A woman's place is in the house
(This is an edited version of a speech Ms. Nash presented on Feb. 22 on ‘Missing: Women in Politics,’ hosted by the Canadian Journalism Foundation.)

I’ve spent my adult life in movement politics, advocating for working people, women, human rights, peace, the environment, child care and affordable housing.

Many women avoid canvassing door to door. I find it fascinating. Some people were very challenging; some were downright rude. I didn’t have all the answers, but most people were polite, thoughtful and even welcoming. Cold, dark evenings at the door, or early snowy mornings leafleting at a subway stop, most people were appreciative of the effort to reach them.

Politics is traditionally seen as a man’s game. But our elected leaders make key decisions, such as whether to go to war, or whether seniors will get the support they need.

Women’s voices and women’s decisions are essential.Without more women in the House we only get half the picture, like seeing everything in black and white instead of full colour.

Of course women hold a range of political views, however, polls consistently show women to be stronger overall in their support for social programs and less likely to take aggressive military action. If 50 per cent or more of our MPs were women we would likely have a national childcare program and stronger support for seniors and youth.

In Canada we consistently elect around 21 per cent women to political positions at all levels of government. This is unchanged over a decade. Canada is 45th in the world when it comes to the representation of women. Talk about a democratic deficit! This is an embarrassing failure and we see the outcome in our frayed public policy.

There are still huge barriers to women’s participation in electoral politics. From family responsibilities to inhospitable nomination processes to antiquated notions of leadership. T he macho shouting matches that sometimes pass for political debate in our country leave many women cold. Our first-past-the-post electoral system fares poorer than systems that include proportional representation.

Winning an election is thrilling.The responsibility of representing your community
as one of the 308 MPs in the nation’s Parliament for more than 32 million Canadians is inspiring and a bit daunting.Taking a seat in the House is an emotional experience.

I’d like to see more women take up this challenge. We know from other countries that women want to be politically active, they can get elected and can make excellent
leaders.

More Canadian women need to step forward, but they need help to succeed. Here is what we can do: Introduce a measure of proportional representation into our election system at all levels of government; call on political parties to require the recruiting and support of women candidates for nomination, including in winnable ridings; take advantage of training and mentoring programs for women (like that offered by Equal Voice (www.equalvoice.ca) to learn the ropes of running for office; and ensure that children learn from the earliest grades how political decisions affect their lives.

NDP MP Peggy Nash
Parkdale High Park, Ont.

Source: The Hill Times, March 13, 2022