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From left to right: The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Justice Betty, The Honourable Senator Linda Frum, The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, The Honourable Dr. Helena Jaczek, Donna Dasko
April 21, 2017
Many Paths to Politics for Today’s Women
Being a change-maker and enjoying a healthy dose of optimism are just two of the building blocks to a career in politics, according to the panelists discussing the topic, “A Woman’s Place is in the House of Commons.”

The evening’s discussion, held at Havergal College, was the third in a series co-sponsored by Toronto’s leading girl’s schools: Branksome Hall, Bishop Strachan School, Havergal College and St. Clement's School. The series aims to address issues relevant to women’s lives and this was the first on women in politics. “Seeing that a woman recently came very close to occupying the White House,” Havergal Principal Helen-Kay Davey said in her introduction, “this issue could not be timelier.”

“There’s a privilege to going to schools like this,” explained 20-year political veteran and Havergal Old Girl, The Honourable Carolyn Bennett. Minster Bennett feels graduates should be prepared, “to make a difference in any context—whether it’s a business or an NGO.” Bennett is certainly a change-maker herself: she fought against a merger between Women’s College Hospital and the Toronto Hospital in 1989. “I had no idea that was politics until someone told me it was,” she said.

There were different views on the question of the right time to go into politics. For Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, it is important for a woman to have life experience because it provides the credibility and perspective necessary to hold one’s own in a debate or negotiation. “Especially for women, professional expertise can be a foundation for your self-confidence. It can be a huge source of strength to have a hinterland,” she explained.

Justice Betty sees things differently. An activist since the age of 15, she is currently pursuing a degree in International Relations and Columbia University. She is the founder of The Political Youth Network and has worked on dozens of campaigns. “Young voter turnout is the lowest of all. If young people don’t make their voices heard, then politicians will cater to other voting blocs. Young people need to reverse the cynicism,” she said.

All panelists agreed on the importance of having a supportive partner. Senator Linda Frum said that one of the reasons more women don’t enter politics is the long commute to Ottawa. “For women who choose to enter politics, it’s a whole family effort,” she said. She recommended to the young audience to be upfront about their political ambitions with any potential future partners.

Courage and optimism were common themes raised by panelists. The Honourable Dr. Helena Jaczek, Ontario’s Minister of Community and Social Services, describes herself as a “glass-half-full kind of person.” Minister Freeland thinks society is slowly adapting to women being in power. When faced with obstacles, she advises, “Instead of cursing the darkness, light a single candle”.

The values of community involvement and good citizenship that are instilled by an all-girls education were on vivid display during the evening’s discussion.

Thank you to the participating schools and our panelists for a valuable and inspiring evening.

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