Author and journalist Fred Groves tackles gender disparity in Canadian politics. Highlighting women who have climbed the ranks as Federal Opposition leaders and Cabinet Ministers as well as those who are relative newcomers to Canada’s political scene, the book questions why, after over 100 years of voting rights, so few women end up in positions of political influence in Canada compared to men. For those interested in the answers, Groves’ deep look into the history of women’s involvement in Canadian politics may provide what they’re looking for.
Elect Her: Still Struggling to be Recognized as Equals (Crossfield Publishing) was published earlier this year. With the dreaded US election days away, some of us may be thinking back to four years ago in 2016, when, it seemed like there was a possibility to have another landmark election result with the first woman elected to the Presidency of the United States of America, following the ground-breaking rise of Barrack Obama, the first Black President. In this interview, the author discusses the impact of putting this book together had on him, what he learned, and the importance of a massive change in the way we view women in politics.
What made you want to look into women in politics? When did you realize you had a book?
Along with other female politicians I’ve met during my journalism career path, a counselor in my home town of Essex, Ontario, Sherry Bondy, led me to the following biased conclusion: women make better politicians. As negotiators, they’re just as good, if not better, than their male colleagues. They have more patience and leave their egos at the door, even in in the midst of heated debates. As the ones who have to get home and take care of the children, they’re better at time management. They’re also not as prone to accept the status quo and they tend to ask more questions.
As far as when did I realize I had a book. That is a very good question and I guess the answer is that when I first started researching those women who were and had been in office in Windsor-Essex a writing colleague of mine said that I should expand my scope and include women across Canada. Once I realized how openly many of them were to speak to me, I was compelled to write the book.
What story did you hear while interviewing women in politics that surprised you the most?
In regards to what surprised me the most when I was conducting my research, there are a few, including how former Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps responded to a male politician making sexual advances towards her and how she took care of it. Without a doubt, the biggest surprise and a true indicator of what women have to overcome to gain equality is how former Winnipeg Mayor Susan Thompson became the first and to date, only female mayor of that city.
Mayor Thompson was a successful businesswoman and prior to becoming the mayor, she tried on ten different attempts, to join the Rotary Club. They told her no, because she was a woman. Well, she held in there until she became the first female club member.
How do the challenges women face when getting into politics differ from the ones men face?
The challenges that women face when trying to become a politician as compared to men, is a fairly easy one to answer. Women continue to be the primary caregivers to both their children and elderly parents. Ergo, if they go into politics with those responsibilities, they need to have a strong support system. Even when doing the same job as a male, women historically make less money than men. This also seems to extend to funding a campaign, so for women, the financial squeeze seems to be tighter. For reasons I can’t fathom, female politicians seem to be subjected to more on-line and social media harassment than their male counterparts.
What can people in powerful positions do to help make room for more women to enter politics?
Sheila Copps quantified the sad main reason why women shy away from politics. When they’re asked to speak up, they are immediately labeled as nasty bitches. It is important to remember that once a woman is on the ballot, she has just as good a chance of becoming elected as a male. One veteran female politician told me, if you want more women to get involved in politics, stop telling them how bad it is. I believe that those of power are beginning to take note that women can get the job done in the political arena and that is why many groups such as Daughters of the Vote are stepping up. Also, major political parties are nominating more women. In June 2018, the Standing Committee on the Status of Women began the process of preparing a report that took a close look at the barriers surrounding women to go into politics. A well thought-out report, that is probably gathering dust somewhere had several key points and one of those, is one I agree with highly. The Government of Canada needs to develop and implement a public education campaign with the goal to positively shift the perception of women in electoral politics.
Many women have been shining as leaders during COVID-19 in health environments. The Chief Medical Officer’s in British Columbia, New Brunswick, Alberta, and other provinces are successful women gaining national attention. Do you think the pandemic is laying the groundwork for more women to step forward and shine in politics as well?
That is really hard to say. We aren’t really seeing more women shine in these roles, it’s just that they happen to be sitting in that particular chair as this Covid-19 is happening. While what they are doing might not necessarily bring them more attention, I believe that it will give them the confidence, that if asked by a major political party, to step up and put their name on the ballot.
Fred Groves has worked as a journalist at several newspapers in Southwestern Ontario including his hometown, Essex Free Press. He is the author of Rising From the Rubble: the 1980 Essex Explosion. Fred lives with his son Ryan and their four-legged supervisor, Fluffy the cat.