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Women in the Parliament of Canada and Provincial and Territorial Legislatures

Over the 83 years spanning women’s entry into Canadian legislatures from 1917 to the turn of the century in 2000, 618 women were elected or appointed to the Parliament of Canada, and provincial and territorial legislatures.[1] Women represented over 20% of the House of Commons (20.6%) for the first time in 1997, and the proportion of Members of Parliament who were women remained consistent until the 2008 general election, when it increased to 22.4%. Most recently, in the 2021 federal election, women won 103 of the 338 seats in the House of Commons, achieving what the United Nations deems to be
a “critical mass” representation of at least 30% women. Progress, however, remains slow: “women’s representation in the 44th Parliament is only 0.9% higher than that at the time of the dissolution of the 43rd Parliament in August 2021. As of 1 October 2021, Canada ranked 59th worldwide in terms of women’s representation in national lower or single houses of parliament.”[2] As of January 2022, female representation was higher in the Senate than in the House of Commons: 45 of the 92 appointed Senators (48.9%) were women.

A.       The Parliament of Canada

In 1921, Agnes Macphail became the first woman elected to the House of Commons and the only woman to serve in the 14th Parliament. In the Senate, Cairine Wilson was sworn in as Canada’s first female senator in 1930, and the Senate’s first female Speaker, the Honourable Muriel McQueen Fergusson, was appointed in 1972. Several years later, in 1980, the Right Honourable Jeanne Sauvé became the first female Speaker of the House of Commons. She also became Canada’s first female Governor General in 1983. In a Canadian first, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed equal numbers of men and women to the federal cabinet in 2015, a practice he continued following the 2019 and 2021 elections.

B.       Provincial and Territorial Legislatures

In 1917, Louise Crummy McKinney and Roberta Catherine MacAdams Price were the first two women to be elected to a legislature in Canada, and in the British Empire, when they were elected to the Alberta Legislative Assembly. Between 1918 and 1970, the remaining provinces followed suit and began electing women to their legislatures. Today, the proportion of women in provincial and territorial legislatures varies across Canada. As of June 2022, six of the 13 provincial and territorial legislatures had more than 35% female representation: Northwest Territories (47.4%); Quebec (44%); British Columbia (42.5%); the Yukon (42.1%); Ontario (37.9%); and Nova Scotia (37.3%).

In the territories, G. Jean Gordon was the first woman elected to the Yukon Territorial Council in 1967, serving until 1970. In the Northwest Territories, Lena (Elizabeth Magdalena) Pedersen was the first woman, and the first Inuit woman to be elected to the Northwest Territories Council in 1970. Finally, in Nunavut’s first election in 1999, Manitok Catherine Thompson was the first, and only, woman among the 11 female candidates to be elected to the Nunavut Legislature.

C.       Women as Leaders in the Parliament of Canada, and Provincial and Territorial Legislatures

The Right Honourable Kim Campbell became Canada’s first female Prime Minister on 25 June 1993, serving until 4 November 1993. Canada’s first female premier was Rita Margaret Johnston in British Columbia, who was chosen acting premier on 2 April 1991 and served until her party’s defeat on 17 October 1991. The first elected female premier was Catherine Callbeck, who was elected premier of Prince Edward Island in 1993. Nellie J. Cournoyea was the first Indigenous female government leader, when she was elected premier of the Northwest Territories, in November 1991. As of June 2022, two of Canada’s 13 current premiers are women, the Honourable Caroline Cochrane of the Northwest Territories and the Honourable Heather Stefanson, Premier of Manitoba.

[1]          Manon Tremblay and Linda Trimble, “Women Politicians in Canada’s Parliament and Legislatures, 1917–2000: A Socio-demographic Profile,” Women and Electoral Politics in Canada, 2003.

[2]          Clare Annett and Dominique Montpetit, “Women in the Parliament of Canada: 100 Years of Representation,” HillNotes, Library of Parliament, 1 December 2021.

June 30, 2022