Women and the Vote

“I think [women] should be armed but should not vote...women have no capacity to understand how money is earned. They have a lot of ideas on how to spend it...it's always more money on education, more money on child care, more money on day care.” - Ann Coulter, February 26, 2001

US-based political commentator Ann Coulter is a nutbar. She would also be fond of our current electoral system.

Canada is one of only three developed democracies in the world that is still saddled with the antiquated “first past the post” system, which does such a poor job electing women that people like Ann Coulter might find it a good compromise to not having women vote at all.

In our last federal election, representation of women dropped below 20%, with only 62 MP’s. In Ontario, only 25 per cent of MPPs are currently women, which is slightly higher than the parliament of Iraq and slightly lower than that of Afghanistan.

My mother, Doris Anderson, was a distinguished feminist and fought tirelessly to improve the representation of women in government, business and society. She knew that changing the electoral system was crucial to increasing the number of women elected, and devoted much of her energy to that cause until the end of her remarkable life this spring.

in the 1990’s, she travelled throughout Europe interviewing colleagues while researching a book on the history of the women's’ movement. To her surprise, it was much more difficult to find women in Sweden in the women’s movement because there was far less need for one.

With over 40% elected women, Sweden had already achieved many of things that that their North American counter parts were still fighting for such a universal child care and pay equity.

Not surprisingly, Sweden also has a form of Mixed Member Proportional representation similar to what is proposed by Ontario’s Citizen’s Assembly. More women elected quite naturally results in the kind of society so loathed by the likes of Ann Coulter.

Ontario now has a historic decision to make. The Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform recommended a system of Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) representation that would much more fairly represent the views of voters, and the diversity of our province - including electing more women. That choice will be put to voters as a referendum question on the October 10th election ballot.

Electoral reform may seem like a dull topic to some but it is nothing less than redefining the calculation of political power. It has the ability to transform a society, as seen in Sweden where a higher proportion of women elected has resulted in laws and policies that have largely negated the need for outside lobbying by groups traditionally seen as “special interests” under our first past the post model.

Less acrimony and more accommodation in our political system are things that most Canadians would support. The childish displays often seen from our elected officials would become less frequent when political parties know they must form workable coalitions with each other.

The dearth of traditional majority governments in Canada of late also reflects a growing movement of voters away from a winner-take-all view of politics. People want our governments to work for society, not for political parties. The system recommended by the Citizens Assembly would lay a solid foundation for that transformation.

It is not only women who are poorly represented by First Past the Post. In 2004, only 7% of MP’s were visible minorities, while they represent 15% of our population.

Canada is a world leader in embracing diversity - something that Canadians are justifiably proud of. Our current electoral system is perhaps the greatest barrier to having that diversity reflected in our elected officials.

Imagine how much better our already remarkably fortunate country would be if our elected representatives were a fair and accurate representation of our population?

There are those that will counsel caution. that will say we should think about electoral reform for another ten years before we rush into anything rash. There may also be those that prefer the fundamental inequities of our electoral system just the way they are. Personally, I do not think that is a very Canadian attitude.

On October 10th, we have a very important decision to make. I know which way would Ann Coulter would vote. How will you?

This piece ran nowhere. The referendum failed to pass.

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