In a panel of six speakers at last week’s Women in Government information session in Port Alberni, there was a common thread: all were former politicians, and all except one said they had never considered running for office before someone else asked them.
Their stories were part of a two-and-a-half-hour session that drew more than 60 women curious about what it takes to run for public office.
The evening began with a “nuts and bolts” discussion from electoral officers Davina Hartwell of the City of Port Alberni and Wendy Thomson from the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District. Then the panel of Gillian Trumper, Donna Brett, Bev Denning, Patty Edwards (also a co-organizer), Cynthia Dick from the Tseshaht First Nation and Deb Foxcroft from Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.
Gillian Trumper was elected to the School District 70 board, then as an alderman (now city councillor) in Port Alberni. She was often the only female sitting on a council. When she decided to run for mayor, she told the incumbent before she announced it publicly. “He said, ‘we will really miss you on council’,” she related. She won the seat, and went on to serve as the region’s MLA too before retiring.
Deb Foxcroft, the first female president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, said women need women to inspire them. “We need to be role models for younger women…so they’re inspired to have courage and strength to go to these political tables.”
Patty Edwards said a news story on the radio that mentioned no one had put their name forward for Beaver Creek in the ACRD prompted her to submit nomination papers. She spent 15 years on the board.
Tofino mayor Josie Osborne, who delivered a keynote address that kept the room’s attention for 45 minutes, said even she had not considered running until someone suggested it.
“The idea to run wasn’t mine,” said Osborne, who at 46 years old is the youngest by almost two decades on her council. “Someone came to me. I said…no, I don’t want to be ‘one of them’,” until her husband suggested she would be ideal for the position of mayor.
“My head was full of ‘yes, but…’,” she said. “For me personally, the biggest ‘but’ was do I have a thick enough skin? I never thought I had what it takes to be a politician.” She was acclaimed for the position in a by-election.
Osborne encouraged women to think about running for office, saying B.C. is pretty good at 39 percent of its politicians being female. “Women bring distinctive personalities and work styles” to a board, she added. “Women collaborate, and when they do, they are very, very powerful.”
Although the balance may not be equal on municipal, provincial or federal governments, Osborne said that isn’t the case when it comes to the way people vote in an election. “Gender is not a liability at the ballot box,” she said. “Women win at the same rate as men.”
You just have to ask them to run for office.