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Women and Politics Since the 1970s

Women’s Liberal Club executive at Saskatchewan Beach, June 1939.
Saskatchewan Archives Board R-A26907

Women’s participation in politics from the time of their enfranchisement (1916) to 1970 usually involved casting ballots and participating in auxiliary party organizations: they were rarely acceptable as policy-makers or as candidates. Although resurgent feminism (and other factors) has had an impact since 1970, Saskatchewan women have made only moderate advances in politics; in fact, on the federal level, no Saskatchewan woman has served in the House of Commons since the 1940s. Women are still most likely to hold elective office on the municipal level—on city councils, school boards, and the like. In the 1970s two women did become mayors: in 1970 Ida M. Petterson became mayor of Estevan and served until her 1976 defeat; that same year, M. Isabelle Butters was elected mayor of Weyburn and served until 1982. A few others ran, but lost.

As for the Legislative Assembly, only six women were elected up to 1967; between then and 1975, no female MLAs served. Before 1982, no more than three served at one time; numbers increased slightly during the 1980s, and in 1991 twelve were elected—eleven NDP and one Liberal. Since then the number of female MLAs has hovered around ten (in 2004 there were six NDP and four Saskatchewan Party). The first women were appointed to Cabinet in the 1980s, Joan Duncan and Patricia Smith being named in 1982 by the newly elected Progressive Conservative government. Thirteen have served up to the present time. Although organizations like the Women’s Liberal Association have folded, women continue auxiliary work. They also have a voice, albeit small, in party governance, and in 1989 Lynda Haverstock became head of the (faltering) Liberal Party. During the 1970s criticism of women’s subordinate and limited place increased in all parties; most pronounced among New Democrats, the party’s response to that criticism (and to women’s issues) led some women to dismiss conventional politics.

Since 1970 women’s involvements have been affected by complex changes including feminism, structural transformations in politics and parties, and the near demise of leftist policies and parties. However, women are not always welcomed as equals, and many women also lack interest. Women have become acceptable in the symbolically important ceremonial post of Lieutenant-Governor: Sylvia O. Fedoruk was the first, appointed in 1988 and serving until 1994; Lynda M. Haverstock was appointed in 2000.

Ann Leger-Anderson

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