Home || Political Parties || Polling Data || Ridings || Marginal Seats || Women & Elections || Election Laws || Links
Women and Elections
Women only won the right to vote gradually in Canada and remain underrepresented in Parliament as well as in provincial legislatures. For a concise history of the right to vote in Canada, read Elections Canada's Evolution of the Federal Franchise.
Women Candidates and MPs
The first federal election in which women were able to vote and run as candidates was 1921. In that election, four women ran for office and Agnes Campbell MacPhail (1890-1954) made history as the first woman elected to the Canadian House of Commons. Between 1921 and 2006, 3402 women candidates stood in the 39 general elections and won on 426 occasions (I do not have the figures for by-elections); note: a number of individuals ran several times.
You can see the growth in numbers of women candidates and elected MPs in the 1921-2011 elections. This table lists the total number of candidates by party and how many were elected. A chronological list of all the women who have served as members of the House of Commons is available from Parliament, as is a summary table of female MPs & Senators by party.
Thérèse Arseneault has examined the question of whether the parliamentary representation of women would be increased if we changed the electoral system; see: "The Representation of Women and Aboriginals Under PR: Lessons from New Zealand". (pdf)
Women in the 2011 Election Campaign
The 2011 election saw 452 women candidates out of a total 1587 people running (28.5%); this represented a record high proportion of candidates in Canadian federal elections. As well, 76 women (24.7%) were elected to the House of Commons, another record figure that surpassed the previous high. Women candidates ran for office in 249 electoral districts (80.8%) across the country, the same number as in 2008. An Excel file I prepared from the preliminary results is available here, with gender and incumbency coded.
Women in the 2008 Election Campaign
The 2008 election was one of records for women in Canadian politics. 69 or 22.4% of winning candidates in the 2008 election were women. This was both a record number and record percentage of MPs who are women.
The number of women elected for each party, and the proportion of women in the party's elected caucus, are as follows:
This winning record was based on a record number of 445 women among the 1601 registered candidates. The 2008 election has also set a record proportion with women forming 27.8% of candidates. The Liberal Party has the distinction of running the highest proportion of women candidates among the major parties, at 36.8%. Across the country, 80.8% of ridings had at least one woman on the ballot. An Excel file with my data on the registered candidates is available here.
The following table presents the data on how many women and men registered as candidates for which parties in the 2008 election. Immediately below is another table which shows how many women ran in each province, as well as how many constituencies had women candidates.
** Note: Although the NDP officially have 308 candidates, two male candidates withdrew after the deadline for being dropped from the ballot; both ceased campaigning. The Liberals also dropped one female candidate after the deadline; Lesley Hughes said she would continue to campaign but would sit as an independent if elected. The Green Party lost a female candidate, Danielle Moreau, on Oct 9, when she personally withdrew from active campaigning to throw her support behind the Liberal candidate.
Women in the 2006 Election Campaign
At the close of nominations for the 2006 election, there were 380 women and 1,254 men among the 1634 candidates confirmed by Elections Canada. While the absolute number of women candidates fell from 2004, the percentage of candidates who are women remained steady at 23.2%. There was at least one woman candidate in 241 of the 308 ridings (78.2%).
With 64 women elected (20.8% of all those elected), the 2006 election campaign just one seat less than the previous record of 65 (21.1%) set in the 2004 election. The number of women elected for each party, and the proportion of women in the party's elected caucus, are as follows:
The 64 women elected represented 16.8% of all women candidates in the 2006 election. This is a somewhat lower success rate than the 19.3% success rate for men candidates.
For those who are interested in the details, you may download an Excel file I have compiled with data on women candidates in the 2006 election (341KB) - File updated January 26 - please replace any previous versions downloaded.
