'There's still a long way to go': New group bringing women together - New Canadian Media
Some Northern Ontario Women's Caucus members met at the 2024 Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference in Toronto. (Photo via City of Timmins)

‘There’s still a long way to go’: New group bringing women together

'As much progress as we've seen, I think that that concept of the ‘all boys club’ is still existent,' says Timmins Mayor Michelle Boileau

This article was produced as part of an Inclusive Journalism Microcredential offered by New Canadian Media and Seneca Polytechnic. Learn more here.

France Bouvier was 10 when Kim Campbell became the first female Prime Minister of Canada.

It had a profound impact and fuelled a passion for politics in the now Town of Cochrane councillor.

Bouvier is now part of a growing all-female group of politicians from across Northern Ontario hoping to inspire other women.

“It’s important to have female role models out there,” Bouvier said.

The Northern Ontario Women’s (NOW) group recently launched and is the work of Timmins Mayor Michelle Boileau and Hornepayne Mayor Cheryl Fort.

One of its goals, Boileau said, is to be an organization that different levels of government or other associations might seek out for policy advice.

While they’re working through a formal registration process, Boileau said over 30 women have engaged in the group thus far.

Kirkland Lake Mayor Stacy Wight has already answered the call. She’s the town’s first female mayor in 70 years and joined NOW in 2023.

“I think we’re getting closer to equal representation, which is great, but there’s still a long way to go because we may be at the table, but there are definitely very loud voices that clearly don’t want us there,” she said.

Wight never thought that being a woman would decrease her chances of anything she wanted in life.

“I was raised really not to consider my femininity in any of the desires for my life … I really hadn’t seen any negative effects of femininity and then coming into politics, it’s inescapable that you can be seen as less than just by virtue of the fact that you’re female,” she said.

“I came into it in my late 40s and that was the first time in my life that I had really felt less than because I was a female.”

In 2018, 13 people were on the ballot for the Town of Kirkland Lake.

Wight was the only woman and the only candidate who was asked how their family felt about running for politics.

“This last campaign season, you know, knocking on doors and meeting with constituents, there were several men of an older generation that told me they would never vote for a woman because we emotionally couldn’t handle being the leader of a community.”

More recently, a vulgar post was made about Wight on a local Facebook group.

“It spoke about my genitals and the man that posted it said, ‘And don’t say this is about her being a woman because I didn’t like the other guy either.’ But I had never heard of a male’s genitals being invoked for such vitriol. Nobody had ever said anything about what was in my predecessor’s pants. But it definitely was invoked in this vulgar post on Facebook,” she said.

“So, it’s really something to behold when you get into politics how attacked you can being merely for being female.”

It’s important to have women’s voices heard, said Boileau.

“We represent half of the population and so it’s important that that representation be at decision making tables. We have different perspectives, different life experiences. There are some experiences that women go through that only women go through,” she said.

For Bouvier, women’s voices are instrumental in raising awareness.

“Gender inequality is still a global issue, and it’s time for change … When women demand equal opportunities, they not only uplift themselves but also pave the way for a more just society,” she said.

Before becoming mayor, Boileau ran for the federal Liberals and served a term as a Ward 5 councillor in the City of Timmins.

She got into politics to be part of the change.

“It’s being heard with the same kind of credibility and validity as our male counterparts in certain situations … And I must say I get to work with true allies. A lot of the men that I get to work with, both at administrative level and among council, are absolute allies and have been giving me the space needed to be able to do this role. But, that being said, there are still instances where I sometimes wonder, would I be questioned like this if I was a man,” she said.

“As much progress as we’ve seen, I think that that concept of the ‘all boys club’ is still existent. So often you hear references back to, ‘Well, this is how it’s always been done.’ And then I think, yes, but it was being done without a woman present or being part of it. Should it have always been done that way? Not necessarily. We have to change that.”

At the 2023 Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference, Boileau shared frustration about the lack of women on council with Fort.

Boileau said Fort expressed concerns about resources for women and girls in northern communities.

NOW started to take shape.

The initial call to meet went out to 40 female mayors in the north, with 20 attending the first Zoom meeting.

At the 2024 ROMA conference in January, the group’s terms of reference were approved. Membership was also extended to female councillors and administration.

Eventually, they want to host an annual conference for female politicians and municipal administrators.

There are still many battles women in politics face. Boileau said it still often happens where you’re a minority as a woman in a room and don’t get as much time to speak.

“And so by being able to talk about the common municipal issues, but just among other women, you have a bit more time to kind of get through it and to be heard,” she said.

Wight said whatever NOW accomplishes will be a benefit to all northern communities.

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Marissa Lentz covers civic issues along the Highway 11 corridor under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada.

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