Hillary Clinton's presidential run praised by local female politicians

Former Liberal MPP and cabinet minister Sandra Pupatello and current Windsor West MPP Lisa Gretzky talked to CBC Windsor about what it's like blazing a trail in politics.

'If Hillary couldn't get to this final candidacy ... there probably wasn't a woman in America who could'

Windsor West NDP MPP Lisa Gretzky says sexism still exists in Ontario politics. (Sinan Sbahi/CBC)

When Sandra Pupatello was first elected to the Ontario Legislature, there weren't many female MPPs, or female politicians for that matter.

People wanted to know if she was a Sheila Copps, the former deputy Prime Minister under Jean Chretien, or a Lynn MacLeod, the former long-time Thunder Bay MPP.

"Are those my only options?" Pupatello said. "There was nothing in the middle. People at that time didn't have a lot of variety."

There were only three other women in her caucus when she was elected in 1994.

Tonight, 22 years later and south of the border, Hillary Clinton will become the first female presidential candidate of a major U.S. political party.

After securing the nomination Tuesday, Clinton said Democrats "just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling."

"From a woman's perspective, if Hillary couldn't get to this final candidacy position for her party, there probably wasn't a woman in America who could. She did have every piece of luggage required to make that trip. She is probably the most recognized female politician in America," said Pupatello, whose political career spanned 17 years and included several cabinet positions.

She also ran for the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party, a race she lost to another woman, current premier Kathleen Wynne.

"Things really did improve from my start in politics," Pupatello said.

Ontario will be appointing Sandra Pupatello as chair of the board of directors of Hydro One. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

That doesn't mean things are perfect or equal today.

"The politicians at that level have been dominated by men for years," Pupatello said.

Not in her former riding of Windsor West, where the NDP's Lisa Gretzy now holds the seat, one term after Liberal Teresa Piruzza did the same.

Gretzky credits Pupatello for doing "a lot of the heavy lifting in setting the tone in the political arena for female MPPs who have followed her."

But sexism still exists, Gretzky said.

"We often find in politics when you have men that are in elected positions or in positions of authority they will refer to other men by their title or by Mr. It's not uncommon, and I'm not going to out them, but we have local politicians and men in powerful positions who do the same thing to female politicians," Gretzky said.

'Sign of disrespect'

She said using a man's honorific and woman's first name is "a sign of disrespect."

Republican candidate Donald Trump often refers to Clinton by her first name.

"She is going to get hammered by Trump every day, battered left, right and centre. He really is the master bully at that," Pupatello said. "I'm very, very interested in seeing her colleagues do the bashing. When she appears on stage … she likely won't have to say anything negative about her opponent."

Both women said the practice of using first names happens at the door on the campaign trail, by members of the media, political staffers and fellow politicians.

"It doesn't take long for that type of behaviour to surface," Gretzky said. "That's still a behaviour that's taking place."

Both said older folks — especially older men, according to Gretzky — are usually the culprits.

"Young people I found over time to be egalitarian," Pupatello said. "There was definitely a difference with the older set."