338 women take seats in House of Commons for first time
Published Wednesday, March 8, 2017 6:33PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, March 8, 2017 11:49PM EST
OTTAWA -- The House of Commons looked a little different from usual on Wednesday morning as 338 women -- including 70 indigenous women -- took it over for International Women's Day.
One woman from each riding in Canada was chosen to visit Ottawa and learn what it would be like to be an MP, through a program called Daughters of the Vote. The week-long event was organized by Equal Voice, an organization dedicated to encouraging women to run for office.
The 338 women who sat in the House Wednesday outnumber the total number of women ever elected there, which stands at 315 over Canadian history. The 2015 election saw the most women ever elected to the House: 88, or 26 per cent of seats.
The women's few days in Ottawa seemed to have the desired impact.
"I always said that I wanted to run [for office], not before I was at least 40, maybe even 50 years old," said Quebec delegate Laurie-Anne Forget-Giguere, explaining that she felt she had to do more to earn a nomination.
Now, she says, she wants to start on her political career as soon as possible.
"It's a dream of [mine] to be elected, to be an MP, to work here on Parliament Hill," she said.
Michaela Glasgo of Alberta says she's been told she should run for office, but had always seen herself working in a background role instead.
"I didn't really think that I could do it... I can honestly say that I am definitely considering running [some day]," she said Wednesday.
"We can change things, we can be voices for people who often don't have voices."
Nancy Peckford, executive director of Equal Voice, says the goal of the event was to get women into the House and to see its power.
"They have a right to be there. And moreover, through this program, they have a responsibility to seek and serve in elected office in some capacity down the road, or to certainly help with other women," she said.
"We knew that at the heart of this program, Daughters of the Vote was making sure every delegate sat in their seat in the House of Commons because there's something extraordinary about being in that place."
Thirty-one of them then had the chance to make statements on issues about which they are passionate. The statements ranged from the gender gap in the House of Commons to mental health services and First Nations education. Many of them described deeply personal struggles, including poverty, racism, depression and dealing with a physical disability. When their voices broke or their eyes teared up, the women around them applauded in support.
As the delegates made their statements, dozens of MPs listened from the gallery above the House.
Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef says Daughters of the Vote is something that's never been done before.
"These women are here to get a taste of what it's like to be in Ottawa, to be members of Parliament. But also they're here to see how they fit within the broader picture of change-making," Monsef said.
Each federal party leader addressed the women, with former prime minister Kim Campbell kicking off their time in the House.
Campbell says people get their sense of the world from the landscape in which they function.
"If our landscape doesn't include women parliamentarians, if our landscape doesn't include women leaders, women managers, women directors, in all of these different fields -- women conductors of orchestras -- then when we see a woman doing that job, we will feel uncomfortable," she said.
"And so what we need to do is change the landscape. And sometimes for the first people who take those steps, it can be painful. But we gradually change people's assumptions about who gets to do the job and what is the natural order of things."