Equal Voice Manitoba hosts municipal election boot camp

National organization aims to boost female participation in political arena

Shannon Sampert hosted a workshop on“Dealing with the Media: What to Expect” as part of Equal Voice’s Municipal Campaign Boot Camp.

A day-long training workshop titled “Municipal Campaign Boot Camp” was held at the legislature Jan. 27 in an attempt to get more women involved in the municipal elections coming fall.

Co-hosted by the Manitoba chapter of Equal Voice and Myrna Driedger, speaker of the Manitoba legislature, the event offered networking opportunities for women interested in running for office or women keen to undertake various roles within a political campaign.

Since its inception nationally in 2001, Equal Voice’s mandate has been to increase the representation of women in all levels of government and to lobby for changes at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels to encourage the participation of women in politics.

Only 26 per cent of the members of parliament elected in the 2015 federal elections were women.

Similarly, of a 15-member city council, only four Winnipeg councillors are women, amounting to 25 per cent of council.

Winnipeg’s female councillors – Jenny Gerbasi, Cindy Gilroy, Janice Lukes, and Devi Sharma – engaged with the attendees through a panel discussion on the challenges women face in politics.

Delaney Coelho, co-chair of Equal Voice Manitoba, said, “My hope for today was to start building or build on a community and network of women who are interested in running or supporting other women to run and have women walk away with some tangible skills that they could apply to their campaigns.”

The boot camp featured a “Civic Campaign 101” session with Rebecca Blaikie, president of the federal NDP from 2011 to 2016, and “Dealing with the Media: What to Expect” with Shannon Sampert, the first female op-ed editor of the Winnipeg Free Press.

Manitoba’s chapter of Equal Voice started in late 2016. The municipal elections to be held in October will be the first elections since the chapter has been active in the province.

“We have seen a consistent amount of women and people who support more women in politics coming out to events,” Coelho said.

“We are seeing continued support and continued encouragement and women are excited and I think that women and people who support more women in politics are eager for this,” she added. “They want to see a change.”

Equal Voice welcomed all who had an interest in seeing more women get elected in government.

Participant testimonial

Ayat Mneina, a political staffer at the Manitoba legislature, said she attended the boot camp to learn about the campaign process leading up to the elections, although she does not intend on running in the civic elections.

Mneina said she has been involved in political campaigns, performing various roles and in different capacities, without any exposure to formal training and workshops.

“If I could get a how-to manual, that would be really helpful because campaigns are really dynamic and exciting times,” she said. “I felt like I would like to see how others have done it.

“A lot of people in the political world have come from places where they’ve been exposed to politics for a very long time or it’s not their first campaign, not their first rodeo, and find that I’m on the newer end of the spectrum. So I am here to learn.”

#MeToo campaign

The #MeToo campaign, which began with women in Hollywood speaking out against sexual harassment, has made its way into Canadian politics as well.

Within the last week, well-known politicians Patrick Brown and Jamie Baillie – leaders of the Progressive Conservative opposition in the provinces of Ontario and Nova Scotia, respectively – resigned after complaints of sexual miscount were made public.

Federal Liberal Kent Hehr, member of parliament for Calgary Centre, resigned from cabinet last week after being accused of sexual misconduct. Hehr served as minister of sport and persons with disabilities. He remians a member of the Liberal caucus.

Commenting on the campaign, Myenina said, “We have heard from women in various roles in municipal council in their own experiences in political life and how they might have had to grapple with sexual harassment or their relation to the #MeToo campaign,” Myenia said.

Myenia said workshops like the one organized by Equal Voice are critical to increasing female representation within the political arena.

“I do not think it’s a one-off,” she said. “I think it’s an ongoing conversation and making women feel safe to come into these spaces and seeking women out.”