Donna Dasko is a co-founder and past board chair of Equal Voice, a non-partisan group dedicated to increasing the number of women in elected politics at all levels in Canada. In an opinion piece for the Globe and Mail on Monday, Dasko argued that “none of the pundits has pointed to the gender factor and how having a female leader [in British Columbia] may have boosted Liberal support.”
Dasko backs up the claim by citing a recent American article that notes both Republicans and Democrats in the United States are actively recruiting women candidates because their voters seem to want women.
The problem for Dasko is that the two political cultures aren’t interchangeable. What goes on down south doesn’t translate easily in the Great White North.
That’s pretty clear from Dasko’s second piece of evidence: an opinion poll by her own firm – Environics - from the 2008 federal election. Fully 88% of respondents said the sex of the candidate didn’t make any difference to their vote. Only nine percent said they were more likely to vote for a woman and a mere two percent said they were less likely to vote for a woman candidate.
She then picked on the two percent (!!) as a sign that Canadian women politicians still face sexism.
In between all that, Dasko talks about Kim Campbell, what unnamed pundits have supposedly said, and what the supposed problems are with women in politics. None of that comes even close to confirming what the headline writer said was Dasko’s point:
The evidence from the Environics poll actually shows that nothing could be further from the truth. Unlike Americans – as shown by the Atlantic article – Canadians don’t care if the candidate has boobs or a penis. That’s what it means when 88% of respondents say the sex of a candidate has no impact on their vote. American parties are hunting for women to put on the ballot because, as the article suggests, voters actually prefer women. In Canada, only nine percent prefers women candidates. It doesn't get any plainer than that.
Why so many female premiers? More voters prefer women in power
But Dasko persists.
Dasko doesn’t offer any evidence that the raft of women leading governments across the country is a sign of anything beyond the fact that winning parties happened to have women leaders. There’s no reason whatsoever to connect the party leaders’ chromosomes with electoral success. Dasko doesn’t offer the evidence, either. The evidence doesn't exist. Dasko just makes the claim.
If you look at the rest of Dasko’s article you see the same pattern. And invariably, other arguments explain events better than the sexist ones Dasko applies. Kim Campbell’s Conservatives fell in 1993 because they ran an incompetent campaign. Period. Dasko doesn’t offer a shred of evidence that “back-room boys” learned their lesson and kept the gals out of the front room for 17 years.
She just claims it.
Not good enough.
Nor is it good enough to offer comments like this - "Premiers Redford and Clark won against heavy expectations that they would lose…" as some sort of evidence that we’ve come a long way, baby.
There’s not a shred of evidence to suggest that either Redford or Clarke looked like they were losing because they were women or that any credible commentator offered sex as a reason the Conservatives in Alberta or Liberals in British Columbia were in political trouble with voters. Dasko doesn’t offer any because there isn’t any.
In both cases, the leaders’ sex had nothing to do with the party standing with voters, just like the sex of the party leader had nothing to do with why Albertans didn’t hand the election to the Wildrose Party and its woman leader.
Nor does Kathy Dunderdale’s sex have anything to do with why she was re-elected, this time as Premier, in 2011. If Dasko knew the first thing about the Conservative campaign in 2011 she could never suggest for one brief second that it was on a wave of Dundermania or anything even remotely connected to the fact the Conservative Party leader is a woman.
Nor does Dunderdale's femaleness have anything to do with why, these days, opinion polls show that most voters would toss her party to the curb and not think twice about it. Their preferred alternative is a party led by a woman. But again, as in Alberta and consistent with the overwhelming majority of those polled by Environics in 2008, the fact that the parties are led by a woman has shag-all to do with the voters' choice.
Dunderdale is in trouble because she and her colleagues - many of whom are men - are frigging up.
The only place sexism exists in politics these days seems to be with people like Dasko. Canadians have hit that spot progressive people have sought for decades: we judge politicians based on their qualifications and accomplishments, not whether they have lady parts or not.
Some just haven’t caught up.
Like some national commentators and news services in 2011.
Like Kathy Dunderdale and her supporters. They tried to make a big deal out of Kathy’s sex. First women premier in Newfoundland and Labrador history and all that.
No one gave a toss.
The sort of argument offered by Donna Dasko is, in itself, inherently sexist in every conceivable fashion. It is repugnant both for the argument it it makes and for the completely ridiculous pile of “evidence” she offers to defend it.
The headline itself – likely not written by Dasko – is also a grotesque insult to Canadians generally and to those who support increased participation by women in elected politics. The headline is exactly the same argument used a century ago by those who opposed having women in politics. Men get elected and women don’t, the argument went, because voters prefer men.
What utter garbage then.
What utter garbage today, no matter whether the preference is supposedly for men or women.