Ont. NDP wants female speaker in legislature
Published Tuesday, April 24, 2007 8:54AM EDT
TORONTO - Ontario has never had a female speaker of the legislature, and New Democrats want all parties to agree that should change after October's election.
The party is introducing a motion in the legislature Tuesday which calls on the Conservatives and Liberals to nominate a woman as the province's next speaker.
"All of these speaker's portraits that you see around (the legislature), there's nary a woman there," said Hamilton New Democrat Andrea Horwath.
"Not having had that ever in the province's history is a bit of a sad commentary on the glass ceiling or lack of opportunity that women have had. We think it's an important issue to raise. It's time to think about whether there are ways to encourage or ensure that we have more women speakers."
Although the speaker of the legislature is elected, Horwath says all parties should agree the next one must be a woman. That would show women are on par with their male colleagues when it comes to provincial decision-making, she said.
"It's not just Ontario," Horwath said. "Speakers don't tend to be women in the vast majority of administrations and that's something that we need to look at."
While some said a female speaker would have a calming influence on the legislature and a resolution of this kind is just the push politicians need to make it happen, others were less inclined to mandate the next speaker's gender.
Conservative Leader John Tory said having a female speaker might cut down on the "disgraceful level of behaviour" in the legislature but he said all parties should allow democracy to take its course.
"I'm not a great believer in specifying these kinds of things," he said. "That's not the way it's meant to work."
Sandra Pupatello, minister responsible for women's issues, said parties can already decide to put forward a female candidate for the job of speaker. The NDP hasn't put forward any candidate for speaker since 1995, let alone a woman, she said.
Still, she said many women would prefer to be in cabinet than in the speaker's chair.
"It depends on how we view the order of things," she said, adding having a woman mediating legislative debate wouldn't change the decorum of the house.
"People presume that the house would be a more calm place the more women we have; not the women I know!"
Other advocates were encouraged to see the issue debated at all. Rosemary Speirs, chair of the group Equal Voice, said it would be a great symbolic gesture for Ontario to elect its first female speaker.
Women only now make up one-quarter of the members in the Ontario legislature, she said, and it may be time for a push to elect a woman as speaker.
Having a woman presiding over debate might encourage other women to get involved in politics and it might improve the level of discourse, she added.
Speirs said there have been several times federally where a woman was on the verge of becoming speaker but it only happened once in 1980.
"There is a tendency in the wrong direction and it needs a little boost. It's been very, very slow to change in the Ontario house and I think it would make quite a difference to symbolically decide to have a woman speaker."