When a record-breaking nine women run for municipal office in St. John’s, and fifty one run in municipalities across the province, a celebration is in order. That was the inspiration for the event held by The Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women (PACSW) and Equal Voice NL this past Monday. Women candidates from various municipalities and their supporters gathered in the reception room of the Suncor Energy Fluvarium to network, enjoy refreshments and listen to remarks given by several prominent women.
Emcee Linda Ross, President and CEO of PACSW, delivered opening remarks and introduced the speakers: Cathy Bennett, MHA for Windsor Lake; Gerry Rogers, MHA for St. John’s Centre; and former St. John’s mayor Shannie Duff. They touched on issues such as online harassment, self-care when campaigning, and the value of the supporters in their lives. The speeches concluded with remarks from Lori-Lee Oates, co-chair of Equal Voice NL, who spoke about the astounding number of women running and the importance of women in politics: “Before this year, the record in St. John’s was seven [women running for municipal office].”
Following the speeches, The Muse had the opportunity to speak with some of the candidates about their platforms, as well as their thoughts about why more women are running this year. Renee Sharpe, candidate for mayor of St. John’s, had this to say: “We’re inspiring each other. When we see the hard work that Sheilagh O’Leary does alone on city council, we feel the urgency to step up collectively.” Sharpe’s platform is largely based in her identity as a “working class feminist.” Her focuses are on anti-oppression policy as well as fighting for workers’ rights and better business and employment practices. When asked about what she brings to the table for students, Sharpe brought up the issue of affordable housing, referencing her experience as housing support worker, as well as the current crisis concerning food banks. She shared her thoughts on the possibility of voter suppression; many students cannot vote after being away for the summer as you must be in the city for thirty days before September 26th to be eligible. “That may be strategic because leaders know that when the students speak up change is gonna happen.”
When asked the same question about student voters, Debbie Hanlon, At-Large candidate, had an immediate response: “Scrap the youth council,” referring to the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Youth (M.A.C.Y). Hanlon, who has previously served as a city councillor, explained that she thought the Youth Council was inefficient seeing as “a tenth grader doesn’t have the same values as a MUN student.” Hanlon’s platform includes city accountability regarding taxes, a more accessible city, a focus on business development (as she is a business woman herself) and support for the arts.
Sheilagh O’Leary, a current city councillor running for the position of deputy mayor and another advocate for eliminating M.A.C.Y, dubbed it “a glorified pizza party” She rather called for legislation she put forward to allow two students under eighteen years of age to be non-voting members of city council, in order to express their opinions. She also put forward legislation that would put a post-secondary representative on both the Metrobus commission and the housing committee, citing transit and housing as “the two pivotal issues the city deals with that affect post-secondary students.” When asked why more women are getting involved in municipal politics, O’Leary spoke about the work done by Equal Voice, an organization of which she was once the chair, highlighting the workshops and information sessions they offer, as well as their presence on social media. O’Leary’s platform focuses on business development, neighbourhood safety and utility, environmental stability, and support for arts and culture.
Other St. John’s candidates in attendance included Deanne Stapleton, candidate for Ward 1 with a platform focusing on healthy living, creating affordable housing, fixing up public transit, tackling speeding, and reforming Engage! St. John’s; Hope Jamieson, candidate for Ward 2, whose platform highlights accountability and transparency from politicians, the creation of livable neighbourhoods, and the support of the arts and Maggie Burton, At-Large candidate with a platform dedicated to making communities more habitable, a focus on culture, and economic and business development.
Additionally, some candidates from outside St. John’s attended including Isabelle Fry, Mount Pearl; Trina Appleby, Torbay; Tina Neary, Portugal Cove-St. Phillip’s; Madonna Stewart-Sharpe, Portugal Cove-St. Phillip’s; Kimberly Street, Paradise; Sharlene Brazil, Bell Island; Janine Wallace, Bell Island; Raelene Wall, Brigus; and Hilda Whelan, mayor of Whitbourne.