Politics along the South Shore has hit a historic milestone: all of its major players are women.
And as far as they are aware, theirs is the first jurisdiction in Nova Scotia—and potentially Canada—to have female representatives across all levels of government.
“We’re certainly excited that were the first jurisdiction to make that claim,” said Lunenburg MLA Suzanne Lohnes-Croft. “We’ve worked hard.”
In addition to Lohnes-Croft, Bernadette Jordan is the MP for South Shore - St. Margaret’s and is currently Nova Scotia’s only federally elected woman of the province’s 11 seats.
Carolyn Bolivar-Getson and Rachel Bailey round out the team, serving as mayors for the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg (MODL) and the Town of Lunenburg respectively.
All of this is to say that in a world traditionally dominated by men, this female-led region is an outlier.
And during their interviews with the South Shore Breaker, all shared their wishes to see more women involved politically.
“I don’t know why it is but I think it’s phenomenal and something I wished more areas would replicate,” said Jordan, who was elected in 2015 and is seeking re-election.
“I often go back to the fact that I’m only the ninth women in history elected federally in Nova Scotia. It’s hard to believe.”
Bailey, who is in her second term as mayor, said there’s still room for more female voices at the table.
“While I’m pleased to serve as mayor, I’m the only one on our council of seven who is female. Certainly, numbers wise, we stand to have a lot more representatives from the female population at every level,” she said.
But there’s a catch: from town council chambers all the way up to the Parliament Hill, sexism is still prevalent.
SEXISM AND BARRIERS
Sexism is a reality that each of Bolivar-Getson, Bailey, Jordan and Lohnes-Croft have experienced across their political careers.
Sometimes, these encounters have taken them by surprise.
Bolivar-Getson specifically remembers an incident from her mayoral campaign in 1997 in which she knocked on the door of a family friend.
“He could not support me because I was a woman,” she summarized.
Lohnes-Croft, who has been working as an MLA for over five years, said she is sometimes not introduced at events if in the company of a male politician.
17 of the province’s 51 members of the legislative assembly—or 33 per cent— are women.
And the issue is one prevalent beyond the provincial border; when asked if she faces sexism in the House of Commons, Jordan could only laugh.
“There’s definitely sexism on the Hill, no question,” said Jordan.
“I often tell the story where I’ve been talking about something I’ve done and one of my male colleagues looks at me and says: ‘Yes but can you bake?’ That just shocks me.”
She declined to name the member’s name or party but added that there are other barriers.
Bolivar-Getson and Lohnes-Croft cited childcare and raising a family as reasons why women opt not to participate in politics.
“I couldn’t get into politics until my kids were going off to university. Up until then, I couldn’t have worked in the city (as an MLA) and been the parent I wanted to be,” said Lohnes-
When Bolivar-Getson first ran, she had three young children and worked tirelessly to maintain a balance between work and family life.
“Without the support of my family, I never could have entered politics to the degree that I have,” she said.
The gender pay gap, hidden biases and lack of encouragement were also cited as other barriers.
Jordan said she is encouraged by the progress that has been made in recent years and hopes women will consider politics as a career.
“I don’t care if they’re NDP, Conservative, Liberal or Green. It’s important that we have all voices and women in all parties running,” said Jordan.
“It’s definitely still a man’s world but we’re making inroads. I think that having a Prime Minister who is a feminist, who believes in having voices heard, I think has been a huge benefit for women running.”
Both Bolivar-Getson and Lohnes-Croft pointed to campaign schools, such as the one offered by the Nova Scotia Council on the Status of Women, as an excellent way to get started.
“It is an opportunity for women to come out and see if they want to be in a political party,” said Bolivar-Getson.
Lohnes-Croft also encouraged further participation, adding that it’s important to get to know your community.
Boards, she said, are one way to learn decision making and political protocols.
But Bailey’s advice to women and young people considering politics is simpler still: just do it.
She noted that she was originally hesitant to run for mayor but is happy with her choice to step into the political arena.
“It’s very easy to be an armchair quarterback,” she said. “If you want to see change, get involved and make it happen. Don’t just shout from the sideline.”
Given the fact that Bailey became a grandmother this past year, she said she’s hopeful her daughter won’t have to battle the same sexism she has encountered during her career.
“I am looking forward to her not having to run into those kinds of opinions,” she said.