Does the shortfall of female politicians justify proportional representation using party lists?

Today, the former interim leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Rona Ambrose, stepped down from her seat in Parliament.

It comes a few days after Christy Clark announced her resignation as B.C. premier, and it’s less than eight months after Hillary Clinton came up short in her attempt to shatter the highest glass ceiling in the United States.

So does this mean that women face a huge uphill struggle in politics?

To a certain extent, yes, though many are celebrating Clark’s replacement by a male premier likely to take more measures than Clark ever did to address male violence against women and promote better childcare.

In this year’s B.C. election, 34 of the 87 MLAs elected were female. Nineteen of 41 NDP MLAs are women. The Greens elected one female MLA and the Liberals elected 14.

Federally, the NDP had the highest percentage of female MPs after the 2015 election—40.9 percent—compared to 27.1 percent of Liberal MPs and 17.1 percent of Conservative MPs.

That’s a far cry from Iceland where women captured 30 of the 63 seats in Parliament in 2016. Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland also have far higher percentages of women in their national parliaments than Canada.

It’s worth noting that all five of these Nordic countries have a proportional-representation system that relies on a party list.

This is certain to come up as the NDP-Green alliance advances ideas for proportional representation—and if one of its stated objectives is to bring more gender parity into provincial politics.

Here’s a quick summary of the options:

Closed-list systems involve parties listing candidates in order of their probability of being elected. That ensures the party, not the voters, decide which party representatives become parliamentarians.

Under an open-list system—such as in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden—voters can indicate their preference among different party candidates on the ballot. Compensatory seats are awarded based on the party’s percentage of the popular vote. This way, the parliament reflects the popular will of the electorate.

Finland uses a “local list”, in which candidates in different geographical areas are presented and voters can choose them individually in multi-member constituencies.

Party lists of candidates can be structured to achieve gender balance. That isn’t always possible under first-past-the-post systems in which party candidates have to win nominations in constituencies.

So even though it might look like the boys (John Horgan and Andrew Weaver) are in charge in B.C. politics nowadays, they have an opportunity to devise an electoral system that is far more beneficial to female politicians of all parties in the future.

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