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Women, Gender, and Politics

N03 - Representation, Equality and Policymaking

Date: Jun 4 | Time: 10:30am to 12:00pm | Location: SWING 305

Chair/Président/Présidente : Bailey Gerrits (Queen's University)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Edana Beauvais (McGill University)

Women Pushing Back: Female MPs, Parliamentary Representation, and Women’s Equality Policymaking in Canada: Erica Rayment (University of Toronto)
Abstract: While elected women are often understood to be more likely to act for women than their male colleagues, women’s presence in politics does not automatically translate to substantive representation of women in debate and policymaking. Contributing to the literature on how the substantive representation of women occurs (Childs and Krook 2009), this study asks three related questions: when does the heightened substantive representation of women occur in Canadian parliamentary debate? What role do women MPs play in contributing to that heightened representation? And what is the impact of parliamentary representation on women’s equality policymaking? Using automated text analysis methods, the study develops a measure for calculating the share of parliamentary speeches about women in every Canadian parliament from 1968 to 2015 and identifies two periods in which the representation of women in parliamentary debate spiked. The study manually analyses the content of speeches about women in these two periods to identify the most salient topics of debate. Through a review of the secondary literature, media reports, biographies and unsealed cabinet minutes, the study identifies the key issues and actors driving debate and policy action in each Parliament. Findings suggest that in both cases, the spike in parliamentary representation of women is in response to government efforts to roll back previous equality gains, but the impact of parliamentary debate on policy outcomes is uneven. The study offers new insight into factors that drive the substantive representation of women in parliamentary debate and the ways in which debate and policymaking are linked.


Gendered Representation: Frontline Workers in Canada’s Federal Constituency Offices: Meagan Cloutier (University of Calgary), Melanee Thomas (University of Calgary)
Abstract: Constituency office employees are often the first point of contact for citizens dealing with federal government issues. Yet, beyond observing their existence, these offices are rarely mentioned as sites of representation. As a result, we argue much of the representational work that happens in these offices is missed when we fail to study the experiences and work of constituency office staff. In addition to this, political jobs are now a key pipeline profession into elected office in Canada (Snagovsky and Ferby 2018). To assess how gender structures the nature of constituency representation, we use publicly available and survey data. Results show that women are more likely than men to be employed in constituency offices, yet men are more likely than women to be employed with a special title that signifies greater status or prestige. The survey then explores the typical work day in constituency offices, including benefits and challenges to this line of work and employees’ impacts on representative work, as well as their ambition for any future career in politics or government. We ask about the magnitude and frequency of harassment cases within these offices. Our findings add considerably to, and reflect critically on conventional understandings of political representation in Canada.


Intersectionality in the Senate: Enabling Group Representation in the Age of Nonconstitutional Reform: Elizabeth McCallion (Queen's University)
Abstract: This presentation asks the question: how intersectional is the current Canadian Senate, and how can it improve? Against the backdrop of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent reforms of the Senate and his commitment to women’s representation, I propose a nonconstitutional reform to improve the representation of women, racialized people, and LGBT+ people in the upper house. I explore arguments about improving women’s representation in legislatures, and I find that gender quotas are a popular solution to the problem of underrepresentation. One quota proposal flips the idea on its head: Rainbow Murray claims that the problem should not be viewed as the underrepresentation of women, but rather the overrepresentation of men. She argues that we should limit the number of men in parliament in order to make space for women. Murray’s proposed cap quota sounds remarkably similar to the fixed upper limit on regional representation in the Canadian Senate. The Senate is an opportune place to implement a cap quota; senators are appointed on the prime minister’s advice, and Trudeau has stated commitment to women’s descriptive representation. Moreover, research suggests that the Senate is increasingly becoming an arena for sectional representation rather than regional representation. It would be appropriate to consider a cap quota on group representation that mimics the fixed upper limit on regional representation. I modify Murray’s cap quota proposal to include limits on other privileged groups in the Senate, based on the amelioration offered to certain disadvantaged groups under section 15(2) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.