Representation quota: pity seats or a kick-start for change?

Lea Lamoureux speaking at a meeting to increase the representation of women in NWT politics. She said highlighting transferable skills could go a long way to get more women involved in politics. Photo/Francis Tessier-Burns.

You don’t even need all five fingers to count the number of women MLAs in the territory.

In fact, you could chop three off and still be OK.

Both MLAs Julie Green and Caroline Cochrane sit on the Special Committee to Increase the Representation of Women.

The territory has the lowest percentage of women in government across the country, at barely 10 per cent.

The committee’s goal is to increase that to 20 per cent by the 2023 election and 30 per cent by 2027—where women would hold four and six seats, respectively.

To make that happen, it’s considering introducing a temporary quota of guaranteed seats for women. So if only two women were to be elected in 2023 then two others who ran and lost would be appointed to fill the quota.

The committee has been travelling around the territory for the past couple of weeks to get feedback on the idea.

Support not quota

Many women at the Yellowknife session, held last week, weren’t sure about the quota.

Kate Reid said the seats could be used to discredit the members holding them.

“It puts that woman in a position where she constantly has to prove her worth,” she said

Reid said she’s considering running in 2023 and if she were to be appointed, she’d likely refuse the “pity seat.”

“I hope you can focus on realistic accommodations instead of rethinking the whole process,” she told the committee.

That was also Katrina Nockleby’s main point.

Nockleby, who’s an engineer, mentioned the prohibitive costs of running, the possibility of a pay cut, or even having no job if not elected are all important factors to professional women.

MLA Kevin O’Reilly, who also sits on the committee, asked about her experience of being in a male-dominated field.

“I spent a long time not feeling like I had a voice,” said Nockleby.

Better reimbursement programs—or even money up front—and legislation to guarantee a safe return to your job were all ideas that could make more women interested in running.

Lea Lamoureux mentioned a different kind of support. She focused on the potential mental barriers and suggested highlighting transferable skills.

She gave the example of balancing a hectic schedule with kids transfers to good time management skills.

MLA Cochrane agreed, saying that her past experience as “a street kid,” as an administrator in a childcare centre and other seemingly unrelated jobs helped inform her time as minister of housing and education.

“I think you’ve hit a point that I haven’t heard,” she said. “We need to look at that because our skills are transferable.”

Radical change

Jolene Saturnino sees the seat quota as an opportunity rather than a temporary solution.

She compared the idea to employment equity, a hiring practice that specifically targets increased representation of minority groups.

Saturnino was ultimately advocating for a proportional representation system saying, “I think in the Northwest Territories, what we need is radical change.”

And the seats would be the first step in that change.

She also drew on her experience as an Indigenous woman.

“As an Indigenous woman in a senior management position, I don’t ever think to myself ‘I got this job because I’m an Aboriginal person or because I’m a woman,” she said, “I got that job because I earned it and I’m also an Aboriginal woman.”

She said the same would go if she was appointed to the legislature—which may happen given she said she’s looking to run one day.

Not just women who need better representation

Simply put: having more women in the legislature doesn’t mean better representation for non-binary, transgender and two-spirit people.

CKLB asked Green if after hearing this issue mentioned at the Yellowknife session if the committee would consider any measures to increase the representation of the wider LGBTQ+ community?

“The committee is not looking into the issue,” said Green via email. “There is nothing stopping anyone from running, including non-binary self-identification or any aspect of sexual orientation.”

With that perspective, there’s technically nothing preventing women from running either, yet there are still few who choose to do so.

CKLB asked Green if she thought the recommendations from the committee will help increase representation for these folks, or if there should be more long-term efforts for better representation of people who are non-binary, transgender and/or two-spirit.

“The specific mandate of the committee is to address the underrepresentation of women… I do not expect the committee’s final report to specifically mention transgender or non-binary people, or racialized non-Indigenous minorities, all of whom are currently underrepresented. I do hope that in identifying barriers to running for women, these measures will be helpful to any segment of society that is currently underrepresented,” said Green.

If you want to have your say, the committee is planning future meetings. Dates will be available on the Legislative Assembly’s website.

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