Semi-annual premiers' summit to include six female leaders for first time

TORONTO – The premiers begin arriving today in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario for their semi-annual summit.

And, for the first time there will be six women at the Council of the Federation meeting when it begins on Thursday, representing about 85 per cent of the country’s population.

At the head of the table will be Kathleen Wynne, who was sworn in as Ontario’s first woman premier just six months ago.

Wynne says it’s important for half the country’s population to see themselves represented in the political arena.

Athabasca University professor Jane Arscott says having six female premiers signals that women are capable of holding high public office on equal footing with men.

But Christine de Clercy of the University of Western Ontario says although six provinces and territories are led by women, female representation hasn’t improved in the legislatures. She says studies suggest that the gains made over the last 30 years have pretty much stopped.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale said the dynamics have changed since her first meeting several years ago, when she and Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak were the only women in attendance.

“I can tell you that that COF meeting is very different from the COF meetings that we have now,” she said. “And I’m sure that’s due in large part to the changing players around the table.”

Wynne said the meeting is ”more than a photo op for the history books.”

“I was just talking to a grandmother who was saying her granddaughter wants to be the prime minister,” Wynne said in an interview.

Will this surge in female leadership change the dynamics among premiers? For Alberta Premier Alison Redford, it’s more about the new faces than the female ones.

“I’m pretty excited about the Council of the Federation, not because we have so many new women leaders, but because we have so many new leaders,” she said.

Some, like British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, have been given a new mandate to govern by winning a general election, Redford said.

“I think there’s going to be incredible dynamism because we have passionate leaders around the table that have exciting visions for the future,” she said.