Provincial politics still far too much of an old boy's club

“Women are continuously struggling to be valued and recognized and supported within this political spectrum,” says Pamela Lovelace.

Wait, which one is which again?
Wait, which one is which again?

Nova Scotia is gearing up to decide which white man will become premier on May 30. 

In the meantime, the Nova Scotia Women Vote rally is taking place Saturday to mobilize political action around women’s issues, during a provincial election where two-thirds of major party candidates are men.

Pamela Lovelace, chair of Equal Voice NS, believes the real issue isn't the number of women running, but what the parties are doing to support women candidates in running a successful campaign.

Lovelace was a potential provincial candidate for Hammonds Plains-Lucasville in 2013 and ran in District 13 for the municipal election last fall, but she isn’t affiliated with any party.

“If the political parties and the leaders who are elected in the legislature right now considered themselves mentors for those who are coming up, then the conversation isn’t about numbers and isn’t about money, it’s about support,” says Lovelace. “Ask her what she needs, and support her.”

The topic of women in politics has heated up over the last two weeks, in part due to a breakdown of gender disparity within the three main political parties.

As first reported by Marieke Walsh of Global News
, the Liberal party is fielding the most men, followed by the Tories and the NDP. The Liberals have 12 women out of 51 candidates, while the Progressive Conservatives named 16. The NDP, which is running this highest number of women candidates, still falls short of gender parity: only 23 of 51 candidates are female.

In response to the controversy, Liberal leader Stephen McNeil defended his party by telling reporters he wants “women in seats that we can win” in “meaningful ridings.”

“I completely do not buy the argument that the Liberals put women in winnable seats,” counters NDP candidate and Halifax Armdale incumbent Lisa Roberts.

McNeil’s statement was also jumped on by the PCs, including Cumberland North candidate Elizabeth Smitt-McCrossin.

“Every single candidate who puts their name on the ballot is making a meaningful contribution to democracy in our province,” she writes in a release. “Women have worked very hard to earn a place in our democratic system. We must always be looking for ways to attract more girls and women to politics and comment like these hurt this important effort.”

Leader Jamie Baillie took things a step further, announcing the day after McNeil's comments that the Conservatives would increase per-vote funding for women, Indigenous and African Nova Scotian candidates if elected.

Lovelace feels the McNeil used unfortunate terminology. She points out that every riding is meaningful.

“Typically, political parties will have women or men as spare candidates,” she says. In other words, the name is on the ballot, but the candidate isn’t supported financially. “All political parties have done it.”

Former Justice minister Diana Whalen countered complaints about McNeil’s words on her own Facebook page.

“As a woman, I urge our political leaders to refrain from making gender a partisan political issue,” she writes. “It can deter women, and all good candidates, from seeking public office.”

If that’s true, it probably isn’t the only thing that can deter women from seeking public office.

“Women are continuously struggling to be valued and recognized and supported within this political spectrum because it is traditionally a male-dominated,” says Lovelace,

That's difficult when they're judged on their appearance in ways exclusive to female politicians. For an example, just look at Frank Magazine’s choice to grace its latest cover with a photo of PC candidate Jad Crnogorac wearing a bikini. The accompanying text implies her body is a "secret weapon" for the Tory's election success.

“I’m a personal trainer—that’s my job. I’m a nutrition coach, so it’s not like that was a secret,” says Crnogorac.

“I’m proud of who I am inside and out, and I have to be judged by my appearance.”

She says the magazine called her a couple days before the issue went to print with photos originally posted on her Instagram.

“I’m criticized for working hard and taking care of my body and my health, and I thought that was a bit unfair,” says Crnogorac. “If I didn’t take care of my body, I’d probably be criticized for it. So it’s like you can’t win.”

Although Baillie’s announcement is a possible incentive for women, Crnogorac says the women who are running “aren’t looking for a break or a bonus.”

“They want to make a change.”

The Nova Scotia Women Vote takes place this Saturday, 1pm at Grand Parade.

with files from Jacob Boon

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