Source: Calculated from Elections Canada data at http://www.elections.ca/ele/39ge/loc/loc.xls and http://www.elections.ca/scripts/pss/FindED.aspx?L=e
Note: These figures include all candidates officially registered for the Liberal and Conservative Parties. Please note that after the official registration deadline, Mr Harper announced that one of his party's candidates would not be allowed to sit as a Conservative if he were elected, because of alleged wrongdoing; See the CTV news item about Derek Zeisman, who is a candidate in the riding of British Columbia Southern Interior. Mr Martin also announced that one Liberal candidate would also be excluded from the Liberal caucus, because of alleged wrongdoing; See the CBC news item about David Oliver who is a candidate in the BC riding of Abbotsford. Both individuals remained as official candidates in the election because the deadline had passed to withdraw nominations.
Women in the 2004 Election Campaign
At the close of nominations for the 2004 election, there were 391 women and 1,294 men among the 1685 candidates who had successfully filed their papers with Elections Canada. This figure represents a growth since the 2000 elections, both in the absolute numbers of women running for office and in the percentage (23.2%) of candidates who are women. However, the percentage of women candidates elected remained the same between 2004 and 2000, at 16.62%. This figure is slightly lower than the overall success rate for male candidates (18.8%); the success rates had been virtually identical in 2000.
There was at least one woman candidate in 236 of the 308 ridings. Ahunstic in Quebec had the distinction of the most women running for office - 5 out of the 7 candidates.
The CBC provides a useful list of all the women candidates in the 2004 election along with their margin of victory or loss. (Note: the CBC wrongly classified Bev Shipley as a female Conservative candidate; he is male).
A record 65 women candidates won their seats in the 2004 election, for a total 21.1% of the 308 new MPs:
Women's eNews reports that the 75 women running for the Liberal Party in the 2004 election each received $2,500 from the Judy LaMarsh Fund, to help with campaign expenses.
Source: Calculated from Elections Canada data http://www.elections.ca/ele/38e/loc/loc.xls and http://www.elections.ca/scripts/Pss/finded.aspx?L=e&page=newsearch
Women in the 2000 Election Campaign
In the 2000 elections, 373 women were among the 1808 candidates; this figure represents 20.6% of the total. Overall, 16.62% of women who ran for office in 2000 were elected, compared to 16.65% of 1435 men who ran. The NDP had the highest number of female candidates, 88 or 29.5% of their total, and the Liberals were next with 65 out of 298 candidates, or 21.8%. The Natural Law Party fielded the highest percentage of women candidates - 56.8% (25 out of 44). The Bloc Quebecois had the highest success rate among female candidates - 55.5%. The Tories and Alliance had the lowest percentage of women among all the parties, with 13.4% (39) and 10.7% (32) respectively. (Source: Library of Parliament and Elections Canada - "37th General Election Official Voting Results: Synopsis - Registered Political Parties and Candidates")
You can download or view an Excel file with the breakdown of winning candidates by sex and party.
Trends in Gender Support for Parties
Over the years, a number of phases have emerged during which there were clear differences in the levels of support that parties enjoyed among men and women. During the 1960s, for example, men were much more likely to support the NDP than women, because of the NDP association at the time with the trade union movement and labour issues. That trend reversed in more recent decades, as the party came to focus principally on general social welfare topics.
The emergence of the Reform Party and the later merger of its successor with the Progressive Conservative Party, has seen the rise of a new gender split in politics. Although there certainly have been periods where the lines have blurred, the general tendency is for the Conservative Party to attract a greater share of male support than female. A Harris Decima poll released in September 2010 reveals a year-long trend for the Conservative Party to have a strong lead in support among men. Curiously, the Liberals and Conservatives were often closely tied for support among women, and frequently traded the lead, during that period.
