Elizabeth May, Jody Wilson-Raybould, and Michelle Rempel-Garner among seven guests across the political spectrum
On Dec. 8, Elect Her UVic, a club dedicated to promoting the participation of women and marginalized communities in politics, hosted their very first Women in Politics panel discussion. The panel brought together seven women who are involved in the Canadian political scene to speak about their experiences and the continued underrepresentation of women and minority groups in politics.
The hour-and-a-half panel began with a series of questions posed to the panelists by Elect Her board members and then transitioned into a Q&A discussion which allowed for audience members to ask the panelists their own questions. Total attendance fluctuated between 30 to 40 for the majority of the panel.
Sitting Members of Parliament Elizabeth May, Michelle Rempel-Garner, and Jody Wilson-Raybould were present. As three of 98 women in the House of Commons, they have seen firsthand the experiences of women in the upper-echelons of the Canadian government which is still often referred to as a “boy’s club.”
Other guests included Victoria City Councillor Sarah Potts, BC Liberal Party Senior Director Rachael Segal, Secretary-Treasurer of BC Federation of Labour Susanne Skidmore, and the Vice President of Business Development & Government Relations at Canadian Strategy Group Melissa Caouette.
Many panelists spoke about their experience of being a woman in politics and being confronted with the patriarchal nature of our power structures. A few admitted that they had been unaware of the barriers facing women who want to get politically involved before getting involved themselves.
Rempel-Garner said that she didn’t fully understand the way that women are tokenized in the political system before being elected.
In politics, tokenization is when political parties put forward female or minority candidates in unwinnable ridings. This is done to make the party appear diverse while also maintaining the hegemony of the majority male population over the party. For women and minority groups, tokenization continues to be a significant barrier to entering political office.
Even as an MP, Rempel-Garner still feels the need to overcome such prejudiced views based on her gender.
“For me, my lived experience has been the moments where I have pulled that back forcefully and violently, and said, ‘No, I’m not going to be tokenized in this situation, and there will be change, and I don’t care if it’s uncomfortable for you’,” she told the audience.
Meanwhile, Wilson-Raybould spoke about her experience of being both a woman and a member of the We Wai Kai Nation as well as a descendant of the Musgamagw Tsawataineuk and Laich-Kwil-Tach peoples. She says that her background and upbringing gave her the tools needed to confront a system that actively works against her. Wilson-Raybould holds a dual degree in Political Science and History from UVic graduating in 1996.
“I come from a long line of matriarchs and have been raised to believe in myself and to know that I have skills and abilities, whatever they are, to contribute back to community,” said Wilson-Raybould. “It’s that lived experience and those teachings that have enabled me to enter into politics.”
Panelists brought up the lack of engagement and support that candidates from diverse backgrounds often receive. They said that many barriers still exist and represent hindrances to the entry of women and other marginalized communities into politics.
One topic that occupied the minds of many of the panelists was the lack of transgender candidates in recent elections, even as campaigns for equitable representation in the political system gain traction.
All the panelists brought up the need for those within the political system to be good allies and help facilitate the candidacy of members of marginalized or underrepresented communities.
“We have elected people in the room who have positions of power, who can help shift the systems. Language is important,” said Skidmore.
Skidmore noted that barriers still exist in the candidacy process for women and people of diverse backgrounds. Diverse candidates are often placed in unwinnable ridings while male candidates get prime candidacies and are then more likely to win a seat.
Lastly, the panelists spoke about the need for action over words. This includes fundraising, media support, and the active seeking of more diverse representation by political parties. While female representation has grown over the years, there are currently only 98 women in parliament holding 29 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons. Here in BC, women make up 40 per cent of the provincial legislature.
“We all have to move beyond talk and start violently standing up for less tokenization and more real action,” said Rempel-Garner.