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Editorial: Progress in politics

Lisa Raitt answers questions about her Conservative leadership bid during an interview with the Cape Breton Post on Monday. The 48-year-old MP for the Ontario riding of Milton is a native of Whitney Pier.
Lisa Raitt answers questions about her Conservative leadership bid during an interview with the Cape Breton Post on Monday. The 48-year-old MP for the Ontario riding of Milton is a native of Whitney Pier.

On paper, Lisa Raitt is as good a choice as any to help federal Conservative Party of Canada Leader Andrew Scheer make inroads in Atlantic Canada.

Though the newly minted deputy party leader represents a district in Milton, Ont., Raitt is a native of Sydney, N.S. And, of course, she’s a woman, leading to the predictable statements about her ability to draw more women into politics.

No matter how you look at it, though, Raitt has a difficult road ahead in this region.

Winning back seats will be the main objective, of course. The Liberals wiped the Conservatives from the electoral map in all four Atlantic provinces in 2015.

Encouraging more women to run for office and expanding women’s roles in the Conservative base may prove even more difficult.

In 2015, Canadians voters did elect a record 88 women to the House of Commons, a number that’s since grown to 91 through byelections and other shuffling.

Voters in Atlantic Canada managed to elect a handful of women. The most even split is in Newfoundland and Labrador, where three of seven MPs are women. New Brunswick elected three among its 10 districts.

In Raitt’s home province, however, only a single female was elected to one of Nova Scotia’s 11 seats. P.E.I. went four-for-four with men.

And again, every one of those seats is Liberal red.

About one-third of candidates across the country were women in 2015, a 1.5 per cent increase from the 2011 vote. Among all the major parties, the Conservatives ran the fewest women, with only 20 per cent.

Raitt says she’s a feminist and hopes women see her as an aspirational figure. She also told the Globe and Mail that while she may not personally agree with abortion, she believes in a woman’s right to choose.

While those ideas aren’t radical in this day and age, they may represent a significant shift for the Conservative party, given its current demographics.

Even so, gender parity in politics could still be a long way off.

Equal Voice, a group that advocates for greater participation of women in the political sphere, has estimated it will take another 11 federal elections — in other words, 45 years — to reach something close to gender balance.

It could be argued that it’s time for parties to focus on more diverse candidate rosters in general, particularly in Atlantic Canada. Our population base has become more heterogeneous through immigration, while Indigenous people are still underrepresented across Canada.

It will take a bipartisan effort to push politics into modern times and ensure our MPs truly reflect the voting population.

Raitt’s words are a step in the right direction for the Conservatives. And if she puts them into action, it could be a starting point towards progress for the party.

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