My name is Brenda Elliott. By way of introduction, I have been a member of the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) for 17 years. In 1995, I was elected as Guelph’s first female Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP). During my two terms in office, I was also cabinet minister and/or parliamentary secretary in 4 portfolios- Energy, Environment, Citizenship and Culture, Family and Children’s Services and Intergovernmental Affairs. I had the opportunity to work with elected officials from all levels of government both across Canada and internationally.
Over the years I have participated in many studies and panels about women in politics. This topic was often discussed with my female colleagues and there were many of us in government at the time. These are my observations based on my experiences.
First, I believe that it is important for women to be in politics. We bring a different perspective to issues. I think that women tend to be more collaborative in their approach to solving issues. This is essential in a combative milieu that is continuously struggling with conflicting needs and wants. I do not support a quota approach to address any gender gaps.
I strongly believe that the electorate whether voting in municipal, provincial or federal elections does not care about a candidate’s gender. Certainly there are some voters who would not vote for a woman but they are cancelled out by those who deliberately choose women.
The average voter bases his or her decision on who they wish to represent them primarily on issues, policies, parties and leaders. They judge how trustworthy, likeable and approachable the candidate appears to be. Lastly, a candidate’s record of experience, background and achievement will be considered.
The most important factor in a candidate’s success is their own personality. One must be strong, bold, determined and driven to win and succeed. The candidate must learn the electoral process, create a plan, gather a team, then work tirelessly to implement it all. You must be a leader. No one can do it for you and this is key, one must factor in financial stability, work absence and childcare during the entire campaign period.
One must understand right from the outset that many will do almost anything to make one fail. The media play “Gotcha!” 24 hours a day. Unlike almost every other field of endeavour, in politics anything is fair game. There will be personal and hurtful episodes. Sadly I think that more and more men and women are recognizing this and are choosing to stay away. My husband was amazingly supportive and helpful during the campaign but he hated the publicity and cutthroat nature of the political and media world once I was elected. The work hours are gruelling -6a.m. to 10 p.m.. This would have been a nightmare if my children had been young!
I ran at the time because much like today, Ontario’s debt was out of control and our province was declining. I knew of too many business owners who were thinking of leaving. My personal philosophy, “By Work and Worth We Rise,” was in jeopardy in this great province.
I was not the favoured candidate and was seen as an upstart. As a consequence, when I won the nomination, I received no help and was even required to raise my own campaign money. That just made me even more determined. Not only did I gather an amazing team of people but also developed a fundraising strategy so successful that it was adopted province-wide.
Finally, being in politics allows amazing opportunities to meet wonderful people, assist countless individuals and enact helpful legislation. Occasionally I felt that my gender was a negative factor in the entire experience but I also know that sometimes being a woman was a bonus.
It was all about competence, drive and opportunity.