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NATIONAL Atlantic Spotlight: Shattering the conventional political landscape

Panelists at an event
Written by
Sarah Brannen

Sarah Brannen

In 1967, Gladys Porter became Nova Scotia’s first female MLA. In 1984, Maxine Cochran became Nova Scotia’s first female cabinet minister. Fast forward to 2021 where in a Legislature of 55, 36 per cent are either women or gender diverse.

Susan Corkum-Greek, Suzy Hansen and Angela Simmonds are newly elected MLAs and have plenty that set them apart.

They call different communities in Nova Scotia home, pursued different career paths, have a wide range of lived experiences, and carried different political banners into the recent provincial election.

However, there is so much they do share—as accomplished women, passionate community advocates, and now as elected Members of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly.

The new MLAs set partisanship aside at NATIONAL’s recent breakfast event and panel discussion, candidly sharing their experiences as candidates and now, as elected members. It was the first conversation in the NATIONAL Spotlight series and moderated by CTV’s Sarah Plowman.

“I’m in politics for women—we all have spaces to own, and I have been fortunate to be around some very strong women and respect them … I feel that this is the place to make changes for younger generations. I hope to change conversations in this role.”
-Angela Simmonds, MLA for Preston

Here are three themes we took away from our NATIONAL Spotlight on Women in Office: Political Experiences + Perspectives.

Double standards

Passionate or angry? Assertive or pushy? Confident or stubborn? Though the panelists fell short of acknowledging a perceived double standard in the media, they were candid and united in their acknowledgement that there was a difference in tone, and this was often reflected in the questions that they are asked.

All three panelists shared their experiences as parents, admitting they are often asked how they balance family and career, a question they believe their male counterparts rarely, if ever, get asked. Though they don’t want to be narrowly defined as just a parent, knowing they bring valuable experiences and skills, being a parent is ingrained in who they are.

Navigating social media

Eventually, new, or campaigning politicians will be exposed to the vitriol of social media, including nameless accounts and the seemingly bottomless pit of criticisms. The panelists were mixed in their responses; while acknowledging social media was a part of the package, some were prepared to hand over the reins to their team, while others were happy to take up the cause and engage in online dialogue more directly. All three noted they prefer to engage in debate and dialogue with their constituents through open conversation.

How did you become a candidate?

It’s often said there are three reasons why people chose to run for political office: They get asked, they get inspired, or they get mad.

In the case of the panelists, it was a combination of the three. Minister Corkum-Greek stated: “I realized that I was getting mad about the things I was seeing and that isn’t me. And one night, a friend casually said, ‘Well what are you going to do about it?’, and that was the start of it.”

“Many people don’t know where to go to get started if they ever decide they want to be in politics. That was me—searching this information out. People don’t know that everyone can run- tall, short-anyone. It’s very valuable to share that with people so that more will become engaged and participate,” added Suzy Hansen, MLA for Halifax Needham.

Despite the challenges, our panelists persevered and now join their 52 colleagues in Canada’s oldest legislature, often called the birthplace of responsible government.

In addition to carrying the trust of their constituents, Angela Simmonds and Suzy Hansen, as African Nova Scotians, also carry the weight and expectations of their communities on their shoulders.

A weight they accept without hesitation.

Progress can be slow business. The panelists agreed that they are holding their seats for the next generation, a generation they hope will grow up with the understanding that our legislatures are a place for all to be heard. We share that goal, which is why NATIONAL Atlantic is making a donation to Equal Voice Nova Scotia in the names of our three panelists, so that more inspiring women and gender diverse voices can take their place in elected office.

It was a pleasure to share our space with guests and our impressive panel of Nova Scotia’s newest and brightest political leaders for the first edition of NATIONAL Spotlight. We are passionate about bringing people together and convening conversations that matter. This was the first of many examples of that, and we’re thrilled to be able to do it again and again.

——— Sarah Brannen is a former Consultant at NATIONAL Public Relations