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Danielle Smith’s new cabinet looks spectacularly unrepresentative of Alberta residents

Alberta’s new cabinet looks a lot like the reductive stereotypes often associated with the province – namely, that it’s populated mostly by rural, white men. Premier Danielle Smith’s team sits in stark contrast to what many other leaders, in Canada and around the world, are doing to acknowledge that an inclusive democracy requires a diversity of voices.

Although white men account for less than half of Alberta’s population, they now hold 80 per cent of cabinet spots. That gives them higher pay, greater visibility and more policy influence.

Ms. Smith selected just four women for her 25-member cabinet, dropping below the representation level of her UCP predecessor and far below that of NDP Leader Rachel Notley, who as premier consistently ensured that half her ministers were women.

Alberta’s governing team looks spectacularly unrepresentative precisely because the UCP caucus – and the candidates who ran for the party – are likewise unrepresentative of the province’s residents.

Women make up less than a quarter of the party’s MLAs but more than half the province. Racialized people comprise less than 10 per cent of the UCP caucus despite making up almost a quarter of Alberta’s population.

We shouldn’t be too surprised by the homogeneity of Ms. Smith’s new team. Although lots of women were elected on May 29 – a record high of 38 per cent of MLAs, in fact – most sit on the NDP bench.

Even if Ms. Smith had rewarded all 10 women elected under the UCP banner with a cabinet spot, she would have still fallen short of parity. You can’t assemble a gender-equal government from such a skewed group of MLAs.

If we want representative governing teams, then we need mechanisms that compel parties to nominate an inclusive and balanced slate of candidates.

Unlike a lot of countries, Canada has no legislation that requires or even incentivizes political parties to nominate more women. Several European countries, including Belgium, Ireland and France, mandate that women make up half of all candidates. Parties that fail to do so face penalties.

Other regions are even more advanced when it comes to gender parity; in Latin America, for instance, all but one country has a gender quota law.

The inclusion gap between Alberta’s two main parties is mirrored in other provinces and in the House of Commons. Right-leaning parties – no matter their name – tend to include far fewer women than centrist or left-leaning parties.

In British Columbia, women make up almost half the legislature. But the gap between the parties is stark – half the NDP’s seats are held by women, but fewer than a quarter of seats for the right-of-centre Liberals were won by women.

Among Ontario’s governing Conservatives, women hold less than 30 per cent of seats, compared with more than 60 per cent of NDP MPPs. And women’s share of Liberal seats federally is twice as large as their share of seats in the Conservative Party.

If Canada followed the model of other countries and adopted gender quotas for candidates, party gaps in inclusion would greatly diminish. The ideological diversity among elected women would improve because all parties would have to nominate more women candidates. Women would be better represented across the party spectrum.

And with more women in party caucuses, all leaders could appoint gender parity cabinets. That way, women would have an equal shot at influencing public policy and the direction of government.

Having a representative democracy – a Parliament that reflects the people it serves – should be a goal across the political spectrum. Other countries have made it a priority – why can’t we?

Susan Franceschet is a professor of political science at the University of Calgary.


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