Back in 1977, former New Brunswick deputy premier and business woman Aldéa Landry remembers more women starting to join federal and provincial politics, but the numbers were not where they needed to be.
Forty years later, one may think things have greatly improved and that more women are running and being elected in Canada than ever before. But Landry says that’s not the case in New Brunswick. In fact, she says the numbers are quite similar to those in the mid-seventies.
Currently the New Brunswick legislature has 16 per cent female representation.
“We are now exactly where we were then,” Landry told a crowd of mostly women at The Union Club in Saint John, a place where not long ago, women were not allowed or had to use the back door.
Landry is one of the 12 founding members of Women for 50%, a new group of New Brunswick women leaders who joined together with the goal to increase female participation in the 2018 provincial election. The aim is to have 50 per cent female candidates for each party. The group plans to do this by hosting a free conference in Fredericton on Feb. 13, where participants will hear from party leaders, meet female mentors and learn from a panel of accomplished women. The conference will also feature special guest speaker Sheila Copps, the first women ever to hold the position of Deputy Prime Minister and served 10 years in federal cabinet.
“I think for aeons men have had a network. That’s the problem. It’s a self-fulfilling cycle because you have the ‘old boys’ network that is supporting each other. It’s a natural law of attraction and that’s what drives people to support it. They talk about it, they bring people in” says Roxanne Fairweather, Women for 50% co-chair and co-CEO of Innovatia. “And I think we need to break that barrier. So having women stand up and say ‘you can do this’ I think is showing other women that women are in powerful positions.”
Many of the group’s other founding members are also in business, another sector women haven’t always had it easy in. But Fairweather says the private sector has actually been ahead of the curve when it comes to female leadership and the public sector could learn a thing or two.
“The private sector is far ahead in the province of New Brunswick in terms of political representation for females. And I think the political system needs to take a page out of the book of what we have done in the private sector to move women and advance women into positions of authority and power.”