Whistler women encouraged to enter political arena 

Role of women in Canadian politics still not equal

This week’s Women of Whistler meeting had a little more testosterone than usual.

All 15 male candidates running for mayor and council in the Nov. 16 municipal election attended the meeting, getting a sneak view of what the Women of Whistler meetings are all about.

In keeping with the current election buzz around town the guest speaker was Pauline Buck from the Canadian Women Voters Congress.

Buck said she was expecting to find a group of women at the Delta Whistler Village Suites and was surprised to see so many male faces dotted throughout the audience.

But their presence there was a good thing.

"It’s really important that the men hear what the women are thinking," she said.

Founded on Canada Day in 1996, the Canadian Women Voters Congress is an organization dedicated to getting more women involved in politics.

Buck said women make up 52 per cent of the population in Canada and yet the number of women in elected positions is less than 25 per cent.

At a federal level that number is even less, with women making up only 20 per cent of political positions.

"That doesn’t look like balanced representation to me," she said.

She said the number of women in municipal politics is usually a little higher.

That’s not the case in Whistler for the 2002 election. Five of the 20 candidates running in Whistler’s municipal election are women. They are Caroline Lamont, Shelley Phelan, Marianne Wade and incumbents Stephanie Sloan and Kristi Wells. That’s 20 per cent of the candidates.

"The Canadian Women Voters Congress salutes the women of Whistler who are running in this municipal election," said Buck.

Mayor Hugh O’Reilly pointed out that while the numbers of women in politics may be unbalanced on a national scale, he is the only male mayor in the Sea to Sky corridor. Lions Bay, Squamish and Pemberton all have female mayors.

Buck said the key to political equality is education. More education equals more empowerment.

The Canadian Women Voters Congress sponsors the Women’s Campaign School, an annual three-day event.

"We consider it our duty to educate women on how to become involved," said Buck.

Over the course the of three days the registered women examine the skills and tactics required to run a successful campaign, and the details of budgeting, campaign financing and fundraising, among other things.

Sixty women from all walks of life throughout B.C. and other places attended the school in April.

There were even international students from Serbia and the Ukraine this year.

Buck said these Serbian women returned home and were instrumental in rallying the women in their country to vote, an action that ultimately saw the defeat of Slobodan Milosevic.

In that election 71 per cent of voters were the women of Serbia.

Politics is still an uncommon career choice for women in Canada.

Buck said it is difficult for women to run in elections and balance the responsibilities of a family and financial commitments.

"But we’re learning and we’re supporting each other because we have to," she said.

"We need to leave our complacency at the door. Every women’s voice counts."

Women are crucial to politics at home and worldwide she said.

With more women in power there would be less famine, less debt, less homelessness and less war said added.

Municipal election candidate Caroline Lamont asked Buck if the Congress was active in targeting high school students and encouraging students at an early age to become involved in the political sphere.

As they are still a fledging organization, the Congress hasn’t made its way into the high school system yet but Buck was interested in pursuing an opportunity like that in the future.

The Congress is a non-partisan grassroots organization, promoting women’s participation in all levels of government.

For more information visit www.canadianwomenvoterscongress.org.

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