NDP candidate for Chilliwack-Kent and former MLA rally for female politicians
BC NDP Candidate for Chilliwack-Kent Patti MacAhonic hosted the 28th Annual Bread & Roses celebration to honour volunteers on behalf of the Ann Davis Transition Society last Thursday. Former Chilliwack-Hope MLA Gwen O’Mahony was featured as the luncheon’s guest speaker. With the provincial election well underway O'Mahony spoke candidly of her time as the MLA, but also as a woman on the campaign trail. As a young female politician she may have just paved the way for female candidates like MacAhonic.
Currently, there are a shortage of female politicians, and according to stats Canada the majority of women would not choose to run for office. An alarming 67 per cent of women in Canada aren’t interested in running for politics, so campaigners like O' Mahony, and MacAhonic are a rare breed, despite having a female premier in office.
When O' Mahony started doorknocking in 2009, the response she most often received was in regard to her gender. “Eight out nine people would answer the door and say oh you’re a woman,” said O' Mahony. After some time that element wasn’t there anymore, largely in part to O'Mahony’s determination to campaign with the best of her male counterparts, citing her Irish background, as part of the reason she tackled her campaign head on despite initial concerns over her sex.
“Eventually that shock factor didn’t exist anymore so I think that I made a woman running for politics more normalized,” she said. “Women also tend to get elected ten years later than men and we’re used to seeing younger men getting elected into office so my age might have played a role in the shock factor,” she said.
O' Mahony was 39 years old when she was elected into office in 2012.
“As a politician your name has to resonate and people have to understand who you are and the only way to do that is to get out there and start running for elections.”
O' Mahony ran three times before being elected but it wasn’t until the Jack Layton campaign that people began to recognize her, and acknowledge that she might have a chance at winning.
Being personable and approachable is an important part of being an elected government official in small communities, according to O'Mahony, and people would often go to O' Mahony for help on different issues that she would then parlay to the media to help them gain traction.
During her speech,O' Mahony showed a plaque of female political representatives from the early 1900s to present day, and made a point to illustrate, that had she brought in a board with male representatives from this time period, there would have easily been eight boards.
“Though people think we’ve tackled these issues and women’s rights, we really haven’t come that far in hundred years,” said O'Mahony. “It’s important to get women running in politics.”
“The NDP party really makes an effort to get women running in politics, we have taken fire from other political parties because we make sure that women are elected,” said O' Mahony. “When someone looks at this board and says why? Or what a shame? It’s not simply enough to say this is an issue and you have to do something about it, so our party has designated ridings for female candidates, we have a scholarship program for women, which is what I benefitted from with the Jack Layton campaign, and it made the difference in my campaign — I couldn’t have run without it,” she said.
Progressive women are often punished in politics, according to O' Mahony and MacAhonic.
“Because you are a strong woman it can bring with it a back lash...I bring up unpopular things, and I have women come up to me and say thank you for coming forward — I will stand up, it’s not popular but I’m doing it anyway,” said MacAhonic of her style of politicking as she moves forward in the 2017 election and for her plans should she be elected as the MLA for Chilliwack-Kent.