The teachers who were there when the Daughters sat in the House
Agnes McPhail, teacher and union member, and the first Canadian female Member of Parliament, would have been pleased to see events unfold on March 8, 2017.
Some 338 young women, aged 18 to 23, representing every federal riding walked into the House of Commons and sat in their Members of Parliament’s seats. The event was organized to highlight 100 years of women’s suffrage in Canada and to remind us that despite the advances in women’s political participation in Canada, women are under-represented, often significantly, in every federal, provincial and territorial legislature in Canada. The event was called “Daughters of the Vote” and was launched by Equal Voice, a multi-partisan non-profit organization dedicated to electing more women to all levels of political office in Canada.
Equal Voice’s Nancy Peckford, Executive Director, and Catherine Fortin Lefaivre, Principal Liaison Officer for Quebec and Francophone communities
As one of its key partners, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) came on board early in the planning stages and contributed by way of donations, in-kind services and teacher power. As CTF Secretary General Cassie Hallett points out, CTF and Member organizations were engaged from the start because “the topic of gender equity is a relevant one for teacher organizations – especially since most of our members are women. As women’s issues are also broader societal issues, it makes sense to have more women in office making decisions through a gender lens.”
In addition to contributing over $35,000 towards the accommodation costs of the young Daughters, CTF Member organizations sponsored teacher members to work as facilitators during the Daughters’ Policy Issues Day.
March 6, CTF orientation
Teacher facilitators at the March 6 orientation at the CTF office
And so, teachers arrived in Ottawa on March 6, equipped with their expertise, flexibility and enthusiasm. The orientation aimed to prepare and support teacher facilitators for their group discussions the next day. It also helped them become acquainted with the policy and discussion priorities identified by the Daughters: Equality for girls and women, human rights, violence against women, health care (including mental health), environment/climate change, reconciliation, democratic engagement, international development and foreign affairs, science and innovation, and minority language rights. The opportunity to network between each other, with the Daughters, Equal Voice and federal elected officials was extremely valuable.
March 7, Policy Issues Day
Discussion session with the Daughters
Expert speakers related to each issue opened up sessions with a short presentation followed by a period of questions and answers with the Daughters. Teacher facilitators chaired some of the sessions, facilitated discussions and took copious notes which were shared with Equal Voice.
March 8, International Women’s Day
Daughters marching up Wellington Street on their way to Parliament Hill (Photo: Winona Waldron)
And finally, the big day arrived, the moment we had all been working towards: the Daughters’ historic seating in the House of Commons! It was a sunny and crisp morning when the Daughters began their march to Parliament Hill, with teacher facilitators and supporters following closely behind.
Olivia Hamilton, Daughter of the Vote and her kindergarten teacher Heather Smith, CTF President reconnected at the event.
CTF President Heather Smith explained how symbolic it was to have teachers alongside the Daughters at the threshold of their political lives: “Most of these
Daughters are our former students. It was wonderful to witness yet another milestone in their lives. In fact, I had the best surprise of all by connecting with my former kindergarten student Olivia Hamilton, one of the Daughters representing the riding of Acadie-Bathurst, NB.”
Once inside, teachers took their seats upstairs in the Gallery while the Daughters took their MPs’ seats in the House.
“Although there were many inspiring moments, seeing 338 women take their seats in the House of Commons – more women than have been elected to that house in its entire history – brought me to tears. This event reinforced the importance of encouraging more women to take on leadership roles, and of exposing and removing the systematic barriers that keep them from those roles,” said Winona Waldron, British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF).*
Thirty young women were selected to rise in the House and give a one-minute statements on an issue important to them. These ranged from Islamophobia, truth and reconciliation and issues related to gender equity and human rights.
Historic seating in the House of Commons
“The young women were articulate, eloquent, passionate and supportive of each other to the point that even the Speaker of the House was impressed and thought MPs could learn decorum from them all,” said Heide Doppmeier, a teacher facilitator from the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA).*
“Over the past 150 years, only 319 women have been elected to the Canadian Parliament. That’s why, witnessing 338 young women from 18 to 23 years of age walk together up Parliament Hill to replace sitting MPs and take their “seats” as Daughters of the Vote, was so incredibly moving for me,” said Susan Fonseca, BCTF.*
The Daughters were addressed by Kim Campbell, Canada’s first female Prime Minister who said: “We get our sense of how the world works from the landscape in which we function. And if our landscape doesn’t include women parliamentarians, if our landscape doesn’t include women leaders, women managers, women directors … then when we see a woman doing that job, we will feel uncomfortable.”
All federal party leaders also took their turns to address the Daughters. For his part, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invited questions by the Daughters and then had to respond to very challenging questions.
“These young women were intelligent, prepared, creative, and strong. They were not afraid to deal with all the difficult yet important topics that must be addressed if we are to have a better country and world,” said Sonja Van Der Putten, BCTF. *
ATA’s Heather McCaig commented: “It was so inspiring to see young women that have that much energy and passion about our country and about making our country better.” *
Going forward: next steps
After the historic seating in the House, teacher facilitators gathered for a debriefing session. They all agreed that more teacher involvement in Equal Voice at the provincial/territorial level would go a long way in engaging women to run for political office.
Teacher facilitator Susan Swackhammer, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, called on teacher organizations to recognize the benefit of having more women in leadership: “Once that is accomplished then programs and funds can be put in place to encourage and better train women to be confident enough to take on the challenge.”
For her part, Connie Keating, a teacher from rural New Brunswick and self-proclaimed “political junkie”, the opportunity to participate in the historic march to Parliament Hill on International Women’s Day is a memory she will never forget. “It further inspired me to continue to encourage young women who I encounter on a daily basis to seek leadership roles and perhaps even envision themselves running for public office. After this experience, whether it be within my teacher organization or a political election, a leadership role is something that I could successfully achieve.”*
Yes, we can all achieve this objective. But sometimes, it takes a tap on the shoulder, a program or course, or an eye-opening event like this one to spark our political activism. This is a call to all women in the teaching profession to consider running for office in their community, riding or even within their own teacher organization at the local/provincial/territorial level, or even at the national level, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation. In a female-dominated profession like ours, we need more women holding office. Go!
Teacher facilitators (by organization listed in alphabetical order)
Alberta Teachers’ Association (The)
Margaret A Shane
British Columbia Teachers’ Federation
Sonja Van der Putten
Canadian Teachers’ Federation
Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario
Manitoba Teachers’ Society (The)
Danielle Fullan Kolton
New Brunswick Teachers’ Association
Constance (Connie) Keating
Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association
Nova Scotia Teachers Union
Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association
Prince Edward Island Teachers’ Federation
Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers
Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation
Syndicat des enseignantes et enseignants du programme francophone de la Colombie-Britannique
*These teachers’ quotes first appeared in the publications of their respective teacher organizations. CTF is grateful to these Members for allowing us to republish them in this article. Links to these articles appear in the sidebar above.