Women are outnumbered both in political leadership and in the broader political representation in Canada. All three of the main federal parties in Canada have male leaders; the Bloc Quebecois has a female leader but she does not have a seat in Parliament.
And Elizabeth May—the leader of the federal Green Party and is the sole Green Member of Parliament (MP)—wants more female company.
“There’s a subtle sexism to the place that is reinforced by the all male leadership expectation, the all male leadership norm, the default assumption that the leader is a man,” May told Ms. “It changes the dynamic a lot when there’s more than one woman leader in Parliament.”
There have been times in Parliament when there have been more than one women in party leadership in Parliament, though women only represent about 26 percent of current ridings federally. May believes there is an intangible quality to leadership when there’s more than one woman in the role. “There’s a shift, I guess it’s the same feeling that any woman would understand when you walk in a room and it’s a room full of men in suits,” she explained. “It’s a different feeling if there’s one or two women in suits in the same room. You feel that sense of ‘I am not excluded here, I am much more accepted, I am part of this room. I don’t know quite how to express it, how subtle the difference is.”
May also thinks that the nature of Parliament would change if more women were represented—and able to challenge “the boorishness of the place, that kind of testosterone-infused atmosphere.”
“As you have more women, the nature of the discourse changes,” she told Ms. “The willingness to work across party lines improves, the nastiness is toned way down.” The heckling that can happen can be off-putting for women, too. “Not to say that some women are not nasty hecklers,” May notes, “but as a general principle, the more women you have in the House of Commons, the more women you have in any assembly, I think, the more likely you are to develop more respectful, thoughtful, listening practices and cooperative practices.”
The Green Party has a goal of running 50 percent men and 50 percent women candidates in elections, but the work to bring women into the political realm doesn’t end at a numbers game. “I know it’s much, much harder to recruit women than it is to recruit men,” May told Ms. “I’ve made calls to woman all the time who are respected in their community and they’ve been forwarded to me by numerous people. I’ve looked at their CV and I’m calling them because they would be fantastic candidates. It’s invariably women who say, ‘Oh, I don’t think so, I’m very flattered you would call but I am sure you could find someone better.’ Ironically, I have never heard that from a man. I call men, too, and I’ve never heard a man say ‘I’m sure you could find somebody better.'”