While federal Liberal organizers have resorted to autocratic riding appointments so they can round up suitable female candidates, one group of women is quietly doing its own organizing within the party.
These women say they are prepared to run on their own merits against the men in nomination meetings, even through high-profile Liberals argue that the party has to adopt “extraordinary measures” so women can get the chance to be candidates.
The women probably won’t win any friends within the party establishment because they say they don’t care much about the party elite. They think the party can’t afford to turn its back on them as it strives to reach the magic number of 25 per cent of women candidates. Their goal is to show the average party member that as women they are prepared to fight for issues close to their heart.
Anita Bergman won the nomination for the Liberals in the Manitoba riding of Regina-Lumsden. She is an example of the committed, professional women coming forward for pro-life cause to try to make a difference in politics. She is a psychologist who works with small children who has come to believe the sanctity of all life.
Bergman admits “female politicians have difficulty” getting elected but believes, after her first-ballot victory at the nomination meeting, she has a good chance during the federal election, which many people will be in the fall.
“My opponents tried to use the pro-life thing against me,” she says. “It will become an issue. I didn’t want to avoid it but I will be attacked on the basis.”
Even though she had only two weeks to organize for the nomination meeting, her victory was decisive. The key, she says, is getting out the pro-life vote.
“We need to have pro-lifers involved in the political process,” she says. She is involved with the provincial executive of the Liberal Party, as well as being president of the Regina Pro-life Association.
The riding itself has been in the hands of the New Democrats for 25 years during which time “all the other parties were dead.” It was during this time Bergman and her Liberals were able to organize within the riding association.
Rosemary Connell, a long time activist of the Southern Ontario riding of Durham, also has a friendly riding association which she hopes to use in her bid to win the Liberal nomination there.
The school teacher from Port Perry is working closely with the Liberals for Life drawing on their experience and political knowledge.
“Politics has always interested me,” she says. But she admits this foray into federal politics “scare me. I have to go on faith and take one step at a time.”
She has more members signed up then any other candidate in her riding and has had to rely on the roots she made in the community for support. It worked for her during a recent general meeting when her members elected a pro-life riding association.
“It’s up to ordinary people to say the issue is not going to go away,” she says. She adds she is “enough of an optimist” to believe changes could be made in Ottawa.
Pam Shea is also seeking the Liberal nomination and plans to make her pro-life views an issue. The only problem is the Liberals won’t allow a nomination meeting in her riding of Beaches-Woodbine. Liberal leader Jean Chretien has already announced he will be appointing another woman, Jean Augustine, to run in the riding even though Shea had already received permission to go for the nomination. Shea says she is considering bringing her talents elsewhere to another riding.
Her experience in politics is limited but, she adds, “I’m getting to know more as the days go on.” As a qualified nurse and teacher she is everything the Liberals say they are looking for except she is pro-life.
“The health care and education are two things I have that they don’t have,” she says. Like most women who enter politics she has pressures men usually don’t have to face.
“I have to ask myself is it right to do this with little children who need me?” But she says she has come to the realization “there will never be a right time.” If it weren’t for her pro-life views she probably wouldn’t have got involved. In spite of the appointment in her riding she plans to seek out a constituency where the Liberal Party will allow a nomination meeting. Now that she’s entered the fray, she says she is a “serious candidate” and she enjoys the full support of her family for this endeavor.
At the same time she scorns the kind of dealing and corruption often associated with a politician’s rise to power.
“I don’t know much about the backroom thing,” she says.
She is also working closely with experienced Liberals for Life members and has her father-in-law to run her campaign for the nomination.