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Women still lack political representation: Senator

In last week's federal Leader's Debates, Green Party leader Elizabeth May was the only woman to take the stage, as was the case in 2015, 2011, and 2008
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A polling station on election day (Allister Aalders/

Senator Donna Dasko spent the majority of her pre-senate career as a pollster.

"I had a lot of chances to look at public opinion over the years," she says. "And I don't think voters have anything against voting for women."

Despite that, somehow, political representation of women at all levels is only about 35 per cent, according to a report from the Standing Committee on the Status of Women earlier this year.

"I think it's mainly because of the way our political institutions are structured. I don't think it has anything to do with Canadian voters or anything like that," Dasko tells NEWS 95.7's The Todd Veinotte Show.

As an advocate of women in politics since the early 1990s, Dasko says she has seen growth, just not as much as she'd hoped.

"To me the progress is really not all that impressive," the Senator explains.

Dasko says that Canada was once a leader in the world for women in politics, but now is ranked #61.

"If you think about how highly our country ranks in so many other dimensions, standard of living, quality of life," she says. "Canada is number one, number two, always in the top numbers. And yet we're 61 when it comes to this?"

In last week's federal Leader's Debates, Green Party leader Elizabeth May was the only woman to take the stage, as was the case in 2015, 2011, and 2008.

In fact, the last woman before May to represent a party in a federal election was Alexa McDonough of the NDP in 1997, although Rona Ambrose was leader of the opposition from 2015-2017.

"The political parties themselves don't seem to take it as seriously as they should in terms of nominating women to run," says Dasko.

Even on a provincial level within Canada, the Senator thinks the atmosphere still promotes an "old boy's club" mentality.

"Back in 2013, not all that long ago, we had six female premiers," she says. "This past summer's Premier's Conference? Not one woman is left. That's the sort of thing that you look at and you scratch your head and say, how could this be? It's 2019."

People negatively view using "quotas," Dasko says. Instead, she suggests implementing "targets" for gender parity. Although these methods haven't made it to the political sphere yet, Dasko says they're already in place in the private sector.

"I think it would help if we had some kind of mechanisms," she says. "Financial incentives for nominating more women, or penalties for not nominating women."

This election season, Dasko is hopeful about the women nominated making strides.

"We see strong women in every political party," she says. "We know they're there, we know that women can do great things in politics. We just have to bring them forward."

Victoria  Walton

About the Author: Victoria Walton

Victoria is's weekend editor and a Halifax-based freelancer. She is originally from Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley.
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