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Women learning the political process

The women’s campaign school panel ended with a panel discussion with women who have been elected. From the left Darnelda Siegers (Sechelt councillor), Pammila Ruth (school trustee), Alice Lutes (Sechelt councillor), Selina August (Sechelt Band councillor) and Lori Pratt (school trustee). Donna McMahon photo

More than 50 women of all ages – united by their passion for politics –  gathered on March 3 at the SC Botanical Garden for a day-long “women’s campaign school” organized by District of Sechelt Councillor Darnelda Siegers and School District 46 Trustee Lori Pratt.

With municipal elections coming on Oct. 20, the focus of the day was on local politics and the lack of women in local government. (Only 10 of 29 elected officials on the Sunshine Coast are women.) Not all the attendees were aspiring candidates; many wanted to learn how to run campaigns for others.

Siegers and Pratt launched the event with a presentation on “Why do you want to run?” which started with five good reasons NOT to run, e.g. “People are ready for change.” (No, often they aren’t, and candidates need a more specific platform.)

Three corporate officers covered off the Local Government Act and nominations process: Angie Legault for the SCRD, Jo-Anne Frank for Sechelt, and Selina Williams for Gibsons. And Betty Baxter, school trustee, led a workshop on conflict of interest using real life scenarios from Canadian municipalities. They spurred lively discussion.

The biggest change in BC elections this year is the province’s new financing rules, which were outlined by Siegers. As of October 2017, campaign donations can only be made by individuals (not companies or organizations), and the maximum donation is $1,200.

Full details of the new rules will be published later this spring, but the anticipated limits for election spending in areas with populations under 10,000 are $5,000 for councillors or school trustees and $10,000 for mayors. In the District of Sechelt (which is now over 10,000 people) the expected maximums will be $1per person for a mayoralty campaign, or 50 cents for councillors.

Two presenters gave tips on communications – Julie Rogers, communications manager for the District of Sechelt and Helen Carkner of LifePath Communications. Sunshine Coast MP Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, who was not able to attend in person, participated via a pre-recorded video interview.

The event finished up with a panel of local elected women sharing their stories and answering questions. In addition to Siegers and Pratt, School Trustee Pammila Ruth, Sechelt Councillor Alice Lutes and Sechelt Band Councillor Selina August discussed how they got into politics, and their experiences, both good and bad.

“You have to be prepared to make decisions that some people will be unhappy about,” said Siegers, noting that in a small community, elected officials are button-holed everywhere from the beach to the grocery store.

Many women are reluctant to step forward for politics because of the potential for conflict or harassment, but the panel agreed that diversity is crucial. To make good decisions, local government needs to reflect the residents of the community, and our local governments are presently weighted towards older white males.

“It is important that we keep pushing the envelope and step forward or it won’t change,” said Lutes.

“I’m absolutely thrilled with how the day rolled,” said Pratt after the event. “The sessions were really well received, with lots of great energy and information. An incredible group of women, willing to learn more about the local political election process, campaigning and leadership. Tons of great discussion.”  Donna McMahon

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