Last week, Conservative Party candidate Jason Kenney was elected Premier of Alberta, ousting Democratic incumbent Rachel Notley—the second woman to ever head the provincial government of Alberta—and revealing a stark gender gap in Canadian politics. For the first time in over a decade, Canada has no women provincial leaders.
In 2013, almost half of all Canadian premiers were women. But today—in a landscape where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet is equally split by gender, and the current federal House of Commons holds a record number of women—there are no women leaders of provincial governments in the entire country.
This kind of imbalance is hardly new. Only 11 women have ever won premier races in Canadian history; of them, only one has ever won re-election.
“What is it that happens to women in political leadership that makes it more difficult for people to see them continuing there? I don’t know the answer to that but I think we do have to raise it,” Kathleen Wynne, former premier of Ontario and one of six women serving as premiers in 2013, told Bloomberg. “It raises important questions about women in leadership, I think it raises important questions about how misogyny plays in the current political climate.”
Melanee Thomas, a political researcher at the University of Calgary, thinks that much of this apparent discrimination may be due to the double-standards that women in politics face. “I would never say that their gender is the number one factor in this,” she explained to the Chronicle Journal. “What I would say is that the way people interpret what they do is gendered.”
Genevieve Tellier, a political researcher at the University of Ottowa, thinks we have yet to see the real impact of women’s leadership in Canadian politics—and that the shift they’re accelerating is still on the way. “We used to see that women in politics should behave as a man,” she told the Chronicle. “We’re starting to see other ways of doing politics. Maybe it’s just a matter of letting time do its work, and eventually we’ll be used to that.”
But Wynne is not willing to wait patiently. “The loss of women across the country has gone much more quickly than I expected,” she admitted to Bloomberg, reflecting on her conversations with young women in which she urges them to enter politics. “I’m not saying ‘change is coming, we’re going to get there.’ I’m saying, ‘we’re going to go back and forth; you need to jump in anyway, and understand what you’re going to be dealing with.'”