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Power struggle 

It’s 2007, and women are still vastly under-represented in the political realm. Kate Watson visits a campaign school trying to inspire more female leaders.

Jen Crawford is a 26-year-old graduate student and activist. She has an engaging smile, an effervescent personality and a passion for feminist issues. She can see herself running for office in the future.

Forty-two-year-old Catherine Meade recently sought the federal Liberal nomination in the riding of Halifax and lost by a slim margin. She is hip and athletic with a dry sense of humour. She describes herself as many things—an African Nova Scotian, a lawyer, a lesbian and a Liberal.

Louise Lorefice is the NDP’s federal candidate for the high-profile riding of Central Nova. Poised and quietly confident, she looks much younger than her 60 years. She speaks eloquently on the need to turn the spotlight back onto issues that are important to the people who live in her community.

Diverse as they are, it is their fundamental desire to effect change that brought these women together at the third annual Nova Scotia Campaign School for Women, presented by the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women and Mount Saint Vincent University this past weekend at the MSVU campus.

“Political candidates need knowledge and skills to succeed in achieving their goals,” says Status of Women minister Carolyn Bolivar-Getson. “Last year’s participants told us they loved the programme we offered and they recommended that we do it again.”

The programme aims to empower women to enter the political arena by giving them practical knowledge of how to build a campaign team, raise funds and persuade voters.

But more than that, it is a gathering of strong, well-informed women who are willing to put aside party affiliations and ideological differences in order to address the need to get more women involved in government decision-making.

“I think there is definitely something special about women-only spaces like this,” says Crawford. “The collective knowledge and sharing of experiences we’ve had is really important, and there’s something reaffirming about being in a room full of witty, intelligent, well-read women.”

Seasoned politicians, campaign planners and journalists share their years of experience in panel discussions and hands-on modules such as “Campaign Fund-Raising and Budgeting” or “On-the-Spot Interview.”

Or “Door-Knocking,” with past MLA Jane Purves and Richmond County councillor Shirley Ann McNamara. A false doorway juts out into the stuffy classroom. The participants are instructed to knock and present themselves as candidates in the next election. Behind the door are volunteers from the Theatre Arts Guild.

People are nervous, unsure what they’ll face. Some get off easily—one meets a mother with a crying baby and a hungry toddler who takes a pamphlet wearily and closes the door; another, a man who seems likely to support the candidate.

Louise Lorefice is not so lucky. She gets the potential voter from hell: a man with an axe to grind. He doesn’t want to listen, he wants to talk. Still, Lorefice remains calm and eventually extricates herself.

“You spent too much time there,” says Purves.

She goes on to point out that a candidate must use her time efficiently, meeting as many potential voters as possible. The first order of business should be to find out if the person behind the door even votes at all.

There is a lot to learn in two-and-a-half days, so the participants are given a final assignment that helps to synthesize the information. In teams of six, they take on roles such as campaign manager, candidate or volunteer coordinator in order to mount a mock campaign, which is presented in front of a panel of experts on the final afternoon.

Despite coming to the school with hands-on knowledge of the political process, Catherine Meade says she came away with some concrete ideas that she will use in the future. But she says that in the end, the school was about more than campaign strategies.

“Something that struck me as I was leaving is that ultimately we were all able to make connections across party lines and out of a political context,” says Meade. “It was more than just networking. We were sharing real ideas in a way that just never happens...I certainly hope the campaign school continues in the future.”



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