National Post

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Wednesday, October 27, 1999

Parties that push women candidates may get more funds
Minister's initiative: Suggestion made to committee studying election law
Joel-Denis Bellavance
National Post

OTTAWA - Don Boudria, the federal minister responsible for electoral reform, yesterday suggested national political parties should be given financial inducements to recruit more women candidates in federal elections.

Mr. Boudria said such a measure would certainly encourage political parties to make a more serious effort at recruiting women, who remain the most under-represented segment of Canadian society in the House of Commons.

In the last election, 63 women were elected in the 301-seat Commons, bringing the proportion of women MPs to 20.9 % -- its highest level in Canadian history, but well short of its percentage (51%) of the general population.

Mr. Boudria said political parties that have a high number of women running as candidates could be rewarded by having a bigger portion of their campaign expenses paid back by the state.

Currently, the state reimburses 22.5% of the expenses that national political parties incur during election campaigns.

Mr. Boudria made the suggestion to members of the standing committee on procedure and house affairs as they began to study Bill C-2, the new Canada Elections Act, which he introduced in the House of Commons last June.

"This could be a means to attract more women into politics. I made the suggestion to the committee so that it can study the issue further," said Mr. Boudria, who is also the leader of the government in the House of Commons.

In the last election campaign, the percentage of women candidates for the major parties was NDP 36%, Liberals 21%, Bloc Quebecois 21%, Conservatives 19% and Reform 10%.

Mr. Boudria pointed out that the 1991 Royal Commission on Electoral Reform made a similar suggestion, but it was never implemented. It said that a national political party should have a bigger portion of its election expenses reimbursed by the state if 20% of its candidates were women.

Mr. Boudria suggested that the threshold should be raised to at least 30% for any party to get a higher level of reimbursement from the government.

"Some may say that political parties may run women candidates in some ridings where they have no chance of winning just to get more money back from the state. But others will respond that you have more chance of get women elected if more of them actually run," he said.

Mr. Boudria said the federal government plans to amend Bill C-2 to make child care an allowable expense for which candidates can be reimbursed. The amendment is meant "to reduce the financial burden on female candidates," he said.

Mr. Boudria also defended Ottawa's plan in the legislation to impose a spending limit of $150,000 on third parties at the national level and $3,000 at the riding level during an election campaign and to prohibit the media from publishing opinion polls 48 hours before election day.

Several interested groups have rejected these two measures, arguing they run counter to a string of court decisions over the past years.

But Mr. Boudria said the courts may have struck down some provisions of the last Elections Act, but they have also made it clear in their rulings that reasonable limits can be applied to ensure fairness.

"We have listened very carefully to what the courts have said and have worked hard to ensure that these proposals respect principles laid down by the courts," he declared.

In 1998, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the blackout on the publishing of polls in the final 72 hours, saying the provision limited freedom of expression and the right to cast an informed vote.

As for the $1,000 spending limit that was imposed on third parties in 1993, the law was struck down by the Alberta Court of Appeal in 1996 and has not been enforced since then.

The other proposals of the legislation now under scrutiny will:

- Prevent government boards and agencies from making donations to political parties. The ban already applies to Crown corporations.

- Increase to $200 from $100 the threshold to receive a 75% tax credit for political donations.

- Increase to $200 from $100 the threshold for the disclosure of the names and addresses of donors.

- Prohibit the transfer of surplus funds from a party or local association to a candidate (elected or unelected) after polling day.

- Require more detailed annual financial reporting by registered parties.

- Allow candidates to receive full reimbursement of the $1,000 nomination deposit on submission of their campaign reports.

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