The 2015 federal election produced a record number of female Members of Parliament.
Eighty-eight women will represent their respective constituencies when Parliament reconvenes later this month, and for the second time in the past decade, the North Island will have a female representative.
When NDP candidate Rachel Blaney won the North Island-Powell River riding on Oct. 19, it marked the second time a woman had been elected by the constituents of North Vancouver Island. Catherine Bell, also of the NDP, sat in Parliament for that riding from 2006-2008.
The 88 MPs elected this time around is a record number for this country, accounting for 26 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons.
While Blaney is happy with those numbers, she said there is still work to do.
“We have 88 women representing this time, which is fantastic – we are seeing the increase – but it’s true that there are still not enough women exploring it,” said Blaney, in her first interview with The Record since being elected. “I think one of the things we have to ask ourselves is why there are still so few women exploring politics as an option.
“Its hard work … cultivating women to participate at all levels. It could be in riding associations, it could be in leadership positions. It’s really about cultivating that relationship with women and making sure that they are participating, and that takes work. Whenever you want a group to participate, you have to work at it. It’s more than just saying ‘I hope it works.’”
Of the 1,428 candidates running for office this past election, 472 were women, accounting for 33.1 per cent.
The North Island-Powell River riding was one of the few that had more female candidates than male candidates. Blaney, Conservative hopeful Laura Smith and Brenda Sayers of the Green Party were all vying for the seat. Liberal candidate Peter Schwarzhoff was the only male candidate.
With Bell as a previous federal representative, and Claire Trevena now in her third term as the (provincial) North Island MLA, this area of Vancouver Island has proven itself to be welcoming to female representation.
“It is encouraging,” said Blaney. “Just knowing that someone had gone through this journey that I was venturing upon was great. And I got a lot of positive feedback throughout the campaign about having Catherine Bell as a leader in that part of the riding, and about how impactful her work was.”
She added having Bell in her corner was helpful.
“In the beginning, when I was first thinking about running for the nomination, I had discussions with Catherine, just to ask her what it was like and what her thoughts were, and she was very supportive. And throughout the whole campaign, if I had questions, she was there for me. So I really appreciated the mentorship.”
Blaney said the record number of women in the House of Commons adds to the diversity of Parliament, and diversity is a positive thing.
“I think gender balance is really important,” said Blaney. “Having a more diverse group of people making decisions for the country just makes sense. When you think about the make-up of this country, the more diversity there is at the table having the discussions as to what needs to happen in Canada, the more balanced the approach will be.
“There has been some outstanding research to show that the more diverse the group is, the more long-standing the solutions are. It may take a little longer to get the solutions sometimes, but those solutions are more meaningful, because they embrace a broader spectrum of people.”
First Nation presence
The diversity of the 338 MPs will be expanded as well with a record number of First Nations MPs elected. There will be 10 First Nations members of Parliament when it resumes, and while Blaney does not count as one of the 10, she could be considered an 11th – at least in regards to her upbringing.
“I am not First Nations biologically, at all, but when I was three I was actually adopted (by a First Nations family), so I grew up for quite a few years thinking I was,” she said. “It never occurred to me that I had come from anywhere else. They were my family.”
Blaney grew up in Terrace. Her adoptive family was part of the Stellat’en First Nation. She said when she filed her nomination papers she was faced with a dilemma.
Because of her upbringing, she could have identified herself as First Nation. She chose not to, out of respect for those who are biologically so.
“That was a really hard one for me and in fact some members of my family were hurt that I did not (identify as First Nation),” she said. “After all, they are my family, the only family I have ever known.”
Her First Nation connection is not restricted to her upbringing.
She is active in the Homalco First Nation, both professionally and personally. She has worked as an employment officer for the HFN and is the executive director of the Immigrant Welcome Centre, and Blaney’s husband is a former Chief and current council member of the Homalco First Nation.
Blaney is looking forward to playing an important role in the ongoing building of nation-to-nation relations.
“That is going to be my goal,” she said. “I am hoping to work hard to see that the Government of Canada starts to embrace a more positive relationship. I think we need to move forward and start working for certainty.
“I heard a lot of people saying, during my door-knocking, ‘we just want to see this relationship get better. We see it as an important relationship and if aboriginal groups do better, we will all do better.’ So that was hopeful, to (hear) that.”
Another Island connection
Blaney will have some help delivering that message, from another Comox Valley connection heading to Ottawa.
Liberal MP Jody Wilson-Raybould, who won the Vancouver Granville seat, has North Island roots.
She is a member of the We Wai Kai Nation (Cape Mudge) of Quadra Island and went to middle (Robb Road) and high school (Highland) in Comox.
Wilson-Raybould echoed Blaney’s comments regarding diversity in Ottawa.
“I think balance in terms of gender, in terms of diversity, generally, in the House of Commons, is important for making substantial policy decisions that reflect the diversity of the country,” she said. “I think that we have still a ways to go, but I am encouraged by the number of women and certainly by the number of aboriginal candidates that were elected this time.
“I think that generally, aboriginal issues in this country are, and should be, prominent. It’s something that not only the aboriginal members of Parliament and the eight that are in our (Liberal) caucus need to address, but all members of Parliament need to address them effectively.”
Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau promised, during his election campaign, to implement all the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Wilson-Raybould wants to be intimately involved with any such committee.
“I definitely feel that aboriginal issues are hugely important. I think aboriginal issues are Canadian issues and all members of our caucus will be involved in some way, shape or form in addressing these issues,” she said. “I am very proud of the platform that our soon-to-be government has put forward in this regard. It will take everyone’s work to ensure that we, as a government, sit down and work with the aboriginal people in this country.”
On Wednesday, Wilson-Raybould was named minister of justice by Prime Minister Trudeau.