Why you should care

Because some governments already have gender parity, and here’s a plan that could transform at least one more.

Take the OZY poll below to weigh in on gender equality in governance.

Way before there was talk of President Hillary or President Carly, there was Kim. As Canada’s first — and, so far, only — female prime minister, Kim Campbell saw her approval rating soar after coming to power in 1993 to the highest level for a leader here in 30 years. But within less than six months, Campbell’s Progressive Conservative Party suffered a crushing defeat, she failed to win her own home riding, and ultimately left office.

Today, after having also served as attorney general and a justice minister, and the first female defense minister of any NATO country, Campbell is the founding principal of the University of Alberta’s Peter Lougheed Leadership College and lectures about women in powerful posts. One of her latest and more controversial proposals includes a plan to fill Canada’s House of Commons with an equal number of women, up from the record 26 percent right now. And while she notes that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently named women to half of his Cabinet of ministers, Campbell adds, “That’s his choice and he has enough in his caucus to make that choice — but for the rest of Parliament, it’s very, very difficult.” Her edited conversation with OZY follows.

Take the poll:

OZY: Explain your proposal for gender parity in Canada’s government.

Kim Campbell: Treat each constituency like a two-member constituency. Each party would nominate both a man and a woman. There would be two lists, and you’d vote for one person from the men’s list and one person from the women’s list. You could vote a party ticket, or not. But each constituency would send one man and one woman to Ottawa — you’d have instant parity.

It’s not something that hasn’t been done before. It would keep nominations at the grassroots level. It would not make men and women compete against each other, because they would actually collaborate to get their party ticket elected. In previous times in history [within Canada], the idea was to try to elect equal numbers of Protestants and Catholics to avoid religious antipathies.

OZY: Could this kind of a system be adapted for the U.S.?

K.C.: I don’t think it would be adapted for the U.S. because … American political culture is very different.… I would add that the American Senate is a legislative body that has two-member constituencies, so it’s not a radical departure. What would be radical would be to say we’re running two members and we’re going to elect a man and a woman.

OZY: Right now the only women in the U.S. presidential race are Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina. What might help more women become contenders in the future?

K.C.: There’s Emily’s List and various organizations that encourage women to run, and, of course, you have an interesting situation where both of the U.S. senators from California are women. But the overall percentage is small relative to a 50/50 change.… Even having women in those positions where they get a lot of press changes our understanding, our perception of who gets to do those jobs. So the visibility of women leaders at whatever level is very, very helpful in changing people’s sense of how the world works and what women do or do not get to do.

OZY: What do you anticipate being some of the biggest leadership challenges this year?

K.C.: One of the things that’s very clear when you look at leadership over the years — the thing that really distinguishes great leaders — is not that they know the answers but that they understand the questions. And so they know how to bring people together to wade their way through the difficult questions, to come up with courses of action that may have an opportunity to succeed. That isn’t something that always lends itself to public discourse in this day and age.

OZY: Can you share an example?

K.C.: I just read a very interesting article by a military and international political analyst who talks about the merit of the policy of containment toward ISIS — that, in fact, it did make a lot of sense because it was more likely to be defeated from within than from without. The article seemed to support the approach that the president of the United States is taking, which is not not getting involved but understanding that there are limits to what you can accomplish, and that there are unintended consequences, sometimes, of dramatic military engagement which simply builds up the opposition.

Because of the speed of communication, and the constant din of people who expound their supposed expert opinions, developing thoughtful, long-term, careful responses to difficult issues is very hard — and will get harder for leaders.

OZY: What was one of the greatest lessons you learned as prime minister?

K.C.: Perhaps the hardest thing was that I created expectations that really couldn’t have been met. If I’d had more time, if I could have been in an office a year, I might have been able to rebuild a coalition. And that’s the thing I learned: that you can’t always accomplish what you want. You need time.

OZY: What female leader out there inspires you today?

K.C.: Somebody who I find very interesting is Angela Merkel, because she kind of defies all the stereotypes of what people think a woman leader needs to be. She doesn’t try to be glamorous. When she became leader of the Christian Democrats, a very sophisticated political analyst said if she gets elected she won’t be chancellor. It was impossible for him to believe that Germany would have a woman chancellor. And so I love the fact that she has totally defied all those stereotypes, become the leader and appears to keep her wits about her. What history will say about her will be very interesting, but she’s very astute and very much contributes to the notion that if you give women a chance they can do it.

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