Improving Democracy: Gender Quotas and Diversity in Canada




Democracy, quotas, gender, Canada, diversity


The adoption of quotas for the election of women is a worldwide trend that is changing the face of national politics in many countries. Research shows that such measures are successful. First, this text reviews international literature on the adoption of gender quotas for electing women and their impact on minority women. What are the processes leading to the adoption of gender quotas in different contexts? Who initiates the process? How do quota campaigns get started? In the second section, the text uses Canada as a case study to understand the starting point for gender and/or diversity quota campaigns. In Canada, the idea of quotas for women and for minorities is on the agenda of many political organizations, but although there seems to be a new symbolic opening for having gender quotas at some levels of Canadian political institutions, popular support is still low. What about quotas for other groups such as minorities? A survey conducted in 2016 found that a majority of Canadians are open to designating seats for the country’s Indigenous peoples to boost their representation in Parliament and on the Supreme Court. Another study conducted on existing affirmative action programs provides insight on how quotas are perceived. These programs, in operation since the 1980s, are aimed at redressing past inequities and promoting the hiring of five designated groups. The survey indicates that no one is in favour of discriminating against marginalized groups; nevertheless, a large majority of respondents supported meritocracy and resisted affirmative action. In the 2021 Canadian federal election, there were no gender quotas and the number of women elected at the Canadian Parliament was 30% percent, a 1% increase from the 2019 election. In Quebec, one of the thirteen provinces and territories of Canada, an informal campaign for gender quotas in the 2018 provincial election has led to the election of 41% of women. Gender quota campaigns create openings to introduce diversity into the conversation. More research is needed to explain why there is still resistance to certain types of quotas such as gender quotas in the specific context of Canada. Overall, bringing a more diversified body of representatives to parliaments contributes to the revitalization of electoral politics and can improve democracy.