In 2018, Ontario set a record for the most female MPPs ever elected.
In 2022, that record suffered a slight setback.
Women will now make up 39 per cent of Ontario’s legislature — a slight drop from a record high of 39.5 per cent when the Progressive Conservatives under Doug Ford won their first majority government four years ago.
In its second majority government, some 23 of the 83 seats held by the PC party are represented by women. The NDP saw 19 women and non-binary members elected out of the 31 seats it won. Four of eight Liberal MPPs at Queen’s Park are women, as is one Independent.
In 2018, 49 ridings were represented by women — giving Ontario the highest percentage of female members in the country — compared to the 47 won by women on June 2, leaving the province behind several provinces and territories, including Quebec, B.C. and the Northwest Territories.
“It is discouraging to see the lack of progress in women and gender diverse people elected as MPPs in Canada’s most populous province of Ontario,” said Eleanor Fast, executive director of the non-partisan Equal Voice, an organization that works to increase the number of females elected to political office.
“There were a lot of factors at play,” Fast said. “We looked at the nominations of women, and we tracked really carefully the four main parties … in terms of their numbers, and what we saw was the Conservatives had 27 per cent of their candidates being women, and the other parties were up (over half).”
However, she added, a lot of great women were elected, and “we’re hoping to see many of them in prominent positions and cabinet … You can’t always control what voters will do in terms of electing people, but the premier has complete control over who he puts in his cabinet, and I think that will be a measure of their commitment to gender parity.”
Christina Wramhed, director of communications for the Ontario PC Party, said it has a “proud history of attracting strong, talented and capable women” and noted “we are the party that had the first female cabinet minister, first female deputy premier, and first female finance minister. And, just two weeks ago, 70 per cent of the female candidates that ran under our banner were elected — including, for the first time in our party’s history, two Black Canadian women.”
One of them is Patrice Barnes (Ajax), a former Durham school board trustee who first ran for political office eight years ago.
She is one of three Black MPPs elected under the PC banner, along with Charmaine Williams in Brampton Centre and David Smith in Scarborough Centre.
“I think it is amazing and because seeing yourself is a big piece — and sometimes you don’t want to be the only person in a space,” she said of the growing number of Black MPPs. “And for younger people, just to be more vested in politics and decisions that are being made and being able to across the board in all parties is very empowering.”
Overall, about one-quarter of MPPs elected to Queen’s Park are from diverse communities.
Barnes said that for “candidates of colour, it is harder because you’re navigating systemic pieces, like not necessarily being in a network where you can raise the funds to run a campaign, not having the connections that you need for guidance.” She credits former PC education minister Janet Ecker as a mentor.
“For me, I’ve been the only Black person in a lot of venues as trustee, and that has given me the opportunity to build confidence and learn how to navigate those pieces, where not everybody has.”
Jill Andrew, who was re-elected in Toronto-St. Paul’s, noted the NDP has almost 65 per cent women and non-binary members, compared to 39 per cent overall, “which is not a passing grade.”
“If we don’t have that level of diversity in the legislature, legislation put forth cannot and will not reflect the very intricate needs of those under-represented groups,” she said.
Mitzie Hunter, who was re-elected in her Scarborough-Guildwood riding, said the PCs could have “easily encouraged or recruited women to run in several safe seats,” but did not.
Former MP and labour leader Peggy Nash, author of “Women Winning Office: An Activist’s Guide to Getting Elected,” blamed the PCs for dragging the number of women down in the Ontario legislature and “that really comes down to the recruitment of the party, and whether or not even the smaller numbers of women ran in winnable seats … I think what’s holding us back is the Conservative party does not have a strong enough commitment to women’s parity in politics.”
Nash, who is also chair of the Centre for Labour Management Relations at Toronto Metropolitan University, said “this is an issue of party recruitment … if parties decide this is a priority, they will ensure that long before an election they’re out recruiting candidates to run” and ensuring a diverse slate.
But PC MPP Donna Skelly, who was re-elected in Flamborough-Glanbrook, said Ford is sensitive in having a caucus that reflects Ontario. “He encourages people to run for our party and believes strongly that we should represent Ontario and that means having a very diverse caucus, and that’s exactly what we will have going back this summer,” she said.
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After setting a record in 2018, Ontario’s number of female MPPs has dipped