Barriers to women in politics 'socialist crap,' Heather Forsyth tells UCP meeting

Former Wildrose interim leader and Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Heather Forsyth called feminism the “f-word” Saturday and dismissed the idea that women face barriers in politics as “socialist crap.”

Former interim Wildrose leader was part of session on women in politics with Rona Ambrose

Former Wildrose interim leader Heather Forsyth was part of a session about women in politics at the United Conservative Party convention in Red Deer on Saturday. (Facebook )

Former Wildrose interim leader and Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Heather Forsyth called feminism the "f-word" and dismissed the idea that women face barriers in politics as "socialist crap."

In a speech about women in politics at the United Conservative Party founding annual general meeting in Red Deer Saturday, Forsyth expressed disbelief that women face structural barriers and are marginalized. 

"How the heck do you expect to get women involved in politics and get them excited when you have to read that socialist crap," she said as a number of UCP members hooted and clapped.

"When I ran in the nomination, which was one of the most hotly-contested nominations in the province, I didn't play the 'oh, poor me' card. Nor did I play the 'I'm a woman and they should provide me with a hand-up.' "

Forsyth, who led the Wildrose after former leader Danielle Smith and most of the caucus crossed to the PCs in late 2014, also criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley for having gender-balanced cabinets.

"I honestly would be in trouble if someone asked me to name all the women in their cabinet and I would have trouble even trying to remember five," she said.

"I quite frankly find it humiliating and I find it patronizing that we as women can't do it. And we can do it on our own and by ourselves."

Former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose is part of a new non-profit to mentor women who want to run for the United Conservative Party. (CBC)

Forsyth retired from provincial politics in 2015. She was first elected to the provincial legislature in 1993 and later served as a solicitor general and children's services minister under Premier Ralph Klein. She crossed to the Wildrose Party in 2010. 

Mentoring women who run

Forsyth's message was in stark contrast to interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose, who used her speech to announce a new initiative to overcome the barriers Forsyth dismissed.

The non-profit, which also involves Laureen Harper, will encourage and mentor women who want to run for the UCP in next year's election.

"She Leads" will provide training and help women overcome obstacles in raising money for political campaigns because they may not be part of the political "ecosystem," Ambrose told reporters after her speech.

"Some women will not need this level of support," she said. "And others will really welcome it."

Ambrose said UCP Leader Jason Kenney has made it a priority to attract women and LGBTQ candidates to the party and meets constantly with future prospects.

"I'm here to push that message forward," Ambrose said.

She acknowledged that harassment on social media is one barrier women face. She said female politicians should have staff monitor feeds on Facebook and Twitter to create a buffer. 

Ambrose said Twitter, in particular, is "a sewer for women."

"They need to make a lot of changes before it is a safe place for women," she said.

About the Author

Michelle Bellefontaine

Reporter/Web editor

Michelle Bellefontaine covers the Alberta legislature in Edmonton. She has also worked as a reporter in the Maritimes and in northern Canada. You can reach her at michelle.bellefontaine @cbc.ca.