CWP calls on women to consider political careers

Canadian conference held in Tiverton

By Barb McKay


Women need to act as role models to encourage each other to pursue their aspirations.


That was the messaged echoed by several panelists who took part in the Canadian Women Parliamentarians (CWP) outreach program held at the Bruce Power Visitors’ Centre on Friday. The event was organized by Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson, who is chair of the program steering committee and Ontario representative for the CWP.


Upwards of 80 women, including politicians, municipal chief executive officers, business leaders, agricultural sector leaders, engineers and community champions came to talk about how to encourage capable, competent women to pursue non-traditional careers and enter the political arena.


“We need more female voices at the decision-making table,” said Laura Ross, vice-chair of the CWP, who came from Saskatchewan to participate.


She said new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau set a good tone by appointing women to 50 per cent of the Cabinet posts.


“It is incumbent on us to ensure that they do not falter, because that is the worst thing that could happen.”


The CWP Outreach Program was developed following the completion of the 2013-2017 strategic plan by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. The goal is to encourage women to stand for election to government bodies by advocating for the removal of barriers to their participation. Along with that, the program also encourages women to become more involved in activities that benefit their communities and give women a stronger voice.


“We park our political affiliations at the door and we explore what makes women tick and what interests them,” Thompson said. “Women have made a difference for a very long time. There are representatives here from Women’s Institutes who have been part of those organizations for a long time and I celebrate that. They prove that you can advocate for policy from behind.”


Thompson said it was Women’s Institutes that led to the pasteurizing of milk, to bagged bread and flashing red lights on school buses.


Panelist Kelley Coulter, CAO for the County of Bruce and a university professor, said women need to encourage each other.


“The biggest struggle I have had as a professional is women not being supportive,” she said.


Women instead need to encourage each other to use their voices. She recalled an instance when she asked a question of her students during a class and only the male students raised their hands. The female students were deferring to their male counterparts to answer.


“If you don’t make your point no one will make it for you,” she said.


Fellow panelist Jacquie Bishop is the chairperson of the 2017 International Plowing Match, the first woman to assume the role in the event’s 100-year history. She is also the only female on the Howick Mutual Insurance board of directors. There are times when she has had to prove her ability to take on roles, but she is seeing a shift in mindsets. Bishop raised three daughters and was motivated to be a good role model for them.


“They have great careers. In their generation, doing what they are doing and us putting ourselves out there, it makes a difference.”


Bruce Power vice president of corporate affairs James Scongack, who spoke to the group prior to the panel discussion, said the company learned a great deal from speaking with women’s groups about how to close the gender gap at Bruce Power.


“For us, this is about diversity. We encourage a diverse workplace and we still have a long way to go. This is a journey, not a destination.”


Scongack said Bruce Power works closely with Women in Nuclear, which was represented at the CWP event, to encourage entry into skilled trades.


“We’re doing it because businesses today that are more diverse are more successful,” he said. “They generate better solutions.”