No women are among the 13 provincial and territorial leaders who will gather in Saskatchewan this week. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

‘Back to zero’: Canada’s premiers gather in Saskatoon, but none are women

SASKATOON — Canada’s 13 provincial and territorial leaders are in Saskatchewan this week, but for the first time in years, the annual gathering won’t have women at the table.

“Symbolically, it’s very significant that there is no woman premier,” said Sylvia Bashevkin, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, who researches women in politics and recently edited a book on the effect of women in the premier’s office.

She said the last time Canada was without any woman as premier was between November 2002, when Pat Duncan left her post in the Yukon, and in November 2008, when Eva Aariak was sworn in as premier of Nunavut.

By early 2014, more than half of Canadians lived in a jurisdiction governed by a woman. Rachel Notley was the last one standing until her government was defeated in Alberta three months ago.

Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have never had a woman as premier.

The Council of the Federation conference, running Tuesday through Thursday, should serve as a reminder of the under representation of women at the premier’s table, Bashevkin said.

It may also cause people to question whether gender diversity in Canada was really improving, she added.

“It’s not just that things have stalled, but they’ve measurably gone backwards,” Bashevkin said.

“We have to come back to the picture that’s going to come out of this premiers’ meeting and ask ourselves … what does it mean when we felt we’ve made all these breakthroughs and then we can go back to zero?”

The Council of the Federation conference starts at Big River First Nation, where the premiers are to meet with leaders of national Indigenous organizations, including the Assembly of First Nations.

The gathering then shifts to Saskatoon, where premiers will participate in two-days of closed-door meetings at a downtown hotel.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, who is hosting the event, said health care, reducing trade barriers and increasing economic competitiveness are all topics on his agenda.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has said that in addition to trade and the need to further develop the energy sector, he’ll be pushing for jurisdictions to mutually recognize professional credentials so workers can more easily move between provinces for work.

Moe and Kenney kicked off the week together at the Calgary Stampede, where they met with their conservative counterparts from Ontario and New Brunswick, along with the premier from the consensus-based government of the Northwest Territories.

They discussed hurdles in getting Canadian resources to market, as well as their opposition to federal bills overhauling resource reviews and banning oil tankers from the northern B.C. coast, and their common causing in fighting against the federal carbon tax.

Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan are all challenging Ottawa’s carbon levy in court.

Bashevkin said she doesn’t think an absence of women at the Saskatoon meeting will affect the content and tone of discussions.

There are assumptions that women tend to be less confrontational and seek consensus more than men, she said, but it’s not necessarily true.

“We could ask right now … are the relations between British Columbia and Alberta any better than they were when we had two women premiers?

“The answer’s probably not,” she said, adding that pipelines were still front and centre under Notley and former B.C. premier Christy Clark.

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