Kitchener-Waterloo

Elected officials in Waterloo region encourage women to run

Belinda Karahalios was elected to represent Cambridge at Queen's Park only a week ago, but she's already faced strange questions about how she's going to manage the job.

'If that fire is in your belly now, just go with it,' incoming Cambridge MPP says

Three local politicians (from left) incoming Cambridge MPP Belinda Karahalios, outgoing Waterloo Coun. Melissa Durrell and Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife discussed the challenges that still face women who want to enter politics on CBC's The Morning Edition. (CBC)

Belinda Karahalios was elected to represent Cambridge at Queen's Park only a week ago, but she's already faced strange questions about how she's going to manage the job.

"A lot of people saying, 'Well, what are you going to do with your son?' I'm going to do what every other parent does in this province, which is, you find help, you find a way to get care for your child through your support systems in order to get the job done," she said. "I think what bothers me is that they make motherhood a barrier to being successful, and I don't think being a mother is a barrier to anything."

The Progressive Conservative candidate won her seat Thursday night, and Karahalios said it's "bewildering" that there aren't more women in politics in 2018. 

She was part of a panel discussing the challenges women continue to face in politics on CBC K-W's The Morning Edition on Wednesday.

Karahalios was joined by Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife and outgoing Waterloo Coun. Melissa Durrell.

In the provincial election, four of the five MPPs elected in Waterloo region are women: Karahalios, Fife, Amy Fee in Kitchener South-Hespeler and Laura Mae Lindo in Kitchener Centre.

"Having women in politics I think is really important to show women that you can have your career. You can have your family, and one thing doesn't necessarily need to suffer for the other," she said.

Lack of support network a barrier

Karahalios gave kudos to outgoing Cambridge MPP, Kathryn McGarry, for doing "a fantastic job." 

She said it was interesting to see that the top four party candidates in Cambridge were all women.

A lot of groundwork has been done to encourage women to run locally, Fife said, including the municipal campaign school and a recently started Equal Voice chapter in the region.

It still is a challenge, but if you don't ask them, then they won't run and if they don't run, they won't win.- Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife

"I feel like this election, people wanted change, and they were looking at the candidates before them who are women who have had a lot of experience in multiple areas, and you know, I kind of view us as kind of progressive in Waterloo region," Fife said.

Long work hours are often a barrier Fife said. But, she said, if people have support networks around them, they can make it work.

Fife co-chaired the candidate search committee for the NDP.

"Many women said no to me because they don't have that support network around them," she said.

"It still is a challenge, but if you don't ask them, then they won't run and if they don't run, they won't win."

'Now's your time'

Durrell hopes the strong showing by women in the provincial election means more women will want to run in the upcoming municipal election this October.

"It's time. When we look around, you need to see the population reflected. And so that's not just in women, but it's in diversity as well," she said.

The municipal campaign school has set a goal of having 50 per cent of the candidates running for office on Oct. 22 be women. It's a realistic goal, Durrell said.

All three offered advice for women who may be considering running in this fall's municipal election.

"Just do it. Really and truly," Karahalios said, noting even if you haven't done it before, everyone has something to bring to the table. "If that fire is in your belly now, just go with it."

Fife suggested prospective candidates have good people around them to help them stay grounded, while Durrell echoed Karahalios and said women should feel like it's time to step up.

"Now's your time," she said.

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