Since its inception in 1911 the Commonwealth (formerly Empire) Parliamentary
Association has undergone an amazing transformation. From an all male,
all white organization representing six national Parliaments the CPA has
evolved into a multi cultural, multi-racial association of over 170 national,
state, provincial and territorial legislatures grouped into nine Regions
of which Canada is one. Restrictions against women disappeared but only
recently have female legislators begun to play a prominent role thanks
in large part to a body known as the Commonwealth Womens Parliamentarians
The origins of the CWP can be traced to an informal meeting of women held
at the 35th Commonwealth Parliamentary in Barbados in 1989. A womens caucus
was initiated by Senator Norma Cox Astwood of Bermuda. Thanks to her efforts
and that of other women, including the Hon. Maria Minna, in 1992 the Executive
Committee of CPA recognized the CWP and allocated time in the annual conference
agenda for the women to meet and elect a steering committee. A Task Force
was establish which produced a report entitled Barriers to Womens Participation
in Parliament reported to the 1994 Conference in Banff. Since that time
provision has been made in the annual conference for the CWP to meet at
a time that did not conflict with any other conference business. A significant
change took place in 2004 when the CWP became a funded body within the
CPA and its Chair, Lindiwe Maseko (Gauteng) took a seat on the International
Executive Committee representing the Group.
Despite progress at the international level, and in some regions such as
Australia where an Australian Womens Parliamentary Association was created
in 2003, we did not seem to be making much progress in establishing a Canadian
section. I and Hon. Sarmite Bulte raised the issue at meetings of the Canadian
Regional Council of CPA which consists of the Speakers of all the legislatures
plus the Canadian Regional representatives on the International Executive
At the summer 2004 meeting Speaker Harvey Hodder of Newfoundland and Labrador
suggested that women interested in forming a group take the opportunity
to meet in conjunction with the CPA Regional Conference in Newfoundland
the next summer.
The full day meeting took place in St. Johns on July 19, 2005. Sixteen
parliamentarians from seven Branches were represented including: Saskatchewan,
Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Manitoba, Alberta and
the Canadian Branch. We agreed on the following recommendations that were
presented to a special Council meeting the next day.
That the council amend its rules to formalize the creation in the Canadian
Region of the CWP to be composed of women parliamentarians of all CPA Branches
That the Region designate to the CWP Steering Committee (International)
a woman parliamentarian from the Canadian Region, provided that at any
one time both a federal and a provincial parliamentarian will be designated
by the Council, so that if a federal parliamentarian is the international
representative, the provincial parliamentarian becomes the alternate and
That the alternate succeed the designated representative when her term
of office ends.
That there be no formalized system of rotation among the province/territories
but that the Council nominate the Canadian alternate upon the recommendation
of the CWP-Canada.
- That the President of each Branch communicate to the Regional Secretary
the name of a woman parliamentarian who will be that Branchs representative
on the Steering Committee of the CWP Canada.
- That each annual regional conference include, prior to the start of the
conference, one day for the CWP-Canada to meet; that a report of that days
work be presented to the plenary conference for its consideration; that
at least one gender issue be selected as one of the topics for the full
- That a proposed work plan and annual budget be submitted as soon as practicable
by the CWP-Canada to the Regional Council for consideration and adoption.
Four names were put forth as potential Canadian representatives on the
International Executive Committee. The following day the Regional Council
met to consider the recommendations. There was considerable discussion
about how the position would be filled and specifically whether there would
be a fixed schedule of alternation as used for many other CPA functions.
The Council agreed to postpone a final decision to another meeting which
was held on July 21. In order to make some progress it was agreed to proceed
by secret ballot with the selection of Canadas representative. Two persons
were nominated, Sarmite Bulte MP and Charlotte LÉcuyer of Quebec. After
the votes were counted Ms. Bulte was named Canadian Representative for
a three year term with Mme LÉcuyer as alternate. As Ms Bulte lost her
seat in Parkdale-High Park in the January 23, 2006 election, Mme L'Écuyer
became Canadian Representative for the remainder of the term.
The founding meeting of the CPW-Canadian Region marked an important milestone
in the effort to increase the number of women in politics and to help those
who are elected to be more effective legislators. The next meeting will
be held in conjunction with the Canadian Regional CPA Conference in Ottawa
in July 2006.
We will work to share ideas and information on initiatives being taken
in various jurisdictions. We will develop outreach capacities at the national
level so that orientation and mentoring of newcomers is feasible and systematic.
We will strive toward a work environment in legislative assemblies that
favour a healthy family balance and that allows parliamentarians to meet
head on the huge challenges of a political career. Finally we will work
to see that delegates chosen to go to CPA meetings are selected on the
basis of interest and expertise rather than as a reward or as a lottery
prize. The end result will not only be good for women but also good for
parliament, good for politics and good for Canada.