing the number of women in the House of Commons to 100 for the first time.
As stronger female representation in politics continues to be normalized, there’s less skepticism for future office holders to overcome, Campbell told Daughters of the Vote delegates. “It makes it easier for women candidates to be taken seriously.”
Recruitment-related issues are one set of challenges. Getting parties to support women as candidates in so-called winnable ridings is another.
More women ran for office during the 2019 federal election than ever before, according to an Equal Voice analysis at the time. Despite the increase in representation at the candidate level, two CBC News reporters found that men won seats at nearly two times the rate of women.
The trend was flagged years earlier in a 2013 academic paper co-written by the University of Calgary’s Melanee Thomas and Laval University’s Marc-Andre Bodet. Analyzing data from federal elections between the years 2004 and 2011, the co-authors found that women incumbents risked losing their seats more than men and that female candidates were more likely than men to be treated as a “sacrificial lamb” in ridings they had low odds of winning.