100 Years of Women’s Suffrage
April 4, 2017
British Columbians have a lot to celebrate this year. 2017 marks 100 years since women won the right to vote in our provincial elections. An amendment to the Provincial Elections Act received royal assent on April 5, 1917, ending the exclusion of women from voting and running for provincial office.
B.C. was the fourth Canadian province to extend voting rights to women, and the only province to do so as the result of a referendum. In conjunction with the 1916 provincial election, male voters – the only people eligible in 1916 – voted 70% in favour of giving B.C. women the right to vote.
In January 1918, Mary Ellen Smith became the first British Columbian woman elected to the Legislative Assembly. She was elected again in 1920 and 1924, and was the first female cabinet minister in the British Empire.
Although B.C. women won the right to vote in 1917, equality for all had not been achieved. Women and men of certain ethnic groups were excluded for several decades after women were officially enfranchised.
- Status Indians – First Nations people registered under the Indian Act – were not allowed to vote in provincial elections until 1949, or federal elections until 1960.
- In the late 19th century, thousands of Chinese workers completed the B.C. arm of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Nevertheless, B.C. stripped voting rights from Chinese-Canadians in 1874, and did not reinstate them until 1947.
- Fears over immigration led to the provincial government denying South Asian people – referred to as Hindus in the legislation of the time – the right to vote in 1907. Voting rights were not regained until 1947.
- Japanese-Canadians were also restricted from voting or holding public office, beginning in 1895. During the Second World War, B.C. residents of Japanese heritage were subject to systematic discrimination, detention and expulsion from their homes. In 1949, the legal rights of Japanese-Canadians, including the right to vote, were finally reinstated.
Today, every Canadian citizen’s right to vote federally and provincially is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. British Columbians can celebrate that right on May 9, when eligible voters can vote in the 41st Provincial General Election. Make sure your voice is heard. Let’s all vote.