Gender & Voting
Each election there are some differences between the voting intentions of men and women, and the 2008 election is no exception. Early polls showed a trend seen in a number of previous polls where the Conservative Party ia much more likely to be supported by men than women. An Ipsos Reid poll conducted in August narrowed the gap to a 10 point difference between men and women (39 v. 29 per cent). An Ekos poll conducted September 2-4 showed an even larger gap; 46 per cent of men said they would vote Conservative, while only 28 per cent of women would do so. However, another Ekos poll held between September 12-14 found only a 5 point difference and no significant differences in support for other parties. An interesting distinction among women of different ages was revealed in a Strategic Counsel poll of Ontarians Oct 7-10. At an aggregate level, this poll showed an expected gender difference in supprt for the Conservatives, 34% of women vs 40% of men. However, support was much more evenly distributed across age groups among men than it was for women. Women over 50 were the single biggest group oohort of Conservative supporters (46%), while women under fifty were fairly evenly unsupportive (24% of under 35's and 27% of 35-50 year olds). Male support for the Conservative Party did not show such a strong age bias: 36% of under 35's, 43% of 35-50 year olds, and 41% of over 50's. Note, however, that Harris Decima's national poll of Oct 9-11 did not reveal as strong age cohort differences, and male support for the Conservatives among the 50 plus cohort was essentially the same (40%) as for women of the same age (39%). The big divide shown in the Harris Decima poll occurs between the support of rural(41%) and urban(27%) women for the Conservatives.
Ipsos poll conducted between January 10 and 12, 2006 found that 34% of women would vote for the Liberals, compared to 25% of men; 31% of women were intending to vote Conservative, compared to 42% of men. By the end of the campaign period, however, the gender differences became much more muted as some shifts occurred. The differences in support for the Liberals had largely disappeared, but a new one emerged for the NDP. In the Ipsos poll conducted between January 17 to 19, even the gender differences in support for the Conservative Party had greatly narrowed; 36% of women and 40% of men said they would likely vote Conservative. 21% of women said they would vote NDP, compared to 16% of men; 27% of women were willing to support the Liberals, and 25% of men said the same. These results indicate a net movement of 8% of women away from the Liberals, with 3% going to the Conservatives and 5% to the NDP.
Some gender differences could be seen in voting intentions during the 2004 election. An Ekos survey that polled Canadians between June 7 & 9 found some variation in support among decided voters, with support for the Conservative and Liberal parties showing a statistically significant difference (Conservatives: women 30% & men 38%; Liberals: women 33% & men 28%). SES polling between June 2 & 6 found that support for the Conservative and NDP parties both had gender differences that were outside the margins of error - more men than women favoured the Conservatives, and more women than men the NDP. The SES poll found more women (26%) than men (17%) did not yet know whom they would vote for. The Ekos poll, however, also revealed that differences in age and, to a lesser extent, income correspond with quite significant differences in party support.
During the 2000 election, polls revealed that a gender gap in support levels for some of the parties, as well as views on the importance of specific issues to the campaign. Two Ipsos-Reid surveys revealed that men were about 50% more likely than women to support the Alliance, while women were much more likely to support the NDP. The drop in support for the Liberals between the interview periods for the two surveys appears to largely be the result of male defections to the Alliance. You can examine the raw frequencies yourself to see the differences between the first poll conducted Oct 5-12 and the second done Oct 27-Nov.1. An article by Shawn McCarthy for the Globe & Mail, Women More Distrustful of Alliance, examined the differences in men's and women's party preferences seen in these polls. A CBC News report from November 16 revealed that the gender gap in Alliance support continued right through the campaign period.
Gender differences can also be seen in attitudes towards the various party leaders and in questions about which issues are the most important in this campaign. The Oct 5-12 Ipsos Reid survey revealed women are much more likely than men to place an emphasis on social welfare programs, while men are more likely than woman to focus on economic issues and tax cuts. The Oct 27-Nov.1 Ipsos Reid poll reveals the gender differences in attitudes towards party leaders.
Academic Research on Gender and Voting
and Vote Choice in the 2006 Canadian Election (pdf)
Knowledge and Social Capital (pdf)
to the Left? Gender Differences in Political Beliefs and Policy
Women in Politics Sites
Here are a range of web sites with more information about women in Canadian Politics:
One Woman One Vote (YWCA)
Women in Politics Interactive from the CBC
I welcome any feedback and suggestions for fresh material to add to this site -
Political Science Department -- Simon Fraser university