‘Peace, order and good government’ underpin Canada’s electoral and legislative landscapes. A country classified as a ‘full democracy’, it corroborated its democratic characteristics by scoring big in The Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Democracy Index 2020. It ranked fifth in the index and holds a better position than arguably the world’s most popular democracy, the United States (ranked 25th), and the world’s biggest democracy, India (ranked 53rd). The US and India fall under the ‘flawed democracy’ classification in the index.
But is everything as perfect as it appears in the first paragraph? The EIU index relies on multiple indicators to rank countries. Canada scores well in the political participation category but underperforms on multiple other counts, including ‘citizens control’, and ‘personal freedom’. The index also flags ‘corruption’ as a factor that took some sheen away from Canada. It cites the country’s fall in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) of Transparency International, besides a brief mention of ‘hate speech’ and ‘libel laws’ that weaken the country’s commitment to freedom of speech.
Canada fared poorly in CPI, and it couldn’t hold on to its spot in the top ten least corrupt countries. The report mentions that Canada’s decline ‘has been gradual’ since 2012, and underpinning it are the money laundering allegations that political parties cutting across ideologies have admitted to.
Women Representatives in Canada
Although Canada is hailed globally for its stable government and liberal stance on public policy matters, something both major political parties – Liberal and Conservative – swear by, it cannot be said that there are no grey areas.
In the 2019 election, the 338-member House of Commons saw only 98 women being elected as Member of Parliament. Liberal and Conservative parties were trumped by New Democrats and Green Party of Canada in terms of women candidacy in the 2019 elections. In fact, the percentage of women candidates overall was over 45 per cent for both New Democrats and Green Party of Canada.
At present, the Canadian Parliament has no constitutional mandate to reserve seats for genders in proportion to their population. But let’s look at another set of data to bring home a point.
Women were 47.2 per cent of total labor force in Canada in 2019, as per the findings of International Labour Organisation. Data indicate that there has been a steep rise in this figure since 1990. In the United States, this figure is 46.2 per cent. Even Nordic countries that score highly in Human Development Index, World Happiness Report of UN and CPI have similar figures, with Norway at 47 per cent, Sweden at 47.7 per cent and Denmark at 47.1 per cent.
Then why are women MPs less than 30 per cent in the House of Commons? Is it time for Canada to rethink its commitment to increase women representation in Parliament? It appears to be.
Mondale’s Liberal & Progressive Approach
This week, the world mourned the death of a champion of liberal politics and women’s rights advocate, Walter F Mondale. Mr Mondale held the office of the US Vice President under President Jimmy Carter.
Many would recall that Mr Mondale had a woman as his running mate when he ran for the presidential election in 1984. Geraldine Ferraro was in fact the first woman in the US history to be nominated by a major political party. Mr Mondale had once famously said – ‘a government can be an instrument for social progress’. He validated his pledge by promoting healthcare, childcare expansion and other programs.
Mr Mondale’s decision to pick a woman as his running mate can be likened with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s move to have Chrystia Freeland by his side as his Finance Minister in November 2019. Ms Freeland became the first woman MP ever to hold this office.
What followed her ascent was Canada’s plunge into economic downturn; not to be attributed to her, but to the COVID-19 pandemic. What, however, can be attributed to her is the farsighted approach of the federal government took to pull the country out of social and economic despair. Critics, who viewed rising public debt and fiscal deficit as a dent to Canada’s long-term economic stability, could not deter her from earmarking huge sums in her budget for wage subsidies, healthcare and child care.
Tough times call for some tough measures and Ms Freeland led with a clear policy stance. That public investment will be the key to boost the economy is something she ably realized and executed. The federal government acknowledged that the pandemic-induced lockdowns have massively affected women and this is why addressing the ‘she-cession’ and spending large sums on a national childcare plan were priorities in budget 2021.
The Way Forward
Canada not making it to the top 10 list of the Corruption Perceptions Index and the country’s drop in rank on account of ‘personal freedom’ in the Democracy Index 2020 make an argument in favor of having more women in positions of power. In fact, women are arguably more likely to advocate liberal policy actions, including transparency and accountability in governance, and have a more open market with a new decentralized approach towards regulations and law enforcement.
In coming years, Canada will have to take many legislative policy actions with respect to climate change, green energy, immigration and such other critical socio-economic issues. Having more women MPs will not only lead to a more pragmatic approach but also to a more compassionate attitude in dealing with complexities.
In March 2021, V-Dem Project, an independent research agency in Sweden, came out with interesting findings in its Democracy Report 2021, titled ‘Autocratization Turns Viral’. In the report, Canada sits in the ‘liberal democracy’ fold, but talks of ‘accelerated autocratization’ in many nations, including the United States, is a warning signal to all.
Canada, to fortify its liberal democracy and lead other nations that will remain untouched from the ‘autocratization wave’, needs more women in its government. And if this demands a unanimous clarion call to reserve at least 50 per cent seats for women in the Parliament, the same must be considered.