Canada politics: new era for women

Seventy-two years after winning the right to vote, Canadian women are suddenly politically important and the three major parties are scrambling for the female vote.

For starters, the incumbent Liberals, the Progressive Conservatives, who are likely to win the Sept. 4 parliamentary elections, and the New Democrats have recruited l29 women among them as candidates - 60 more than they had in l980. Many are running in a campaign for the first time.

At least 30 are likely to win. Although that would be double the number of women in the last Parliament, it is still small compared to the number of men. In all, there are l,447 candidates for the 282 seats.

The three major parties are making a case that they have begun to ''change things when it comes to women as candidates and as party officials,'' as a Liberal Party spokesman in Ottawa put it.

In addition to recruiting a record number of women candidates, the three parties are paying attention to women's issues as never before and promising to give women important government jobs.

''You could have 100 women running (on the Liberal ticket),'' says Lucie Pepin, the Liberal candidate who is likely to win in fashionable Outremont here. ''But if they are shoved into places where there is no chance of winning, it means nothing. Now women are getting the support and confidence of the team. It is a new era.''

Brigitte Fortier, a Liberal campaign worker, agrees. ''Women are moving into federal politics from the general work force, the political backrooms, the feminist movement, and the community. The (Liberal) party is looking for them and making room for them.''

The same is true of the Conservatives and especially the New Democrats, who are fielding 65 women candidates. The Liberals have 43 in the contest, the Conservatives, 21.

One of those Conservatives is Monique B. Tardif, who is seeking the seat held by Liberal Peter Bussiere in Charlesbourg, a riding (district) just north of Quebec City. The polls suggest she is likely to win.

The parties are also embracing feminist issues. They have, for example, supported affirmative action programs for the hiring and training of women.

''There are not enough women in jobs of responsibility in business, in the academic work, in the marketplace, and indeed in politics,'' says Prime Minister John Turner, the Liberal Party leader. In campaign speeches, he cites statistics that show women hold 7 percent of ''executive jobs.'' On average, women in Canada's work force earn 60 percent of what men earn.

Brian Mulroney, whose Conservatives are leading in pre-election polls, says: ''We recognize (the party's) omissions of the past. And we resolve to change the picture.''

Women who have served in Parliament include stalwarts like Conservative Flora MacDonald, who was first elected in 1972 and served briefly as minister of external affairs during the short Tory government in the late l970s.

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