Former Yukon Premier Pat Duncan and the territory’s newest senator says that diverse governments are important in order to properly represent their people. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)

Boys’ club: Where did the women premiers go?

If you saw photos from the premiers’ meeting held in Saskatoon last week, there was something that might have stuck out to you right away — all 13 of Canada’s premiers, at the moment, are men.

It’s no secret that premiers’ offices in Canada have been dominated by men. There have only been 12 women premiers in Canada’s history.

However, a few years ago it looked like the table was diversifying. From 2002 to 2008 there were no women as premiers, but by 2013 that number had jumped up to six.

Fast-forward to today and once again there are no women as premiers.

Of the 12 women premiers, Pat Duncan was the first to enter office through defeating a sitting premier in an election. The issue of representation in politics is important to the former Yukon premier (and current senator), who led the Yukon Liberal Party to victory in 2000 but saw it lose power in another election two years later.

On the last day of the premiers’ meeting, she has a political cartoon by the Toronto Star’s Michael de Adder in mind, which shows the current male premiers in line for the men’s bathroom while the women’s room remains empty.

“It gave me pause,” she said. “It really did, because it’s important to the discussion on issues of importance to Canadians that there be a diverse group of people at the table.”

She explained that there are all sorts of advantages that come along with having more women in politics. For one, she says, the greater diversity of voices means that issues are brought to the table that might not have been previously discussed. She picked one of her own experiences as premier as an example.

“I can recall at my very first Western Premier’s conference putting the issue of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) on the table,” she said.

“I can remember (former Alberta) premier (Ralph) Klein saying, ‘I appreciate you bringing that and putting that on the agenda,’ because it was a particular interest to him. And his wife had also spoken about the issue, FASD, and how to combat it.”

Duncan now sits on the federal Senate, having been appointed in 2018. Though unelected, its caucus is half-composed of women and people of colour are well represented as well.

“You can truly see the impact having a diverse group of people at the table makes (on) legislation,” she says of her experiences there, noting that the current senate body has amended much more federal legislation — including Bill C-69, which received 188 amendments, over half of which were accepted — than it has in previous years.

Likewise, she finds that discussion in the senate chamber is much more civil than in other governmental bodies. Although she recognizes other reasons for this, such as the high amount of independent senators and the fact that no one in senate runs for re-election, she believes that the diversity of the senate also helps its debates.

“The chamber, as in provincial legislatures, can be a bit confrontational. (There’s) heckling, and so on and so forth. You don’t see as much of that in the Senate chamber. When I first witnessed it, it was like, ‘Okay, yeah, I recall this sense from the Yukon Legislative Assembly,’ but then the women who sat in front of me had never had that experience.”

When asked what the consequences are of having no female first ministers, an answer came to Duncan immediately.

“Young women don’t see themselves in positions like that. And that’s that’s an issue, and it’s so important that our governments reflect who we are as Canadians.”

She said a lack of confidence and recognizing their own abilities as one of the reasons why many women don’t enter politics.

“They don’t always recognize the fact that they’ve volunteered and done the books for organizations and dealt with the human resources of different organizations and negotiated between individuals to reach a compromise and what’s best for their community. They don’t always see that as a skill set.

Duncan also notes that the barriers for women entering politics vary by region — for instance, she says the cost of running a campaign to get a party nomination is higher in bigger cities.

She also finds that the Yukon has been quite accepting of women in politics.

“My experience with my fellow Yukoners has been, ‘can you do the job? Can you do it well?’ Then it really doesn’t matter what your sex is or what your ethnic origin is — it’s ‘can you do the job? And can you get it done?”

It’s a perspective shared by Véronique Herry from Equal Voice Yukon, an organization dedicated to advancing women in Yukon politics.

She noted the successes of previous women in Yukon politics — namely Duncan’s victory in 2000, former Yukon NDP MP Audrey McLaughlin becoming the first female leader of a political party and the territory’s high percentage of women as MLAs.

“Some of our advantages historically in the Yukon have been that, one, it costs less to run a campaign here than it would in a lot of the bigger centres,” she said. “And secondly, it’s a little bit easier to have access to a lot of our political nominees, which means you get to know them a bit better.”

Another reason she mentioned was more family-friendly policies within the territory, including one put forward by Duncan and former Yukon Party MLA Elaine Taylor that ended the legislature at 5:30 p.m. to help MLAs who had children.

Although Herry is disappointed by the lack of female premiers, she’s also encouraged by the record amount of women in legislatures like B.C. and Ontario and Yukon.

Duncan also remains optimistic. Earlier this year, she and 10 other former women premiers attended the No Second Chances conference, where a room full of women of all ages got to ask what needs to change to bring more women into politics.

“It was about giving one another the confidence to believe in themselves,” she said.

“Kathy Dunderdale from Newfoundland said it best: ‘You need to do it.’ To borrow the (Nike) slogan ‘just do it,’ do put your name forward. Consider the talents you have to offer and encourage other women to run. Yes, it’s a tough job, it’s not easy. Nothing worth doing is that easy.”

Contact Joshua Azizi at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Connie Peggy Thorn, 52, pleaded guilty Jan. 27 to manslaughter in the 2017 death of Greg Dawson. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Whitehorse woman pleads guilty to manslaughter in death of Greg Dawson

Connie Thorn, 52, was arrested in October 2019 and pleaded guilty in Supreme Court on Jan. 27.

Abigail Jirousek, left, is tailed by Brian Horton while climbing a hill during the Cross Country Yukon January Classic in Whitehorse on Jan. 23. Jirousek finished second in the U16 girls category. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Cross Country Yukon hosts classic race

Cross Country Yukon hosted a classic technique cross-country ski race on Jan.… Continue reading

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver talks to media on March 5, 2020. The Yukon government said Jan. 25 that it is disappointed in a decision by the federal government to send the Kudz Ze Kayah mining project back to the drawing board. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Territorial and federal governments at odds over Kudz Ze Kayah mine project

The federal government, backed by Liard First Nation, sent the proposal back to the screening stage


Wyatt’s World for Jan. 27, 2021

Yukon RCMP said in a press release that they are seeing an increase in tinted front passenger windows and are reminding people that it is illegal and potentially dangerous. (RCMP handout)
RCMP warn against upward trend of tinted windows

Yukon RCMP are seeing more vehicles with tinted front passenger windows, prompting… Continue reading

An arrest warrant has been issued for a 22-year-old man facing two tickets violating the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em>. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Arrest warrant issued for CEMA violation

An arrest warrant has been issued for Ansh Dhawan over two tickets for violating CEMA

The office space at 151 Industrial Road in Marwell. At Whitehorse city council’s Jan. 25 meeting, members voted to sign off on the conditional use approval so Unit 6 at 151 Industrial Rd. can be used for office space. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Marwell move set for land and building services staff

Conditional use, lease approved for office space

The bus stop at the corner of Industrial and Jasper Road in Whitehorse on Jan. 25. The stop will be moved approximately 80 metres closer to Quartz Road. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
UPDATED: Industrial Road bus stop to be relocated

The city has postponed the move indefinitely

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

Most Read