Started by slayton, Oct 16, 2010, 10:20 AM
No old boys' club here: Quebec's push for gender parityGLORIA GALLOWAYOttawa-- From Friday's Globe and MailPublished Friday, Oct. 15, 2010 2:38PM EDTThe suggestion that quotas be imposed to increase the participation of women in Canadian politics sparks a visceral response from those who label such measures as unwarranted and anti-democratic.But Quebec has been setting targets to get more women into that province's legislature and senior administrative positions for several years. And Premier Jean Charest is proud of the strides that have been made. Mr. Charest spoke to The Globe and Mail this week to outline the steps he has taken. What have you done to increase the number of women MPs sitting as Liberal members of the Quebec National Assembly?Within the party, when I became leader, we actively sought to increase the number of women candidates. And I was very involved in that personally. The issue isn't so much whether or not we are able to attract them as whether we can actually offer them ridings in which they will get elected. Parties have had the bad habit of increasing their percentages of [female] candidates by putting women in ridings where they can't hope to get elected. And we did the reverse. And it did create some tension within the party. But it did allow us to increase substantially the number of women who ran for us as candidates.Have you managed to do better than the federal Parliament where just 22 per cent of MPs are women?At this point, in the Assembly in Quebec, close to 30 per cent of the elected members are women. We are at 29.8 per cent. That's close to the record we had in 2003, which was 40 women. We now have 37 out of 125. In my caucus, it's 32.3 per cent. In the Péquiste caucus it's 29.4 per cent. And in the ADQ they are at 25 per cent but there are only four members - one woman out of four. You have to be careful [looking at percentages of women in small caucuses]. I used to have parity. When I was in federal politics, there was Elsie Wayne and me [in the two-person Progressive Conservative caucus after the 1993 election].What about the management of boards and provincial Crown corporations? I understand you have significantly increased the number of women in those jobs.I very deliberately set out objectives to name more women and our people kept saying there were none and they were looking and, you know, they couldn't find any. And so I became frustrated with that and in 2006 I decided that we would legislate parity on Crown corporations. So we brought in the law that makes it mandatory, by 2012, that 24 of our Crown corporations have gender parity on the boards. We wanted more women but they could not be found. And when we brought in the law, all of a sudden, they were discovered.What have you done to increase the number of women in your government?In 2007, when we became a minority government, I brought in a cabinet with gender parity. And it had a very interesting life because when we became the government again in 2008 we weren't quite at parity. There was a majority of one man. At this point, I lost one of my ministers, Claude Béchard, who passed away recently. And now, because of that, we have a majority of women in cabinet, 12 women and 11 men. It makes a big, big difference.What sort of difference has it made to policy?It has had a big reflection on the policy frameworks in Quebec. Our family policies, for example, are very forward looking. The family policies we have cost us a lot of money [like] the universal daycare. The parental leave program that we negotiated with the federal government is the most flexible in North America and has put a very strong accent on men having access to parental leave, which is key to returning women into the labour market ... it has allowed us to increase the birth rate. We now lead Canada.This interview has been condensed and edited.