Evolution of Voting Rights for Women in the Provinces

After gradually obtaining the right to vote in federal elections from 1917 to 1919, the struggle still continued for the same right to vote on a provincial level.

During the nine years that followed Manitoba women’s right to vote (1916), the federal government and most of the provinces followed suit, passing laws that granted the right of vote to women:

  • Alberta (1916)
  • Saskatchewan (1916)
  • British-Columbia (1917)
  • Ontario (1917)
  • Nova Scotia (1918)
  • New Brunswick (1919)
  • Prince Edward Island (1922)
  • Newfoundland (1925)

Only Quebec would resist the movement for the political emancipation of women.

Quebec women take action

The women’s movement in Quebec would differ from the Canadian suffrage movement. The Canadian suffragettes found themselves less restricted in their undertakings than the women of Quebec. English feminists took their causes straight to the government, lobbying for bills and referendums. They signed petitions, organized demonstrations and staged advertising campaigns to raise awareness.

In Quebec, however, the feminist movement was initially more concerned about acquiring social rights for women than voting rights. The resistance to women’s voting rights in the province was also exacerbated by the fact that politicians, journalists, the Church and women in rural areas were opposed to female suffrage.

It was only in the 1920s that Quebec women began organizing groups to focus on the question, leading to the creation of the Provincial Committee for Women’s Suffrage (PCWS), founded by Marie Gerin-Lajoie and Mrs. Walter Lyman. The PCWS was an apolitical organization that campaigned on the platform that receiving the right to vote would raise awareness of women’s rights and improve their social conditions.

The League of Women’s Rights (LWR) was founded in 1929 to support the efforts of the PCWS. It was not until 1939, with the election of Adelard Godbout, Leader of the Liberal Party, that the suffragettes, led by the League of Women’s Rights President, Thérèse Casgrain, finally accomplished their mission.

On April 18, 1940, the bill granting voting rights to women in Quebec was adopted, despite opposition from Cardinal Villeneuve. Acquiring the right to vote was a very important milestone in the history of women, since it marked the end of the political trusteeship they had been subjected to, and the beginning of formal equality between the sexes.

In 1961, Marie-Claire Kirkland-Casgrain became the first woman elected to the National Assembly of Quebec, and then later went on to become the first female Cabinet Minister in Quebec.

Since the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, universal suffrage is protected in Canada under the Constitution Act. But despite formal equality and universal suffrage, in this third millennium, women are still a minority in the political arena.