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a sweetheart deal Ad Hoc’s 25 years of constitutional reform

by Jude MacDonald | February 13, 2006

On February 14, 1981, the Women’s Constitution Conference pushed for changes to Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. After a year of lobbying, the changes these women worked for were adopted.

Twenty-five years later, Ottawa was home to a two-day Forum on Women’s Activism in Constitutional and Democratic Reform. The historic Ad Hoc Women and the Constitution Conference was celebrated from February 13–15.

What’s the big deal?

Easy: section 28.

what’s that?

The amendment is less easy to explain. It’s a clause in the constitution promising that “all the rights and freedoms” in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms “are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.” (See Penney Kome’s article February 14, 1981: women’s constitution conference, which goes into considerably more background. You’ll find a link to it in our related stories section below.)

back to the future

The 2006 forum focused on women’s rights and political participation. It was also a chance to hear from women who changed the course of Canadian constitutional history. But, this time around, the focus was global as well as national. Leaders from Afghanistan, Rwanda and South Africa told participants about their countries’ experience with gender in government.

By learning about the past, and with inspiration from around the world, the organizers hoped that this conference could kick-start “Canadian democratic reform strategies, in a global context.”

so what?

Why does it matter? Let’s take a quick look at the 2005 federal election and its aftermath. On Monday February 6 of that year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper named six women to his new cabinet. They were:

The Honourable Marjory LeBreton Leader of the Government in the Senate

The Honourable Carol Skelton Minister of National Revenue and Minister of Western Economic Diversification

The Honourable Rona Ambrose Minister of the Environment

The Honourable Diane Finley Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

The Honourable Beverley J. Oda Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women

The Honourable Josée Verner Minister of International Cooperation and Minister for La Francophonie and Official Languages

In total, the Conservative government established 27 cabinet seats.

six of 27, 64 of 308
  • In Afghanistan, women hold around 28% of the seats in the country’s Loya Jirga (Parliament).
  • Just under 21% of the MPs elected in Canada this January are women.
  • Only one woman was elected from the entire east coast: the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island did not choose any women to represent their ridings.
  • This election, 64 females were elected as Members of Canada’s Parliament, which has 308 seats altogether.

Not too impressive.

are times changing?

Equal Voice is a multi-partisan action committee devoted to the idea that more women must be elected to every level of government in Canada. As part of its effort, the organization is starting a free online course for women who are interested in entering politics. It will be available in both official languages starting this month. For more information, e-mail

Equal Voice also participated in the Ad Hoc celebrations.

This feature was first published on’s predecessor site CoolWomen.


  • Seasonal Feature

  • April 1994: the night raid at Kingston’s Prison for Women

    by Sierra Bacquie

    There was supposed to be a new approach to the Correctional Service of Canada’s relationship to female offenders, who were promised responsible choices, respect, dignity, supportive environments, and shared responsibility. But on the night of April 26, eight women experienced humiliation, degradation, raw fear and trauma at the hands of an all-male emergency team. How did this happen? What has changed since?  read more