Despite more women and diverse candidates running in Newfoundland and Labrador’s 51st general election that ever before, it didn’t equate to more women getting elected to the legislature — a result the province’s Equal Voice chapter calls disappointing.
There were 41 female and one non-binary candidates in the running out of 127 candidates in total this election. That’s 12 more compared to 2019, when 29 threw their hat in the ring, and more than the 33 who ran in 2015.
On Saturday, nine women were elected to serve in the House of Assembly — seven Liberals and two Progressive Conservatives — which is status quo with the 2019 general election ratio of 22.5 per cent.
The only female party leader, New Democrat Alison Coffin, lost her St. John’s East-Quidi Vidi seat by 53 votes.
“I think all the parties did a great job recruiting more women and diverse candidates this time around, for sure. But we didn’t necessarily see a whole lot of net gains,” says Gillian Pearson, co-chair of Equal Voice NL, which is a multi-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to getting more women elected to office in Canada.
“The Liberal Party did get a couple of more women in there, which is awesome.”
While disappointed, Pearson, who ran for the Tories in 2019, says she’s not surprised more women didn’t make gains in this election.
“There were a lot of women who ran in districts that weren’t necessarily strongholds for their party,” Pearson said.
Women often face barriers such as fundraising the large amounts of money needed to run in an election, Pearson said, plus many have to balance childcare and elder care in order to run a campaign.
She says it often takes women longer to decide if they’re going to throw their hat in the ring, since the stakes are higher and running puts a strain on their resources.
That’s something that hit many candidates especially hard, Pearson said, given the drawn-out nature of this extended election punctuated by a COVID-19 lockdown.
We really don’t want to see this election in particular to have a chilling effect on the types and amounts and of women who are coming forward.– Gilian Pearson
“Some candidates, depending on their type of work, were able to resume work, but a lot were not, depending on what the situation with their employment was,” she said.
“You have a lot of candidates who could not return to work who were on an unexpected unpaid leave. For women that means they’re more likely to be single parents, they’re more likely to have lower paying jobs than their male counterparts, so you add in that extra layer of difficulty and some of the women candidates probably fared a little worse because of this extended period than others.”
Baby’s first campaign
Sarah Stoodley was one of the nine women elected on Saturday, winning her re-election campaign in the district of Mount Scio.
In October, the new mother and Liberal cabinet minister brought her 12-day-old son, Alexander, into the House of Assembly, following a change in legislation allowing elected officials to bring their babies to work.
During this election campaign, Stoodley brought now-four-month-old Alexander on the trail with her. It was a unique experience, she said, especially compared to 2019 when she could campaign all day long without stopping.
“It was also interesting breastfeeding while knocking on doors, that comes with its own logistical challenges and trying to stay hydrated enough and pumping in the back of your car and that kind of thing,” said Stoodley.
“But we made it work.”
She calls the shift to virtual campaigning while in Alert Level 5 a silver lining, since she could call residents of the district from her home and then slip away to feed her baby, which she said was much easier.
Stoodley said she hopes the women and non-binary candidates who ran but didn’t win in this election will try again, and she hopes to see more people step up and support them by contributing financially or volunteering.
Introduce income supplement
Meanwhile, to improve the process for women, Pearson said the parties need to get more women involved at the grassroots level and through district associations, and start preparing women to run for election up to two years in advance.
When it comes to democratic reform, Pearson said the playing field could be levelled by placing financial caps on the amount of money which can be spent during a campaign.
She also believes childcare and elder care should be an allowable campaign expense, and there should be help for people who have to step away from their jobs in order to run for election.
“We have to introduce some sort of income supplement for candidates that are deciding to run but without income, because that’s a huge deterrent for women and marginalized candidates, because it’s just way too difficult to take that leap,” Pearson said.
Electing more women to all levels of office is important, Pearson said, because it will better reflect society’s makeup.
“Women bring much different styles of leadership to the table, they have a breadth of different experiences both professional and lived,” Pearson said.
“And in terms of the outcomes we see when more women are involved in decision-making, it is really well documented in many cases when you have women involved, social and educational outcomes are much better.”
Pearson said Equal Voice NL will launch new initiatives this year to help women candidates in the future.
“We really don’t want to see this election in particular to have a chilling effect on the types and amounts and of women who are coming forward,” Pearson said, “so we want to continue to do our work in terms of campaign schools and information sessions.”