April 25, 2012 — The next time provincial and territorial leaders meet, four of the 13 people at the table will be women. In the past year, two of those women—Newfoundland’s Kathy Dunderdale and, just this Monday, Alberta’s Alison Redford—have led their parties to electoral victory.
Will the nature of Canadian political discourse change now that women comprise approximately 30 per cent of our leadership? Will women’s voices raise different issues, or bring fresh perspective to standing issues?
Shari Graydon, who has led an initiative to increase the media presence of women with expertise in a wide range of disciplines, suggests that women do make a difference. In a recent Globe and Mail article, she notes that, as women become more engaged in providing context on “issues ranging from tax policy, emergency preparedness and mental health, to refugee rights, climate change and the need for a national food strategy, [...they’re also making] references to families, community, safety, health and education. More women engaging in the public discourse does, indeed, shift the conversation.”
And what about the Alberta election itself? The country has been fascinated by the contest between two strong women, either of whom could have been premier on Tuesday morning. It was almost equally fascinating to see the absence of comment about gender.
A week or so before the election, I was in Calgary. Naturally, the election was a hot topic of discussion and debate. I was surprised, delighted and gratified to hear discussions that focused on the ideas and strengths of these two leaders who happen to be women, rather than commentary about “women leaders”.
It may have been the presence of two strong, and very different, women that precluded the subtext of gender that has boxed women into stereotypes so frequently in the past.
Or, more optimistically, have we achieved a new political maturity that puts ideas and policies ahead of gender?