Canadian women push for larger political role

WITH a federal election possible later this year, Canadian women are preparing to do battle for greater political power. The National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC), a federation of 576 women's groups in Canada, at its annual meeting in mid-May dwelt on the theme of feminism and political power.

Though torn by a longstanding internal debate on the process of policymaking, the committee agreed on the need to win women a greater role in Canada's political system. Moreover, the committee will be pressing for a public debate by the leaders of the three major political parties on solely women's issues. The NAC sponsored such a debate during the last election campaign, in 1984, an event it considered to be a first in Western industrial countries.

On Mother's Day, some 25 leaders of women's groups across Canada met here to talk about women and politics. Their goal: to have women occupy half the seats in the House of Commons by 1994.

By international standards, women hold considerable political power in Canada. They occupy 9.9 percent of the 282 seats in the House, compared with 3.6 percent in the British House of Commons, 4.5 percent in the United States Congress, and 4.4 percent in the French national legislature. But no woman has ever been prime minister in Ottawa or a provincial premier, although they are frequently mayors or coun-cilors.

Jamie Fortier would like to see more women running for office in Canada. ``My theory is that the last 15 to 20 years have seen women move into the business world and the back room of politics and get a lot of experience,'' says the outgoing chairman of Canadian Women for Political Representations (CWPR). ``Now there are a lot of women willing and ready to run.''

With a federal election due later this year or next, a number of women like Ms. Fortier are educating and training women in the ways of the political machinery. If women work for a candidate, what different tasks are available? How should a woman run for nomination as a party candidate for member of Parliament? How can women win appointments to the Canadian Senate or to various boards and commissions?

Such topics were explored at the Mother's Day gathering. It followed a larger two-day conference here, entitled ``The Political Woman,'' to explore techniques for involving more women in the political process. It was organized by the ``multi-partisan'' CWPR and other women's groups.

The members of CWPR live in the Ottawa area. Similar groups are being organized in other Canadian provinces. In Toronto, the Committee for 94 has been working to get more women active in Ontario politics.

``This is a cause,'' says Marcia McKay, president of the Business and Professional Women's Club in Ottawa, another group that sponsored the Ottawa conference. Supporters of this cause will measure their progress against the 1994 goal of having 50 percent of the seats not only in the House of Commons, but also in other elective and appointed positions across Canada, occupied by women, she said.

Ms. McKay rejoiced in the nomination May 9 of Maureen McTeer, wife of External Affairs Minister Joe Clark, as the Progressive Conservative candidate for a new Ottawa riding (district) in the next federal election, whenever that date is set by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Mr. Mulroney is proud of his Progressive Conservative government's record in making appointments of women to government office. During his 1984 election campaign, he promised to double the number of female political appointees to agencies, boards, and commissions, and he has done so. Women now hold 30.9 percent of the 2,613 such jobs - up from 15 percent.

In a recent talk to the Canadian Daily Newspaper Publishers Association, he also boasted about the three women in the Cabinet (compared with one in the previous two Liberal governments) sitting on the key Priorities and Planning Committee; the 58 female federal judges (up from 37), including two on the Supreme Court of Canada; the 12 women foreign ambassadors or heads of posts (up from two); and the doubling of the number of women serving as deputy minister, associate deputy minister, or equivalent rank in the civil service.

The Canadian women's movement is unusual in that it is partly sponsored by federal and provincial grants.

In Ottawa, a ``Women's Program'' under the secretary of state, a Cabinet position, spends $12.9 million (Canadian; US$10.4 million) in grants and other assistance to women's groups. For instance, it and the Employment and Immigration Department helped sponsor the conference last weekend.

Each of the 10 provinces and two territories also has a minister responsible for helping women.

``We are leaders and catalysts in the realization of equality for women,'' says Kaye Stanley, coordinator of Status of Women. This government agency advises the secretary of state on potential impacts on women of proposed federal policies and programs. It was formed in 1976 on the recommendation of a Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada.

An independent body, the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women was created by the federal government in 1973 on recommendation of the same royal commission. This Cabinet-appointed and government-funded group of 27 members (two of them men) has the role of representing ``as fully as possible the concerns, values, and aspirations of all Canadian women'' to the government.

The Advisory Council does research on such issues as child care, health, women in agriculture, jobs strategy, immigration policies, pornography, and pensions. It also sponsors conferences, including one in March here on ``Women and Power.''

Sylvia Gold, the council's president, says, ``All structures in society must incorporate the voices and experience of women.''

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