True grit

Pam
Pam Frampton
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Yvonne Jones — File Photo/ The Telegram

Last in a three-part series

“Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels.”

— Faith Whittlesey, an American former politician and ambassador

Yvonne Jones dyed her blond hair brown once and her office was inundated with more than 100 messages — with some people for and some against the colour change.

When people thought she needed to lose weight, they had no problem weighing in.

And for years — until she announced publicly she had been diagnosed with breast cancer — she received hate mail from someone seemingly obsessed with a slight facial anomaly caused by a mild stroke she suffered years ago.

“I think women are under more scrutiny in general, not just in politics,” Jones said during a sit-down interview recently at her stylish and contemporary Georgetown home — a house she bought in part because in winter she gets to watch children sliding and that reminds her of her childhood.

The affable and tenacious MHA is still leader of the opposition. While Kevin Aylward is Liberal party leader, he currently doesn’t hold a seat in the House of Assembly and so Jones retains that title.

“I think women are always looked at in terms of their appearance,” she continued.

“I think their physical attributes, unfortunately, play a huge role.”

Working for a cause

For Jones, the barbs and unbidden advice bounce off her incredibly resilient personal armour.

“I wake up every day and feel good about myself,” she says with her trademark candour. “I work hard every day to make life better for other people and for myself.”

And she’s not talking about financial rewards.

In fact, as she aptly notes, “Money is no longer a motivator” in politics, particularly in a province where lucrative opportunities exist in the oilpatch without having to work 12 or 16 hours a day and be essentially on call at all times.

What drives Jones, she says, is a desire to see life improve for citizens of this province, particularly those in her constituency of Cartwright-L’Anse au Clair, which has been described as one of the safest Liberal seats in the province. (Indeed, the only time in more than 30 years that a Liberal hasn’t been elected there was in 1996, when Jones beat Liberal Danny Dumaresque by running against him as an independent when she didn’t snag the Liberal nomination. How’s that for comeuppance?)

“I felt I could be a strong advocate for those people …,” she said. “It has been the motivating factor for me to stay in politics as long as I have.”

She says she’s pleased with the huge transformation that has occurred in her district since those early days, including improvements in health care, employment, tourism and transportation.

“How far we’ve come,” she muses, but quickly adds, “There’s still a lot to be done.”

Stepping back, not backing out

Which is why she is not prepared to throw in the towel, even after having to grudgingly step aside as party leader to pay more attention to her health.

And, really, what would you expect from a career politician who was so convinced she could make a difference in elected office that her very first campaign was funded by “bingos and bake sales and my friends going door to door”?

Sacrifice involved

Jones’ determination has earned her respect from colleagues of all stripes. But she admits it’s not a career with universal appeal.

“It’s not for everyone,” she said. “It draws heavily on your time. I’ve missed many family events. … Not all women are ready to give that up.”

Nor all men. Jones said while in the old days women — more often than not — shouldered the responsibility for housework, caring for elderly parents and children, these days the weight is more evenly distributed.

She says three men she tried to recruit in the past year had to reluctantly decline because they had children between the ages of four and 12 and were at least partly responsible for getting them to minor hockey and music lessons and the like.

“I’m hearing it as much from men today as I am from women,” said Jones, who feels personality matters more than gender when it comes to good candidates.

She said there’s a growing awareness at the House of Assembly that politicians — like other people — need to try to maintain a healthy balance between work and home life.

“I wasn’t fortunate enough to have children, so I really can’t relate to people who’ve raised a family within political life, but I know many people who have done it successfully,” she said.

On the House

Asked whether she thinks the presence of women has changed the tenor of debate in the House, Jones thinks for a moment.

“When I look at political life and the House of Assembly,” she says, “I look at a place steeped in tradition and influenced by men over the years. (But) that’s the place we chose to walk into.

 “There will always be heated debate (in the House), whether it’s men or women. I’d like to think there’s a mutual level of respect; an unwritten code.”

Jones said it’s been a tumultuous year, and her only plans for the future — apart from concentrating on regaining her full strength and good health — is to ask the people in Cartwright-L’Anse au Clair for their support in the Oct. 11 election.

As for what advice she would give other people considering a run at political life, she says people should be confident in who they are and not let petty criticism erode that confidence.

“The value is in what you have to say,” she said. “You can let these things bother you or you can be the bigger person. ... This is a profession, whether you’re male or female, that you’ve really got to want. Not everyone is willing to give up the privacy and live a very public life.”

But she expects women will be represented in greater number in the House in the future, “just as we are in (other) professions, the trades, the judiciary and professional groups.”

The best politicians, she says, are driven by passion, a desire for change and strong perspectives.

Sounds like a self-portrait, if you ask me.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s story editor. She can be reached by email at

pframpton@thetelegram.com.

Twitter: pam_frampton

Geographic location: Georgetown, Cartwright

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  • dorothy
    September 21, 2011 - 11:44

    I have always had a great respect for Yvonne Jones. She has impressed me with her leadership. However, it's wise for her to focus on her health.

  • Carl
    September 03, 2011 - 12:12

    It is pure rubbish for Jones to say women are under more scrutiny than men in politics or elsewhere. Prime Minister Harper is constantly ridiculed for his hair and his weight. Jean Chretien was ridiculed by Reformers for his crooked mouth. Preston Manning was ridiculed for his nerdy glasses and hairdo, and actually had to get a makeover so people would pay attention to his ideas instead of his appearance. The excessive focus on the appearance of our politicians is wrong, but it applies equally to men and women.

  • Mark
    September 03, 2011 - 07:46

    I truly believe that there are no offers of opportunity in the oil patch for Yvonne Jones.