An Equal Voice in politics

Andrew Robinson
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Weekend forum encourages women to be politically engaged

A forum held Saturday to encourage women to become more politically engaged and run for political office attracted more people than organizers had anticipated, with volunteers forced to find extra chairs and tables shortly after it got underway.

The Newfoundland and Labrador chapter of Equal Voice  hosted a “solution-driven” forum at the E.B. Foran Room at St. John’s City Hall on Saturday. Among the roundtable panelists were MHAs (from left) Tracy Perry, Fortune Bay-Cape LaHune; Cathy Bennett, Virginia Waters; and Gerry Rogers, St. John’s Centre. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

“What a turnout,” exclaimed Lynn Hammond, chairwoman of Equal Voice’s Newfoundland and Labrador chapter. “Isn’t it amazing that we have women and men here (from) all different parts of the community, all different parts of the province. Every political party is represented here today and all levels of government. It’s quite incredible to see that we can all come together and work toward a common goal.”

Held in the Foran Room at St. John’s City Hall, there were discussions on municipal politics and community governance, media, and provincial politics. National executive director for Equal Voice Nancy Peckford also spoke at the event.

“The day is about opening up the opportunity for conversation,” said Hammond, a former communications director within the provincial government.

“We want to talk about some of the barriers that women face in elected office, and also talk about the mechanisms that need to be in place to get them elected. There’s so many aspects involved in getting elected. It’s not just about putting your name on the ballot. You need to know how to organize a campaign team behind you. What kind of financial resources do you need. There’s so much to learn.”

St. John’s East MP Jack Harris spoke of the importance of having mechanisms in place to encourage women to seek political office. In the case of the federal NDP, a process is in place to identify potential female candidates before a nomination process opens. Approximately 40 per cent of NDP MPs in Ottawa are women.

“We have a goal of 50 per cent women candidates for each election,” said Harris.

According to data provided by Equal Voice, women accounted for 34 per cent of all elected candidates in the 2013 municipal elections in Newfoundland and Labrador, a figure that exceeds the national average of 22 per cent.

In the House of Assembly, the eight female members account for 17 per cent of all seats — 48 — in the provincial legislature, and three of the 15 cabinet ministers are women.

Hammond said organizers for the forum had hoped to attract 70 attendees, but more than 80 people were on hand as the first few speakers offered opening remarks.

Twitter: @TeleAndrew

Organizations: NDP MPs

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Ottawa

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