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Women in Politics Brantford Conference Recap (with pictures)

On Friday, I had the privilege of being an accredited blogger/observer at a Women In Politics Conference in Brantford. Its goal was aimed at encouraging young women to run for office – whether that was federal, provincial or municipal. The idea behind this was started by a Grade 12 high school student named Gabrielle Cotton, who decided after talking with a local counsellor that something like this conference was needed to try and spur interest among young women, and she went ahead with some help to organize it (you’ll find the initial story about the planning behind this conference at this story in the local Brantford press). I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I got there on how it would go over, but they had a very large crowd when I got there at Galaxy Cinemas, where the event was being held. It was hectic but well organized at their registration desks as they had lines for each individual high school for students to register from.

There were a couple of parts to this event going on: The main event was a keynote address held by former MP and former Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps, (which I talk about soon) followed by several individual break-out sessions – one of which was held by my friend and Liberal candidate in Brantford-Brant Danielle Takacs, (also that I will talk about below). This was followed by a panel discussion on women in municipal politics by former or current municipal councillors. The other part of this event that went on simultaneously was they invited local political parties and organizations to set up booths and bring literature and other things to give to students so they could read over and see if there was a political organization or movement that they liked and may decide to join or even just volunteer. The NDP, Conservative and Liberal parties were all there (though curiously not the Greens). There was also a booth there from Leadnow.ca and another booth from an organization that escapes me at the moment, though I think it was to do with a teachers federation.

After introductions by Gabrielle and greetings from MP Phil Mccoleman and MPP Dave Levac, Sheila Copps came up to speak.

Ms. Copps gave a very spirited and feisty speech about how women’s gains in the political sphere (and indeed in overall society) had slowed dramatically in the last 10 – 20 years. She noted that women were still in many instances only getting paid 70-80 cents to the dollar for similar jobs staffed by men. She made the remark that Feminism had become the new “F” swear-word in some circles. On the politics front, she asked the students why they thought it was hard to convince women to run in politics. One female student answered that by saying she thought it was because they didn’t think they would do well, which Ms. Copps agreed with; she recounted how hard it was to convince Jane Stewart – former MP and Cabinet Minister from Brant – to run for office, because Ms Stewart didn’t know that she could do this job.

Her 3 main points to summarize her speech to the students were: 1) believe in yourself, 2) never fear Failure, 3) find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life. She reminded the crowd there was a municipal election going on and candidates out there willing to have their help. She told the crowd that power is not given freely, power is taken, and she encouraged the young females to get involved and organized, because the battle for equality has not been won (more on her speech in the local press here).

With regards to the simultaneous break-out sessions, I attended Danielle’s session. Her talk was on the importance of youth and civic engagement/community involvement. Danielle spoke a bit about herself on how she had been very involved with activities when she was a high school student and how that had developed her into the person she was now; how those activities not only had given her the skills and confidence to have the job position she has now, but also gave her the confidence to put forward her name to run for the Liberal Party as a candidate. She told the students that her community service adds to her as a person, and adds to her community. She also said that she believed a goal of community service was to leave the earth a better place. Some other key points I took away from her speech: Nobody is too young to start working for something, and that students community involvement now will help them professionally and personally later on in their lives. Danielle also said that there are many organizations in Brantford that are crying out for young people/volunteers – local charities such as Kiwanis, United Way – and they would love to have volunteers and particularly youth.

Her summary at the end was: Don’t let anybody ever tell you that you’re too young to do something or take on a certain role. Don’t be afraid to take on new responsibilities. and to ask for new opportunities and make sure you take the initiative to identify new opportunities, and don’t fear failure. Failure helps bring better ideas and experience – it’s a great opportunity to learn. With community service, young women (and young people overall) will make themselves better and the community better with those contributions.

The municipal politics panel (which I only was able to listen in on part of) was more or less the same: the women on the panel told the students there were far too few women on local council, and that if they ever wanted to help their community most directly, municipal politics was one of the best ways to go about doing it, as you’re based in your home community and making decisions that will affect that community.

Overall, I want to compliment and congratulate Gabrielle Cotton and her organization committee on this event (I believe her teacher Meghan Cameron, a teacher at BCI was also mentioned as a key helper in this); I thank them for inviting me to cover the proceedings. As for my own editorial content I hope somehow a form of this will continue for the local Brantford high school communities in the future; the fact that so many political figures from all walks of political life were here at this conference shows that they are eager to have more youth in general and young women in particular become involved in community and public service. All they need to do is have the will and confidence to do so.

I’ll also add that Danielle has posted her thoughts and photos of the event at her Facebook Campaign page

Some pictures of my own below!

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