When Elizabeth May unwrapped a necklace from her daughter this past Christmas, the federal Green Party leader and Saanich-Gulf Islands candidate commented that the jewelry was so pretty, she’d like to wear it to the next leaders’ debate.
“’Mom, you can’t wear that,’” May said, reciting her daughter’s words. “’Remember how the media attacked the necklace you wore last time?’”
May laughs as she recalls the story, but finds little humour in the sexism she encounters or the overall venomous climate that every B.C. leader faces – especially women.
“The political culture is increasingly unpleasant and kind of like a hockey locker room – or worse,” she said. “It’s a rude environment to be in.”
For the first time in B.C.’s history, we could see women leading both of the province’s major parties into an election. The rare turn of events was sparked by the recent resignation of both Liberal premier Gordon Campbell and NDP opposition leader MLA Carole James.
When James announced she was stepping down due to infighting, the NDP’s little known policy on gender equity made its way into the news.
The party’s provision stipulates that at least one of the three top party positions (leader, treasurer and president) must be held by a woman. By these rules, the next party leader must be female, unless a woman takes over for current president Moe Sihota or treasurer Bob Smits.
“If anything, this shows the NDP’s dedication to having – or at least attempting to have – gender parity,” said Janni Aragon, University of Victoria professor of political science, specializing in gender in politics. “The NDP is going to need to do some soul-searching to see where they’re going to go from here.”
May also applauds the sentiment, but calls the method “artificial” and notes that most Green Parties around the world have been able to attract higher ratios of female leaders, without implementing quotas on gender.
As for the Liberal leadership race, Aragon – who is American and does not vote in Canadian elections – considers candidate Christy Clark or any other woman who may take on the role a “sacrificial lamb.” A woman leader would inherit too many of Campbell’s issues and will only further damage the culture of women in provincial politics, she said.
While May strongly disagrees with this sentiment, both women come to the consensus that we are far from parity and something needs to change.
“It’s a really significant challenge for our society to look at our political culture and decide how do we change this to have the kind of political culture which is more welcoming to women, less combative, more focused on cooperation, less partisan and more committed to finding what we have in common instead of accentuating what we have in difference,” May said. “Our politics used to be like that.”