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Thursday, 29 May 2014

Are we any closer to gender parity in cabinet?

by Manon Tremblay and Daniel Stockemer

Manon Tremblay’s and Daniel Stockemer’s article, which appeared December 2013 in Canadian Public Administration, examines ministerial careers in federal, provincial, and territorial cabinets from 1921 to December 2010.

Three things to know about female ministers in Canada:

  1. Mary Ellen Smith was the first female minister in Canada and the Commonwealth; she was nominated to cabinet in British Columbia in 1921.
  2. Ellen Fairclough was the first female federal cabinet member. She was appointed by conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker at the junior position of secretary of State of Canada in 1957.
  3. 336 women have served as ministers at the federal or provincial level between 1921 and 2010. This number represents roughly 10 percent of the number of men, who served in any federal or provincial executive during the same time span.

Three myths about female ministers in Canada:

Myth #1: There is equal representation between the sexes in the federal and provincial executive branches.

The Reality: Despite the fact that women’s cabinet representation has increased from less than 5 percent in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s to 25 percent in 2010, currently, women still only occupy 1 out of 4 ministerial portfolios at the federal and provincial levels.

Myth #2: Women’s ministers have diversified their portfolios over the decades.

The Reality: Women’s assignments are still confined to so-called “pink portfolios” such as culture or education. Women are still literally absent from so-called “hard portfolios” such as finance or the economy.

Myth #3: Female ministers’ personal characteristics are different than male ministers’ characteristics.

The Reality: Similar to men, women parliamentarians at the provincial and federal level have the highest chances to be assigned to ministerial duties if they enter parliament for the first time at an early age (e.g. 30), have prior parliamentary experience  prior to their nomination and college, or better master’s, level education.

Daniel Stockemer is Assistant Professor at the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa. His research interests include political representation and participation. Prof. Stockemer has published over 40 articles in these and related areas

Manon Tremblay is a Full Professor at the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa.  Her research interests include gender and politics, as well as legislative politics. Prof. Tremblay has written or edited more than 20 books and numerous articles in her areas of research.

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