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But will Feb. 13 be a game-changer for the province?
The slate of candidates across all parties might look more diverse and be an encouragement for change, but it’s who takes the seats in the House of Assembly that matters, say some of the candidates.
When the election is over, the diversity can end, said Torngat Mountains Progressive Conservative incumbent Lela Evans.
“We were kind of criticized for having two women MHAs for the PCs. We had really, really credible, strong, independent women in the 2019 election. They just didn't win,” Evans said.
What will happen on Feb. 13 has many hopeful, but realistic, about how the legislature will look in terms of electing more women, Indigenous people and others of different backgrounds.
Evans is well able to speak to diversity as a lesbian Indigenous woman.
“I tick all the boxes,” Evans said by phone from Hopedale.
When Evans was first elected in 2019, she experienced heckling at first, but her diligence in pursuing her district’s issues soon silenced the clamour from opponents in the House of Assembly.
“Over into the fall it had stopped and it was actually reflecting poorly on them,” Evans said.
“I am always mindful to present credible facts. I don’t have the luxury of making a mistake or exaggerating.”
She said she has been fortunate in her district, where voters want someone to put forward their issues in a forthright manner.
Evans wants voters to choose the best candidates.
“Gender, diversity — all those things are important, but it’s the individual,” Evans said.
“Don’t just follow the party line or people you know. The most important thing I say to people is you need to vote for somebody who is honest and sincere and advocates on your behalf.”
Newfoundland and Labrador Alliance candidate Andrea Newbury, who is running in Mount Scio, said while parties have a big push on to recruit more female candidates, issues like being able to find affordable daycare spaces and, for some, being able to take leave from a job remain obstacles to women putting their name forward.
Though it was a difficult decision for her, Newbury said she felt it was important to step up.
Even though she is aware there can be backlash on social media directed at women who enter politics, Newbury is taking comfort in the network of women across all parties who are supporting each other online.
“I have had several personal messages from candidates in other parties,” Newbury said.
“It’s a very nice community that has formed. It’s beautiful actually to see. It goes to show how when women get involved how quickly things can evolve in politics.”
Anne Marie Anonsen is running for the NDP in Terra Nova, and said her party has made the biggest push on diversity.
“Really, the NDP, we got everybody covered,” said Anonsen, who is also a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered plus (LGBT-plus) community.
She says she hasn’t experienced any personal backlash.
“Nobody has talked to me about my hair, or my earrings. I have had no problems that way,” Anonsen said.
Instead, she said they want to talk about the fishery and the rural-urban divide, and she also got a solid piece of advice from Noel Joe, who is from Conne River and the NDP candidate for Fortune Bay-Cape La Hune.
That advice was to make sure she had a good spare tire, as cellphone reception can be spotty and it can be a long way from help if you get a flat in the wrong place.
Joe, a former band councillor for Miawpukek First Nation, ran federally in the last election.
“I think as any person that is putting their name forward for public service, they always have that fear in the back of their mind of what is being said on social media or anything. As an Indigenous candidate, that fear and worry is always there,” Joe said.
He’s had messages from people who think he’s living a tax-free lifestyle, which he said is false.
One hateful writer accused Joe of only being interested in his "own people" and helping Indigenous people.
Though it’s hard to take the negative views of a select few, it does make him stronger as an individual, he said.
“I am very encouraged by the diversity of candidates that are being put forward across all levels of all parties. Looking at the candidates, reading their bios and that, we have some remarkable people that are putting their name forward, whether it’s for the NDP, the PCs or the Liberals. That’s what we need in today’s politics — it’s not just a one-sided game. … Politics shouldn’t be hateful,” Joe said.
Age no impediment
PC candidate for St. John’s West Kristina Ennis got laid off from the oil and gas industry a week before Christmas and was a little hesitant at first to run, but said she’s been overwhelmed by support.
However, she is hurt by some who comment on her age — Ennis is 30.
She has been asked if she is old enough to run.
“It is said in a joking manner, but it’s really not appropriate,” she said.
“Would they ask a male candidate the same question? Maybe they would.”
Ennis said more diverse teams are more innovative.
Though she comes from a male-dominated industry, she said she experienced no backlash there, and that strength made her decision to seek election easier.
Gemma Hickey, the first non-binary candidate, said filing nominations papers was a breeze.
Hickey, running in St. John’s Centre for the Liberals, also likes the election landscape so far.
“I am so encouraged by the number of women on the ballot across all the party lines,” Hickey said.
Hickey has been in the public eye as an actvist for about 20 years, and has experienced death threats and property damage in the past.
There is a person who Hickey said they may file a police report about, as the person’s behaviour is concerning, but that kind of treatment isn’t new just because Hickey is a candidate.
The door-to-door experience has been good, Hickey said.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive and very supportive. … Being transgender doesn't factor in at all.”
Pam Parsons, who was deputy speaker of the House before the writ was dropped, as well as the representative to the Commonwealth Women’s Parliamentarians, founded in the 1980s to promote women in politics, said she’s loved being an MHA for Harbour Grace-Port de Grave because she gets to work with the communities and see results.
She said that although she hasn't had gender backlash, more change is needed — for instance she is only the third female deputy speaker, and there’s never been a female speaker.
“There’s still a lot more work to be done to bring equal footing with male counterparts,” Parsons said.
Gillian Pearson, co-chair of Equal Voice NL, a multi-partisan group dedicated to electing more women to all levels of political office, noted as of Wednesday midday there are 33 confirmed female candidates on the slate for all parties combined. She was hoping for more by Saturday's deadline for filing nomination papers.
Pearson says that the more women there are in the legislature, the better the decorum would be.
She said even when people aren’t trying to be hurtful, they can say negative things, such as, “You’re too pretty to run.”
But Pearson said she is also heartened by the women of all parties picking up for one another, and sharing tips and even election playlists.
“This community is really small and we have a lot of women who are super involved in their community and in the real world, working with and crossing paths with these women all the time,” she said.
Can they win?
Amanda Bittner, a political scientist at Memorial University and director of the Gender and Politics Laboratory, acknowledged parties are trying to recruit more diverse candidates.
“The question is going to be how that shapes up to what either women or other traditionally marginalized groups and equity-deserving groups are in winnable ridings. We’ll see about that. It’s still early days,” Bittner said, adding new ideas from diverse voices are an asset to tackling the province's troubles.
She said the COVID-19 pandemic is a challenge for new candidates to get themselves known, as the door-to-door opportunities are not the same.
“It’s really difficult to talk to people and meet people. It's a challenge for new candidates of all stripes, all parties and all backgrounds. This is a challenge, for sure,” Bittner said.