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Liberals set to bar men in some ridings in bid to boost female candidates

OTTAWA (CP) — Liberal Leader Stephane Dion is prepared to take “extraordinary measures” to boost the ranks of women candidates in the next election, including barring men from seeking nominations in some ridings.

During last year’s leadership race, Dion promised that under his watch at least a third of the party’s candidates in the next election would be women.

But campaign organizers have concluded that the ambitious goal will be impossible to reach without some intervention to secure nominations for female candidates.

So-called green-light committees, set up to run the party’s nomination process in each province, have been empowered to ensure the 33 per cent target is met. Among other things, the committees can set dates for nomination meetings and approve or reject nomination papers from those seeking to carry the Liberal colours.

Where necessary, the committees will be able to simply refuse to allow men to run for nominations in some ridings.

“We’re trying to find the techniques that are consistent with our democratic processes to the greatest extent possible,” said Gerard Kennedy, Dion’s special adviser on election readiness.

Local riding associations are being encouraged as much as possible to find women to seek nominations. But, with an election possible as early as next month, Kennedy said the party simply doesn’t have the luxury of a lengthy recruitment drive.

Consequently, he said the party will have to use more drastic measures to ensure a sufficient number of women wind up on the Liberal election roster.

“We’re still studying and discussing some of the techniques that we might use, such as women-only contests or what have you. But I think those measures will be somewhat exceptional,” he said.

The leader retains the power to simply appoint women candidates, bypassing the nomination process altogether, but insiders say Dion wants to use that power sparingly, if at all.

Appointments have in the past set off controversy, particularly from would-be candidates who frequently had spent months preparing to fight a contested nomination.

Dion’s campaign strategists contend that declaring certain ridings off-limits to men at the outset will ultimately be fairer to all concerned. Still, they acknowledge that the measure is bound to be controversial.

“We’re going to pay some price,” Kennedy said.

“We’d like it to be a relatively small price. . . but the price we’re paying is because we didn’t quite make as much success as we should have (recruiting women in the past) and everyone has come to the realization that we have to take extraordinary measures, that the Liberal party has to become a political organization that reflects the face of Canada.”

In last winter’s election, only 26 per cent of Liberal candidates were women, although women make up slightly more than half the Canadian population.

The challenge of reaching 33 per cent next time is all the greater because Dion has promised to protect all incumbent MPs from nomination challenges. Currently, only 21 of the Liberals’ 101 MPs are women.

Dion needs to come up with at least 80 women to run in ridings currently not held by the Liberals to arrive at 33 per cent overall. In other words, almost 40 per cent of the candidates in unheld ridings must be women.

Equal Voice, an advocacy group dedicated to increasing the participation of women in politics, applauded the move to reserve some ridings for women only.

“Right now it looks as if 80 per cent of the ridings are reserved for men,” said Rosemary Speirs, founder of Equal Voice.

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