New Brunswick

Men must make room for women in winnable ridings, New Brunswick activist says

Step aside, men, and let women run for office in places where they have a chance, a former leader of the New Brunswick New Democratic Party says.

Allison Brewer will be the keynote speaker at weekend She Can conference to get women interested in politics

Former New Brunswick NDP leader Allison Brewer will be a keynote speaker at a conference in Fredericton Saturday to promote women in politics. (Andrew Vaughan/CP)

Step aside, men, and let women run for office in places where they have a chance, a former leader of the New Brunswick New Democratic Party says.

Allison Brewer, who led the NDP between 2005 and 2006, said that often, women have been allowed the nomination in ridings their party couldn't win, while men got to run in winnable ridings.

"That has to change," said Brewer, who will speak Saturday at a conference in Fredericton about getting more women interested in politics.

More women are needed in a variety of political roles, said Brewer.

"It's important for women to get involved in politics, whether it's running as a candidate or working behind the scenes in policy or just even stuffing envelopes in the candidates' offices," she said.

"It's important to get out there."

Brewer's political activism spans decades. On Saturday, she will deliver the keynote address at the daylong She Can conference at the Wu Conference Centre, put on by An Equal Voice New Brunswick.

The conference will include panels of women who are in politics and offer insight into the challenges they face and their experience running for office and advocating for issues they care about.

Voices aren't being heard

Brewer said women's voices aren't being heard in politics, with women representing only 16 per cent of the New Brunswick legislature. 

"That's a dreadful representation," she said.

It doesn't benefit the people in power so it's going to be a hard thing to move forward.- Allison Brewer, former NDP leader

Women's best showing in the province was in 1999, when they made up 18 per cent of members elected to the legislature.

Besides not getting a crack at ridings where their parties are strong, women face other obstacles in the pursuit of a political careers, Brewer said.

Even the tradition of the public seeing mostly men in politics and positions of power works against women.

"That's not just in politics that's throughout the system, whether it be medicine, academia or business," she said. "People are used to seeing men in positions of power, and men are used to being in positions of power and won't always stand aside to let the best person run."

Time and time again, an unqualified man is chosen to lead a party over a qualified woman, she said.

Household responsibilities

Other hindrances include the lack of money, the ability and opportunities to network and the availability of childcare.

"Women are still expected to take on the bulk of the household tasks and chores and raising the children," Brewer said. "It's difficult when you've got a family to raise … to be spending the amount of time and energy to run a political campaign."

New Brunswick has an election later this year, but Brewer isn't optimistic about the prospects of more women getting into politics soon.

"It doesn't benefit the people in power so it's going to be a hard thing to move forward," she said.

But she's hoping the She Can conference will give women a chance to network, get together and discuss the barriers they need to overcome.