Conservatives elected more women on Monday than in 2015, but lost one of their most prominent voices, and now it is up to the remaining senior female members to guide a new crop of MPs in uncertain times under a minority Liberal government.
The Conservative party ran the most women candidates it had ever run in the last campaign, 106 with 22 elected. This surpassed the 17 elected in 2015 from a field of 68, but fell short of 2011 numbers when 28 were voted in.
This time, the party saw the re-election of several of its strongest performers, including Candice Bergen, Michelle Rempel, Leona Alleslev and Kelly Block.
But they lost former deputy leader Lisa Raitt in the Ontario riding of Milton, where she was defeated by star Liberal candidate Adam van Koeverden, an Olympic gold-medal kayaker.
Despite the upset, Raitt said she is optimistic about the party’s female representation.
“My women friends in Parliament … are easily going to be able to pick up where we left off in the House of Commons and continue to push forward,” Raitt said.
“I’m always here for my past colleagues if they want to call and ask me my opinion on things or get some advice, and that’s the kind of mentoring that I will do from the sidelines. And they will also receive unsolicited advice from me if I feel that it’s necessary.”
Raitt said she expected Bergen, Rempel, Alleslev and Block to step up and take front-row positions with the Conservatives.
Raitt’s loss remains a sore spot for party insiders, who suggested to CBC News to also expect re-elected Conservatives Marilyn Gladu of Ontario riding of Sarnia-Lambton, Stephanie Kusie of the Alberta riding of Calgary Midnapore and even Sen. Linda Frum to step into the void left by her.
Melissa Lantsman, vice-president of public affairs at the PR firm H&K Strategies, called Raitt one of the strongest voices in opposition and a titan of the progressive side of the party.
“She certainly isn’t a, quote-unquote, what people would deem as a scary Conservative,” said Lantsman.
“You can be fiscally responsible. You can advocate for good jobs. You can advocate for environmental measures. You can walk in a pride parade and be pro-pipeline and that’s the banner that somebody like Lisa has always held,” she said.
The Conservatives also lost the seat of well-known MP Sylvie Boucher on Monday, which leaves the party without any female representation in Quebec and Atlantic Canada.
Gladu said she’s disappointed that Raitt, who was a mentor, and Boucher, a friend who taught her French, faced defeat.
Gladu said she wants to focus on increasing the number of women candidates who will run under the party’s banner in the next election — whenever it’s called.
“There were not as many elected as we’d like to have,” Gladu said. “The solution to having more female MPs is having more candidates.”
Rachel Curran, a senior associate at the consulting firm Harper & Associates, said all parties need to work on getting more women to take a run for office.
Curran said women face obstacles and sacrifices when it comes to taking the plunge because they are often shouldering more responsibilities at home and can’t easily take the risk of giving up income for the time needed to run for office.
“It is a tough grind and there’s no getting around the fact that it’s enormously hard work for an individual,” said Curran. “But parties, I think, could support that better.”
Curran said she would like to see parties encourage women to submit their names for nomination and support them during that process by giving advice.
Rempel spent a lot of time and resources mentoring women candidates by helping to craft their platforms and fundraising for them.
Rempel said there is too much focus placed on tallying up how many women each party elects.
“We’ve got a very strong group of caucus colleagues, like myself and Candice, who will certainly keep moving forward in a strong way,” said Rempel, who represents Calgary Nose Hill.
“I just wish I didn’t have to talk about my gender after every election because there’s a lot of issues that I need to talk about as well.”
‘We bring so much more’
Bergen, who represents the riding of Portage-Lisgar in Manitoba, also expressed reservations about the need to hit some sort of quota.
“I talk to women and I say we need you to run because of all the qualities that you have, but don’t ever run because somebody says to you we need more women,” Bergen said.
“We are much more than just women. We bring so much more.”
Although Raitt won’t be representing Milton anymore, she said she is not leaving the Conservative party and plans to offer advice and insight to the party in the coming days about its challenges with breaking through the Greater Toronto Area.
As for the Tory women who are heading back to Ottawa, Bergen said she loved being part of Leader Andrew Scheer’s team and would serve any way she’s required in the coming session of parliament.
Asked if she’d be interested in becoming deputy leader, Rempel responded by saying her priority is getting a pipeline built for her community.
“That is the number one thing I need to do,” Rempel said.
“For me, it’s less about role and more about using the platform that I’ve built to speak up for my constituents in a parliamentary situation that quite likely is not going to work in their favour without a very loud voice, and a very persistent voice, and a very skilled voice getting work done and that’s what I intend to do.”