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Why Do Women Run?

'I don't think politics should be a dirty word,' says NDP candidate Jennifer Hollett.

Emily Blake 22 May

Emily Blake is completing a practicum at The Tyee. Follow her on Twitter at @BlakeEmily.

It's tough for women in politics. With intense scrutiny and underrepresentation at all levels of government, it's a wonder that women are willing to run at all.

In a recent poll, the Tyee asked readers if women are held to a double standard in politics. It cites Deborah Drever and Trish Kelly as examples of the harsh criticism female politicians face. Drever is a 26-year-old NDP Calgary-Bow MLA facing criticism for appearing as a victim of violence on a 2012 heavy metal album and posing in a photo beside a marijuana leaf t-shirt.

Last November, Kelly was forced to resign as a Vancouver parks board candidate when her sex-positive advocacy raised controversy.

While some argue this criticism is due to inexperience rather than gender, it raises questions about whether young men would be scrutinized for the same actions. Tyee commentator Jarrah Hodge has suggested that women are held to a different standard in politics, especially when it comes to expressions of youth and sexuality.

That has not stopped a number of female candidates from taking a stab at running -- for the first time -- in the 2015 election. The Tyee talked to four candidates to ask why they chose to run. Their answers were varied, ranging from a desire to do something for the environment to addressing voter indifference.

Lynne Quarmby

For many, Lynne Quarmby, 57, became the face of the Burnaby Mountain protests last fall against the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion project. The Simon Fraser University professor and scientist is running for the Green Party in the new riding of Burnaby North-Seymour.

Her involvement in the pipeline protests inspired her to run. She says she felt frustrated by the government's disregard for public opinion on the issue.

Quarmby said Burnaby residents and the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, whose traditional territory surrounds the Burrard Inlet, are opposed to the project. However, she noted that "Our federal government is saying, 'We don't care, you're going to get the project.' So that made me realize that the only way to have a government that was hearing the people was to be a strong representative myself."

Quarmby's most urgent political concerns are climate change and privacy. An environmental activist, she believes in enhancing clean, alternative energy sources.

Quarmby is also concerned about the passage of Bill C-51, the proposed anti-terrorism law before the senate, saying she's concerned about its impact on Canadians' privacy.

"I don't want to use overly strong language because it will be ridiculed or dismissed, but we basically have a situation where our Parliament has been hijacked by someone who is behaving as an elected dictator and I think it's important that we get strong people in Ottawa who can stand up to leadership and people who will work to restore a functional Parliament," she said of the bill.

She said her concern for the environment stems from her science background as well as a commitment to young people.

"I feel that I have had the privilege to be able to do something significant for future generations and that with that privilege comes a responsibility to actually do it," she said.

Marilyn Gladu

Marilyn Gladu, 53, might be one of the busiest women in Southwestern Ontario. She had a long career as a chemical engineer and is running as the Conservative candidate for Sarnia-Lambton.

It was Prime Minister Stephen Harper who inspired her to run. Gladu was at a 2011 Conservative political convention in Calgary, and was standing behind Harper during his address. "I just thought to myself, 'You know what? I want to be part of this team. I can make change' " she said.

Gladu worked for Dow Chemical as an engineer for 21 years and travelled the world on business trips to the company's 254 plants. Later, she was also the director of engineering for the Suncor refinery in Sarnia, Ont. and currently works with Worley Parsons, the largest global engineering provider.

She said, "I tend to be high energy. I'm at the stage where I could retire, but instead I'd like to devote some time giving back to the community."

With expertise in the oil and gas sector, Gladu's position on pipeline expansion differs from Quarmby.

"The reality is in Canada you've got all this bitumen in the West and no way to get it out of the country unless you get pipelines approved, so I do see that as a critical thing. I recognize that we need to be able to put those projects in place in a way that has social acceptance, which we don't have. There are people that are very concerned, but not doing it is going to cause the Canadian economy to really tank," she explained.

Jennifer Hollett

Jennifer Hollett, 39, has appeared on Canadian TV screens as a broadcast journalist for the CBC, CTV and MuchMusic. Now she is appearing on their doorsteps as the NDP candidate for the new riding of University-Rosedale in Downtown Toronto.

Hollett decided to join the party after meeting the late NDP leader Jack Layton in 2004. She was inspired by his down-to-earth approach to politics.

"I interviewed all the political leaders but Jack was different. He took the time to connect with youth and was on the ground, very accessible, real and he got it," she said.

She also wants to see more diversity in government and is especially concerned about voter apathy. She recently led a TEDx talk on the subject called, "How to Hate Politics."

"The system is broken, people have every reason to hate politics and that's where the work is so I'm getting involved. I don't think politics should be a dirty word and it's up to us to reclaim that," she explained.

With Rachel Notley's sweep in Alberta, Hollett says it's an exciting time for the NDP and female candidates. "It's a reminder of what's possible and I think Canadians want change," she said of the victory.

She loves her downtown riding in her adopted city.

Born and raised in St. Catherine's Ont., Hollett, as a teenager, looked with longing to the big city to the east. "When I was in high school I would do everything I could to get to Toronto to see music and just take in that energy that makes Toronto such an exciting city," she said.

Iqra Khalid

Iqra Khalid, 29, works in the City of Mississauga's legal department. She's also running as the Liberal candidate for Mississauga-Erin Mills and hopes to bring more diversity to Parliament.

Khalid was born in Pakistan and her family moved to Canada from England in the late 1990s. A law school graduate, she'll be called to the bar in June. She said she decided to run for office because she thinks Parliament does not adequately represent Canada's multicultural population.

"I am very, very approachable and very much understanding of what the average Canadian is because deep down we are all immigrants, we are all different in many ways but ultimately we are all Canadian," she said.

She is concerned about the economic struggles of young professionals and the middle class.

"I think in my campaigning so far one of the messages that's been very loud and clear is that we need to provide that foundational support to the majority of Canadians, which is our middle class," she said.  [Tyee]

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