Quotes from Canadian women in politics at The Honest Talk
Since the early days of Canadian democracy, women have been making history and leaving an indelible impact. However, women in Canadian politics are still significantly underrepresented compared to their male counterparts and the general population.
Just 29 per cent of those currently serving in Canada’s House of Commons are women, and throughout history, Canada has had only one female prime minister.
At The Honest Talk, we’ve had many influential female politicians as our guests. Take a look below at what some of them had to say, and join us on The Honest Talk podcast as we celebrate the remarkable contributions of Canada’s female politicians.
Heather Stefanson — former Premier of Manitoba
Heather Stefanson was the 24th Premier of Manitoba and the first woman ever to hold the role. She was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba in 2000, and she has won every election since. She has mentored other women who want to get involved in public service, and she has raised two kids while serving her constituency, her community, and her province.
On the differences between men’s and women’s leadership styles: “I think women take the collaborative approach. I think we’re very focused not on what positions we’re in but on working together to get things done. We’re action-oriented.”
On being Premier: “You’re never ready for a job like this until you actually get into the role and start to see day to day. It’s a very challenging role as Premier. But there are so many incredible parts to this role as well.”
On politics as a career for women: “I would say to every woman, we need more women in politics because I actually think that the more women we have in politics, the more we’re going to get done.”
Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion
Hazel McCallion was one of the longest-serving mayors in Canadian history, and under her leadership, Mississauga grew to be the sixth largest city in Canada. Hazel, who passed away at age 102 in January of 2023, was a Canadian legend, sought out by prime ministers and premiers and inspiring thousands.
On her vision and her approach as a mayor: “I wanted to be the best mayor that Mississauga ever had. To do that, you’ve got to work hard. And you’ve got to give it time and be with the people. Make sure that they have an opportunity to speak with you. My phone number was always in the book, so any citizen of Mississauga could get in touch with me.”
We need more women in politics.Hazel McCallion
Other key takeaways:
- “Mother taught me very clearly, if you want to be a success, you’ve got to work hard.”
- “I’d like to be remembered by what I’ve been able to accomplish so that other young women will look at me and say, ‘Well, maybe I can do it as well.’”
Jody Wilson-Raybould, former Minister of Justice, former Minister of Veterans Affairs
Jody Wilson-Raybould is a proud Kwakwaka’wakw person from the west coast of British Columbia. She served as a Member of Parliament for Vancouver Granville, Minister of Justice, Attorney General of Canada, Minister of Veterans Affairs, and Associate Minister of National Defence.
Jody is also a lawyer, best-selling author, and leader in British Columbia’s First Nations. She has been a champion of Indigenous and women’s rights throughout her career.
On her life when serving in public office: “When I was a minister of the Crown, I really had every minute of every day pretty much booked and that balance that we seek to achieve, as women particularly, seemed to fall by the wayside. So, I actually became quite unhealthy and just basically worked from morning till night.”
On the way to change the system: “I believe it is fundamentally important that women and people from all different areas and aspects and walks of life get involved in politics. If you have a reason to run, you have a plan, you want something improved or changed, you have to get involved. We need a diversity of voices.”
Jean Augustine, Minister of State for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women
Jean Augustine came to Canada from Grenada as a teenage domestic worker and went on to become the first Black woman elected to the House of Commons and a Cabinet Minister. Dr. Augustine has worked tirelessly to improve her community — as a teacher, a mother, a board member, a social justice and equality activist, and now as the President of the Jean Augustine Centre for Young Women’s Empowerment.
On empowering women: “We have to be models to girls … empower young women, give them the soft skills,… give them the opportunity to be resilient, the ability to be courageous and to speak up and speak out about issues.”
On her experience facing racism: “If someone was racist,… it was their problem, not mine. I ignored those people who, for whatever reason, had problems they needed to grapple with.”
What gives her hope: “We see so many people who have caught the baton from those of us who have struggled and from those of us who are making progress.”
Janis Irwin, member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta
Janis Irwin is the MLA for Edmonton–Highlands–Norwood, the NDP critic for Women and 2SLGBTQ+ issues, and the only openly gay elected representative in the Alberta Legislature.
On improving diversity: “Sure, I’m queer, but I’m also a white woman with a lot of privilege…. I can’t possibly claim to speak for the community. I can do what I can to try to amplify the voices of others in the 2SLGBTQ+ community, and until I have a trans person with me in the legislature, until we have more folks with more diverse backgrounds, all I can do is try to be there to amplify their voices.”
On advancing queer and trans rights: “There’s still a lot of work to be done when it comes to advancing queer and trans rights. We have made a lot of progress…. It has to be intentional. It starts with encouraging folks from diverse backgrounds to get involved and to know that they’ll have support. I have to say it’s also challenging when … you have a government that’s made it harder for members of our community.”
On making sure all voices are heard: “Often parties will talk about, ‘Oh, yeah. We’ve got lots of women on the ballot.’ But those women will be in ridings that aren’t necessarily winnable. Or those women will get elected, and they won’t be put into positions … into Cabinet, as an example. So this is something we are going to be focusing on a lot over the next few years…. Not just women, we lack Indigenous folks in the legislature. We could use more racialized folks. There are so many voices that aren’t being heard right now. Until Alberta is reflected in that legislature, our work isn’t done.”