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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 2019 federal election, women won 98 of the 338 seats (29.0%) in the House of Commons. An additional four women would need to be elected in order for Canada’s House of Commons to reach what the United Nations deems to be a “critical mass” representation of at least 30% women. As of November 2019, female representation was higher in the Senate than the House of Commons: 49 of the 100 appointed Senators (49%) 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, the Right Honourable Jeanne Sauvé became the first female Speaker of the House of Commons in 1980. She also became Canada’s first female Governor General in 1983. Most recently, for the first time in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed equal numbers of men and women to the federal cabinet in 2015.

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 November 2019, five of the 13 provincial and territorial legislatures had more than 30% female representation: Northwest Territories (42.1%); Ontario (37.9%); British Columbia (39.1%); Nova Scotia (31.4%); and the Yukon (31.2%).

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, serving from 25 June 1993 to 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 October 2019, one of Canada’s 13 current premiers is a woman, the Honourable Caroline Cochrane of the Northwest Territories.

[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.

November 26, 2019