Nancy Peckford, left, presents Lisa McLeod, M.P.P., with the Equal Voice EVE Award. [photo: Equal Voice]

by Nancy Peckford

Every year, on March 8, many organizations take the opportunity to mark International Women’s Day, as was the case right here in North Grenville. While not as widely celebrated or well known as Mother’s Day, International Women’s Day marks the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It is also a day to highlight the need for gender balance in all of our institutions. For many decades in Canada, few women were aware that there was a day dedicated to women’s advancement. The tenacious efforts of community groups, and the recent #metoo movement are changing that.

Equal Voice, Canada’s only national multi-partisan organization dedicated to electing more women, marks International Women’s Day to underscore the need for more diversity in politics. Last year, Equal Voice pursued this goal through its historic 2017 initiative, Daughters of the Vote, which brought 338 diverse and dynamic young women, one from every federal riding, to Parliament Hill to take their seat for a day in Canada’s Parliament. Michaela Rutherford-Blouin was chosen as EV’s Daughter of the Vote delegate for Leeds and Grenville- Thousand Islands- Rideau Lakes. Michaela is a talented and strong advocate for women, just one of so many here in the community.

This year, Equal Voice marked International Women’s Day by recognizing the accomplishments of two very different elected officials. These included Ottawa area Member of Provincial Parliament, Lisa MacLeod, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. For perhaps one of the first times, these two individuals representing two very distinct parties, ideologies, and levels of governments, found themselves in the same room, and on the same stage.

Equal Voice chose to celebrate Ms. MacLeod given her unique journey and accomplishments. In 2006, Lisa MacLeod was the youngest MPP in the Ontario legislature, the youngest female Conservative elected official in Ontario (federally or provincially), and the proud mother of a 1-year old.

Within a year of Lisa’s arrival at Queen’s Park, she did something no one else had done before. She successfully petitioned her peers to support a fundamental change in the sitting hours at the legislature, so that they would reflect a more contemporary workplace. At the time, the sitting hours at Queen’s Park reflected the realities of on all-male Provincial Parliament from 150 years ago. With the support of the Ontario speaker, Queen’s Park now regularly convenes at 9 a.m., Question Period is before noon, and midnight debates are a rarity.

Changes like this weren’t just for her, but for all women and men MPPs, present and future. Ms. MacLeod subsequently became an early and crucial champion for Equal Voice’s ambitious initiative, Daughters of the Vote.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on the other hand, was recognized by Equal Voice for his commitment to amplifying women’s role in public life. In 2015, when Mr. Trudeau appointed his gender balanced cabinet (50% and 50%), he was the first Prime Minister to do so in Canada’s history. While Premiers Jean Charest and Rachel Notley had previously appointed gender balanced provincial cabinets, Mr. Trudeau’s decision unquestionably raised the bar in Canada – and across the globe – and compelled many others to aim for better gender balance in their own cabinets.

Consequently, in Canada today, women hold a critical mass (defined by the United Nations as 33 percent or more) of cabinet positions in seven provinces and territories. Further, in addition to Canada’s Parliament, British Columbia and Alberta both have cabinets with 50% women.

Both Ms. MacLeod and Mr. Trudeau gave passionate speeches at Equal Voice’s event that make the case for far more women in politics across party lines. These were carried live on CPAC, and can be viewed on their website. And while, obviously, no government or elected official is perfect, the commitment of these two individuals from very different parties and walks of life highlights how much small actions can matter a great deal when it comes to women’s representation.

They also remind us about the crucial role men can play in championing talented women to ensure they have equal opportunities in all fields, not just politics. As Lisa MacLeod said with such conviction, “we need strong men to support strong women” to run and serve in elected office at all levels. And, fundamentally, that is what International Women’s Day is all about.

(Nancy Peckford is the Executive Director of Equal Voice and a resident of North Grenville.)

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