If the federal Liberal Party wants to make good on its vow to have half it’s candidates in the next election be women, it’s making a good start in the Okanagan.
Three of the party’s four candidates in the Valley ridings are women — Karley Scott, running in Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola, Connie Denesiuk, running in South Okanagan-West Kootenay and Cindy Derkaz running in North Okanagan-Shuswap.
On Thursday, the trio joined Vancouver-Quadra Liberal MP Joyce Murray for a forum about women in politics at the UBC Okanagan campus.
Ironically, the forum was organized by the only man running for the party in the Okanagan, Kelowna-Lake Country candidate Stephen Fuhr. He was not at the forum.
The four women urged everyone, regardless of gender, to get involved in the political process, saying while it’s important for women to be properly represented in Parliament, men also play part in helping make that happen.
Scott, who won the Liberal nomination in Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola just last month, is a lawyer and mother of two who was recently called to the bar.
She said she is running for three reasons, her children, her community and her country.
For her children, a girl and a boy aged six and eight, she said she wants to be a model for her daughter to show women can excel in leadership roles and for her son, she wants to teach him to respect women in those positions.
For her community, she said, she wants to see its diversity better represented and having lived all parts of Canada, she wants to help bridge the aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities of this country. Scott is Metis.
She said she is very proud of her country, its rule of law and its Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which she said is the envy of many other countries.
But she noted that 86 years ago, women in this country could not even vote, let alone run for Parliament. The Person’s Case changed that when five brave women, who became known as the Famous Five, challenged their lack of legal status in the courts and won.
“I recognize that I stand on the shoulders of the women who have gone before me, said Scott.
In the upcoming federal election, Scott will challenge incumbent Conservative Okanagan-Similkameen MP Dan Albas. That riding will have its boundaries and name changed in the next election as a result of redistribution. But it will still include West Kelowna.
Scott, like the other three women she was speaking with, said prior to running for the Liberal nomination, such a move was not part of their lives’ plans. But all felt it was important to let their name stand and to get involved in the process.
Unlike Scott, Denesiuk did have political experience prior to running for the nomination in South Okanagan-West Kootenay. She sat for seven terms as a school board trustee in the Penticton-Skaha School District and chaired that board for several years. She is also a past president of the B.C. School Trustees Association.
She said she decided to seek the Liberal nomination in part because of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s reaction to the “Robo-call” scandal that stemmed from voters in a Quebec riding being called prior to the last federal election and deliberately given wrong information about where to vote.
“I expected him to be outraged, he wasn’t,” said Denesiuk.
She said she was also upset by the Conservative government pushing through so-called omnibus bills containing reams of legislation on many issues, all wrapped into one bill. She said many of the included issues were important and should have been properly debated in Parliament on an individual basis.
And she said the third point that prompted her to seek the nomination with the hope of running for the South Okangan-West Kootenay seat was her concern that Harper, several years ago, had prorogued Parliament rather than face a confidence vote by MPs because its was clear his then minority government would not have survived.
Derkaz, who is also a lawyer, said she is concerned about the lack of young people who vote, saying it’s very important to turn that around.
Why aren’t youth engaged in politics?” she asked the audience.
One young woman said she believed it’s because Canada’s current crop of federal politicians do not speak about issues that young people are most interested in and concerned with.
Derkaz said over the last five years, she has increasingly become concerned about what she feels is happening to Canadian democracy and pointed to the fact 12 of the 16 former Status of Women offices across the country have now been closed by the government.
She also pointed to the issue of missing and murdered indigineous women in this country, saying the federal response has been shameful.
She said the justice minister saying there is no need for a special inquiry into the issue because it is covered by the government’s “tough on crime” legislative packed is “obviously wrong.”
Murray also criticized the current Conservative government and Harper but also had some advice for those seeking public office.
Murray, her party’s defence critic, an MP for 14 years and before that a B.C. MLA and cabinet minister, said personal contact is critical in any effort to get elected. That is where voters get an up-close and personal view of the candidate.
She said when she ran in the federal by-election that got her elected for the first time in Vancouver-Quadra, she knocked on thousands of doors over a nine-moth period after winning the nomination. She won that by-election by just 158 votes.
“Which doors made the difference? I don’t know,” she said.
But, she added, some obviously did.