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Gender parity for MLAs comes up in all-male Frame Lake race

Kevin O’Reilly and David Ramsay, candidates for MLA in Frame Lake, sounded off on a proposal to reserve seats in the legislature for female lawmakers.

Differing views on how to bring gender parity to the legislature emerged during a debate earlier this month.

David Ramsay, the former cabinet minister, and incumbent Kevin O'Reilly are the only candidates in Frame Lake but they fielded questions about female representation in public office at the forum held by Alternatives North Sept. 17.

Ramsay referred to a discussion paper that contemplates reserving a number of seats in the legislature for females, for a set number of elections. It was tabled during the 18th Assembly, which had the fewest female lawmakers ever, Caroline Cochrane and Julie Green.

He said he believes women should be on equal footing, but opposes special treatment for any identifiable group.

"I think a lot has to be said for the effort to get women involved in this election, I think that's great and an effort like that should be held four years from now to get women into the office," Ramsay said. "I'm not a big fan of guaranteed seats and that's a discussion I think we'll have to have another day."

In a later interview with Yellowknifer, Ramsay expanded on his position.

"I don't think anyone should be guaranteed anything," said Ramsay. "It should be based on merit. Trying to get women into politics is something we should fully support through campaign schools and peer groups, but I am not a fan of guaranteeing seats."

"To me it goes against democratic principles. I fundamentally disagree with guaranteeing any group seats."

Ramsay said it was a slippery slope and goes against what he's learned as a politician.

He did say that if there were enough women elected, he would be in favour of having equality in cabinet or equality in how a chairperson is chosen.

Ramsay said his own wife has been very interested in running in politics and would likely run in future elections and he would happily support her.

"We desperately need more women to get involved and we get better decisions when that happens."

His opponent Kevin O'Rielly, a member of the 18th Legislative Assembly, said he supports the proposed temporary special measures.

Kevin O'Reilly, Frame Lake incumbent pictures on Sept. 17, says he supports the conversation around getting more women into politics through temporary special measures. Brett McGarry / NNSL photo

"One of the recommendations in the paper is that a plebiscite should be held if we don't hit the targets by a certain time," said O'Rielly.

"We have a lot of women running this time around and that's a great thing, so maybe we won't even need the special temporary measures if we have sufficient women in the assembly."

In responses to criticisms that it may not be undemocratic, O'Reilly is unwavering.

"It may be not be democratic that women only make up such a small portion in the current assembly so this is something that we need to discuss," said O'Reilly.

"I'm also in favour of the discussion of constitutional development in the NWT which could include guaranteed seats or representation from Indigenous governments. I support the discussion."

The paper cited other jurisdictions within the Commonwealth which have adopted similar policies, namely Samoa, which adopted the measures in 2013.

"Under this system, if a general election returns fewer than five women, additional seats are added to meet this benchmark," stated to discussion paper that was released in May of 2018.

"The women candidates who attained the highest  percentage of votes, but were unsuccessful in the election, are deemed elected in these additional seats.

Last March, the legislative assembly adopted a goal of increasing the representation of women in the legislature to 20 per cent by 2023 and 30 per cent by 2027.

The concept for the legislation would indeed be temporary. The paper states the legislation would automatically sunset after two or three elections, or would be self fulfilling as it would spur more women participating in politics.

The paper also lists a potential plebiscite on the issue could take place this October, once MLAs have been voted in.

If enacted, the first potential election with the special temporary measure would take place in October of 2023.