Last night, at the second of two incredible Women in Toronto Politics panel events, Samara Canada founder Alison Loat, Torontoist editor-in-chief Hamutal Dotan, English and Civics teacher Jse-Che Lam, and Councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Shelley Carroll shared their insights on — and experience in – Toronto politics and the gender disparity within. It was brought up – again — that the lack of women’s representation in the Toronto political scene stems not only from a shortage of women being elected, but a shortage of women running for political positions. Notably, Councillor Carroll remarked that in three out of the five elections in which she has run, she was the only woman on the ballot.
So, why aren’t more women running?
As we heard numerous times at both WiTOpoli panels, women are socialized to be the helpers, the nurturers; to be docile and kind and simple. But @ChefWendy B‘s passionate speech at last week’s Comment Section panel paints a different picture: that if the women in the room (and on Twitter) are any indication, we are not all that docile or kind a crowd. We just need to get going. But a different barrier to political office, one about which there seems to be less said or written, is money.
During the first panel, 2010 mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson reflected on the challenges she faced in getting donations for her campaign – all while some of her opponents were able to build six-figure campaign budgets. She told the crowd to just get out there and raise money, or to give money to a deserving candidate. A wonderful call to action, but I shared sideways glances with other members of the audience as we thought: Oh, just like that!
That financial point was raised again Wednesday night by Councillor Shelley Carroll. She asked who in the room had ever raised money for a cause, be it for bake sales, 10k runs, Movember, or anything else, and almost every hand in the room went up. At some point or another we’ve all given, or asked for, money for a good cause. Councillor Carroll then followed up by asking how many had ever raised money for themselves, and — not many hands.
Getting elected is a challenge. But before you do that you need to run a campaign, and running a campaign is a challenge in itself: an expensive one. Unless candidates plan on bankrolling their own way, they need to get over their anxieties and make the ask. Tell people, “Support me. Back me. Because you need me and I will be the best person in this position.” Not only that, but in the event that they lose, a candidate needs to be confident enough to go back to those same people after the loss and say it again.
We perceive our form of government as fair (enough) in that almost any citizen can run for office, regardless of race, age, gender, or sexual orientation. It can be uncomfortable to think that while this is true, it’s a lot easier to run for office if you’re rich. Or know rich people. And if you’re not rich, and don’t know rich people, it’s going to be a much harder battle to build financial capital.
So what can you do if you’re low on accessible financial capital? Build political capital.
Build trust. That trust is the foundation of getting the money needed to run a strong political campaign. Are you not ready to run for office? It’s never too early to start building that trust, that political capital.
Find a councillor you support, and help them in their campaign. Study up: The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has helpful information for prospective women candidates here, and Getting to the Gate provides an free online campaign training workshop for women of all ages and backgrounds. There are even campaign training boot camps held around the city. Learn from others’ experiences. Get in touch with Shawnte Clow, who is coordinating ward auxiliaries to get folks living in the same ward together and talking, and go out to ward meetings.
It will mean getting uncomfortable.
And that way, when it’s your turn to run for office? You’ll be a natural.
Emma Jenkin (@indeedemma)