Author Tags: Politics, Women

A Kootenay MLA for ten years, Anne Edwards shares her conversations with more than eighty B.C. female politicians in Seeking Balance: Conversations with BC Women in Politics (Caitlin 2008). She has also co-written Exploring the Purcell Wilderness; Cranbrook 1905-2005; and The Purcell Suite: Upholding the Wild.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Seeking Balance: Conversations with BC Women in Politics

[BCBW 2008] "Women" "Politics"

Seeking Balance: Conversations with BC Women in Politics

from Rod Drown
Women are from Venus, men are from Mars. Women collaborate, men compete. Based on her interviews with women of all political stripes, Anne Edwards’ lively Seeking Balance: Conversations with BC Women in Politics (Caitlin $28.95) reveals the extent to which legislative bodies are deeply rooted in the Red Planet.

Although Anne Edwards’ sources seem to have had common experiences vis-à-vis their male parliamentary colleagues, Seeking Balance is not a litany of female complaints.

Speaking of Pauline Jewett, for instance, Dawn Black recalls, “The fact that she wasn’t married had become a huge issue. People said, ‘It’s one thing to vote for a woman, but to vote for a woman who’s never been married, that’s different.’
“Suddenly a farmer got up from the back row and in a no-nonsense manner said, ‘Oh, for God’s sake, if that’s such an issue, I’ll marry Pauline!’”

But of course sexism has been endemic. Edwards recalls that during the televised debates for the 1993 federal election, Preston Manning called Kim Campbell “Kim” and Audrey McLaughlin “Audrey” but he called Jean Chrétien “Mister Chrétien.”

Historically, Manning and other Martian males have not been receptive to the Venusian female. Most of Canada’s governing men explained their early opposition to granting women the franchise by saying they wanted to preserve the “moral purity and sweetness” of the fairer sex, saving her from the messy business of exercising a franchise.

Although the CCF and NDP in BC have most strongly championed the election of women, on the federal level it was the Tories who gave women the greatest advances politically. Sir John A. Macdonald’s government proposed several bills allowing universal suffrage and it was Robert Borden’s which gave Canadian women the vote in 1918 and, in 1920, the right to stand for election. Even so, progress was slow: it was only in 1965, some 45 years later, that NDPer Grace MacInnis became BC’s first female MP. Her party has put forward more candidates and elected more women provincially and federally than any other in B.C.

Some of Edwards’ sources give the impression that they felt that men viewed politics as a game. The B.C. Legislature, says one-term Liberal MLA April Sanders, was like “being in a foreign country, feeling completely from another planet with respect to how things were run: the rules, the way decisions were made.”

Iona Campagnolo concurs. “We live in an adversarial society. Partisan politics, competing ideologies, and various belief systems generally oppose co-operation and negotiation… [The media] pits opinions against each other to stimulate debate and elicit maximum disagreement. It is a pattern designed for entertainment, not results.”

According to Edwards, left to themselves, women would run governments on a consensus model. The women in Edwards’ book also take direct aim at the near-complete cynicism of the media, which often falsely dismisses all politicians as scoundrels and time-wasters.

“I worked really hard to be out there,” says one-term NDP MLA Margaret Lord, “to keep dialogue going, meeting with groups, bringing people into the office on any particular issue. [I worked at] figuring out where people stood on issues by being totally open to them.”

“A lot of people think televising parliament was the death knell,” says Kim Campbell. “John Turner described question period as bullshit theatre, and it is, but it’s an important part of the democratic process.

“Still, as a kind of game, it undermines the seriousness of what politicians do, the seriousness of most of the people I know who were elected to various levels of government.”

Edwards works hard to demonstrate that better government for all requires remaking our legislative bodies to better reflect the innate tendencies of the other half of the human race, from Venus.

As long as members must toe the party line under a party whip, with a caucus system which forces voting strictly on party lines, Sanders believes, “you may as well go home—we won’t have better government.”

Collectively Edwards’ sources strongly suggest that communities—communities of interest and common concern—must become the basis for decisions, particularly as the world’s business continues to become more and more global, and the impacts more and more local.


-- review by Rod Drown

[BCBW 2009]