Thursday, November 22, 2007

NDP's affirmative action plan troubling, but worth a try

My first reaction to the NDP's plan to push women and minority candidates into more ridings was negative.
It is undemocratic. Holding seats open for women means men are barred from running. The party members in the riding lose the right to pick the best candidate.
New Democrats backed quotas and affirmative action at their convention last weekend. The party decided to take a new approach to picking candidates for the 2009 election.
Incumbents are safe. Male or female, they can run again without worry. But for the seats held by Liberals, 30 per cent of the NDP candidates must be women. Another 10 per cent must be from other underrepresented groups - gays or people with different coloured skins.
The Liberals have 46 of 79 seats in the legislature; that means the NDP has to nominate women or minorities in about 20 of those ridings.
The party hopes that will happen without coercion or orders from above. Ridings that nominate the desired candidates will get extra campaign funding as an incentive.
But if that doesn't work, the party executive will step in and appoint candidates, whatever the local members think.
The push to elect women goes farther.
In any riding held by the NDP, if the current MLA decides not to run, a woman must be nominated. The aim is to ensure women run where there is a real chance of winning, not as sacrificial lambs or tokens.
So if Corky Evans decides not to run in Nelson-Creston in 2009, no men need apply to represent the riding. It's set aside for a woman.
It's not really fair. Imagine you've worked away for 30 years, and you really are ready to represent a riding in the legislature. You know the people and the issues and they trust you. And now you can't get nominated because you're a man.
Times Colonist cartoonist Adrian Raeside captured the problem, depicting Winston Churchill being rejected as a candidate by NDP leader Carole James.
On the other hand, a letter to the editor wondered how many leaders who could have been more effective than Churchill never were elected, because women were effectively barred from politics.
It's been at least 25 years now that we've been fretting about the lack of women in politics, which remains the preserve of white, middle-class guys.
But in 2005, the share of legislature seats held by women fell, ass it did in the 2001 election. In fact, women's share of seats is is lower todday than it was in 1986.
That should strike you as a problem. Women make up half the population - why do they hold less than one-quarter of the seats?
We all lose as a result. If you're looking for a great read, pick up James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds. The central thesis is that if you bring together people with diverse backgrounds - a plumber, a teacher, an engineer, a hockey player, a painter - and ask them to solve a problem, they'll do well. Diversity, used effectively, is hugely valuable.
It makes sense. Verbally quick, smart, ambitious men - the core group of politicians today - have one way to approach a problem, based on their life experience and what's worked so far.
A woman likely, almost certainly, brings a different life experience. That diversity makes for a better decision.
The bigger question, sadly, is why a woman would want to be an MLA. If you're in opposition, you're flailing around on the margins. If you're in government, you're silenced for the good of the team.
And success in the legislature is defined by how loud you can shout and how cutting your comments are. Both tend to be guy things.
Even getting there requires some affluent buddies to throw in some money and a team to sign up members. Many women have access to neither.
All in, I'm OK with the New Democrats' affirmative action plan.
Not thrilled. It's not democratic.
But then neither is our current system for picking candidates, with mass sign-ups and instant party members.
Really, what have we got to lose by trying something different?
Footnote: The measure was hotly debated at the NDP convention and the party is likely hoping most of its incumbents will run again in 2009. The greatest potential for internal conflict will be over the nomination for winnable ridings.


Anonymous said...

I suspect that being a man would be the least of Churchill's problems in obtaining an NDP nomination. Being a prominent Conservative party member for most of his career would be a big stumbling block. His strong anti-communist philosophy would also detract somewhat from his desirability.

Frank said...

Which might be a contributing factor as to why the Brits kicked him out as soon as the war was over.

Anonymous said...

The BCGEU constitution sets aside two VP positions for women.

"The Provincial Executive shall be comprised of a President, Secretary-Treasurer, two (2) Provincial Vice-President positions designated for women, and two (2) Provincial Vice-President positions designated for men, and the Chairperson of each component and additional member..."

BCGEU Constitution and Bylaws [.PDF]