The record-breaking number of women running for the main parties in the Quebec provincial election marks “an important moment of progress,” says Thérèse Mailloux, president of Groupe Femmes, Politique et Démocracie.

Her organization has proposed legislation that would require every political party to field a minimum of 40 per cent female candidates, a portion that would rise to 45 per cent in the second Quebec election after adoption of an amendment to the Election Act.

Though there is yet no such legal requirement, each of the main parties has now met or exceeded the goal. In total, the 236 women nominated by the four main parties for the Oct. 1 vote comprise nearly 48 per cent of all candidates.

The portion of seats held by women in the last National Assembly was 29.6 per cent.

Mailloux says "gender parity is no longer an issue that political parties can ignore." Indeed, there is campaign debate among the parties and pollsters over the portion of women who are running in winnable seats.

The centre-right Coalition Avenir Québec, for example, kept a campaign promise to break the record for the most women ever nominated by a political party in a Quebec election, with 65 female candidates, or 52 per cent of its total. In the 2014 election, only 21 per cent of the CAQ's candidates were women.

Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée dismissed the CAQ achievement, accusing leader François Legault of running a “clever public relations campaign” with “a façade of parity” from a roster that includes many female nominees contesting unwinnable ridings.

Many of the CAQ’s female candidates are running in the Liberal heartlands of Montreal and Outouais, and 29 of them are contesting seats where the CAQ's chance of winning is less than a 20 per cent, says a calculation by TVA Nouvelles. That is based on data from polling analysis websites qc125.com and tooclosetocall.ca.

Impressive roster of women

Philippe Fournier, creator of qc125.com, told National Observer in an email that "the numbers don't lie. While it's true that [the CAQ] have a lot of female candidates, many of them are not in position to get elected. Whether this is intentional, I can't comment."

However, Steve Pinkus, vice-president of polling firm Mainstreet Research, told National Observer that the CAQ’s slate of female candidates should not be underestimated.

“They have a pretty impressive roster of women with good candidates in winnable seats,” he said. He cited incumbent CAQ MNA Geneviève Guilbault in Louis-Hébert, ex-Olympic skater Isabelle Charest in Brome-Missisquois, and former Liberal cabinet minister Marguerite Blais, who is running for the CAQ in the Laurentides riding of Prévost. He also flagged as frontrunners in their races Danielle McCann, a potential health minister if the CAQ wins, who is running in Sanguinet, and Chantal Rouleau in the east Montreal riding of Pointe-Aux-Trembles.

Currently, 51 PQ candidates or just over 40 per cent of 125 nominees, are women, according to its website. The Parti Libéral du Québec has 55 female candidates, comprising 44 per cent of its 125 nominees.

The left-leaning party Quebec solidaire also announced it is fielding 65 female candidates. However, Quebec solidaire has a small voter base and is projected to win a maximum of only four seats, according to polling analysis website qc125.com. Two of the four seats are held by women, party spokesperson Manon Massé and Ruba Ghazal.

Quebec solidaire is currently trailing the CAQ, the incumbent Parti Libéral du Québec and the PQ in the polls.

Put parity in party policy

In total, the four major parties have 500 candidates, of which one is non-binary, 263 are male, and 236 are female — or just under 48 per cent.

Mailloux said 51 per cent of Quebecers are women, and they are just as capable and just as educated as men. Better female representation in the National Assembly has the potential to positively transform the lives of women throughout Quebec, she added. "It's not an accident that the small number of women currently in the National Assembly have pushed for laws that have positively changed the condition of women's lives, like day cares and maternity and paternity leave."

For Quebec solidaire candidate Ève Torres, parties serious about achieving gender parity must adopt clear policies in their party statutes.

“For me, the real success is gender parity in the National Assembly, not a parity in candidates,” said Torres, who is running in the Montreal riding of Outremont Mount-Royal and worked for many years for La Voie des Femmes, a Montreal-based organization that encourages women to enter all realms of public life, including politics. “Women and racialized people are often in unwinnable ridings. It may not be on purpose, but it’s the reality. If you want something to actually change, you should put it in the party policy.”

Quebec solidaire has gender parity enshrined in its party statutes and opts for two party spokespeople – one female and one male – instead of a party leader.

“Our hope is that National Assembly will reach 40 per cent female representation,” Mailloux told National Observer in an interview. “And to reach 40 per cent, we need 50 female candidates elected.”

Her organization proposed to the National Assembly last spring that a minimum threshold of 40 per cent be embedded in Quebec’s Election Act “to ensure we can’t go backwards."

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