In February this year Kathleen Wynne was sworn in as the new Premier of Ontario. While female political leaders should no longer been seen as an anomaly, Wynne’s appointment highlights an interesting phenomenon in Canada’s maturity. Five of Canada’s ten provinces, and one of its three territories, now have women leaders. While this is just under half, it includes the four provinces that dominate the country, Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia. Canada has a far more decentralised federation than Australia, with much greater provincial autonomy. This makes these four women the most powerful figures in the country after the Prime Minister.
In mid-2010 Hanna Rosin wrote an article for The Atlantic titled “The End Of Men”. While its title may have been knowingly provocative, its central thesis was that women were gaining power and prestige at a rapid rate, and that post-industrial society is better suited to feminine traits than male ones. Rather than advancing towards equality of the sexes, Rosin thesis was that we may be looking towards the power of women surpassing the power of men.
While in recent decades major western countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom have witnessed female leaders, this is seen as the exception to the norm. So can we use this present Canadian situation to point to a beginning of the end of this line of thinking? Rosin’s analysis, for example, points to education statistics that indicate women are significantly out-performing men across the board. It is only 60 years or so since higher education was almost an exclusive male privilege. A major societal shift is occurring as women continue to both out-attend and out-perform men in what is generally seen as the path to agency and enfranchisement.
While in Australia, Tony Abbott’s alpha-male posturing is meant to be a subtle (or not so subtle) hint to the electorate that men are the natural leaders, what Rosin’s analysis suggests, and what we are be seeing the fruits of in Canada, is that, in the 21st Century, this will not be the case. Rosin notes that of the 15 job categories that are projected to grow over the next decade in the West, 13 of these are “female dominated” As an extension of this, one would expect there to be a natural growth in female political leaders as a reflection of society (if we still wish to hold on to the democratic ideal that our parliamentarians are a reflection of society)
Some developing countries have experimented with quotas and reserved seats in political assemblies for women in order to boost their social status and political influence. However, what has been discovered is that women elected to reserved positions lack legitimacy in the eyes of the populace. While well-intended, this practice appears to have back-fired. However, there is no question of the legitimacy of the these Canadian female leaders. They have all earned their positions through meritorious rises through their party ranks.
These Canadian leaders represent different parties from social democratic, liberal and conservative traditions, indicating their rise is not just a “progressive” phenomenon.
Alberta is generally seen as the conservative heartland of the country. A region so adverse to change that they have only had only one change government in the last 77 years (The Social Credit Party 1936 - 1971, the Progressive Conservatives 1971 - Present). Alison Redford, Election Commissioner to Afghanistan’s first election in 2005, is currently the Premier. While the main opposition party, the very strange socially conservative economically libertarian Wildrose Party, has a female leader as well. Neither are meek women who “know their place” or were promoted unduly into their positions, they are highly educated and accomplished people worth of their roles. Highlighting that even conservative thought in Canada is still ahead of the game.
So what could it mean to have more women in more positions of legitimate power?
While countries like Canada and Australia are generally free of overt corruption, women in power are generally seen to be less corruptible and more honest than men. Women are perceived to be more flexible, accommodating and less selfish with greater ability to compromise. One could definitely make the argument that the current dysfunction in the US Congress can partly be attributed to its masculinity. Women don’t seem to require the egotistical posturing that is de rigueur amongst prominent males. Women are definitely less violent, and coming from a century as violent at the 20th this is could be highly influential for the future relationships between states.
Although these feminine traits are generalisations, the combination of general masculinity and power has produced some highly destructive outcomes. A greater feminine influence could hopefully temper these power abuses.
As a stable, wealthy and multicultural society, Canada often shows real leadership to other Western countries with favourable inclusive advancements such as these. Its relationship with its First Nations is the model for other colonial societies, gay marriage has been legal since 2005, the country has had a number of Sikh MPs (including a Premier of British Columbia, later Federal Health Minister), and reflecting the two main cultural groups of the country, all federal party leaders, and most premiers, are bilingual in English and French. Yet rather than this being a result of a heavy-handed progressivism, Canada has had a strong current of liberalism that has allowed the natural strengths of pluralism to rise and flourish.
The decentralised nature of the Canadian Federation and its lack of binary politics* allows more independent political thought to gain voice and traction, and is able to challenge more effectively the male entrenchment and turf protection of traditional two-party systems like Australia and the US. While trends will suggest that female power will increase in these binary political systems also (our current PM being a good example), Canada’s openness and ingrained flexibility has allowed them to lead the pack in the western world with what could be highly influential and positive developments.
*To provide a brief and incomplete overview of the greater choice and independence provided to the Canadian voter and political aspirant - The federal Conservative Party is not affiliated with any provincial party, the Québec and British Columbia Liberal Parties are not affiliated with their federal namesake. The Parti Québécois govern Quebec, and the Saskatchewan Party govern Saskatchewan. The New Democratic Party (NDP) is the official opposition in the federal parliament and forms government in Manitoba and Nova Scotia. The aforementioned Wildrose Party and the Coalition Avenir Quebec, are major parties in their respective provinces.