This week's contribution was written and submitted by Kathleen Wynne, MPP for Don Valley West since 2003, Ontario’s 25th Premier (2013-2018).
Wynne was the first woman Premier in Ontario, and the first openly-gay Premier in Canada.
More information on MPP Wynne and her work can be found at her website here
Why on Earth should you consider running for office?
Here’s the thing about putting your name on a ballot: the vast, vast majority of people in any community cannot imagine anything worse and would not ever consider such a rash move. So if you have ever been tempted, or you secretly feel excited by the idea of stepping out to represent the people in your community, I want to encourage that excitement. And if you are a woman, or anyone else who is not a straight, white male, you have been underrepresented in our halls of power and I want to encourage you especially.
For generations, the pool of people considered eligible for political office has basically been restricted to less than half the population. That is changing, but not nearly quickly enough. Currently in Canada’s House of Commons, under 30% of Members of Parliament are women.
We know that once we get over that 30% mark, once there is a critical mass of women at decision-making tables, different issues are discussed and different decisions are made. Policy areas that for decades have been considered ‘women’s issues’ and therefore not relevant to the well-being of a country’s economy, suddenly and rightly become important. Childcare, seniors care, retirement security, and precarious work are all issues my government tackled. My position on these is that they are economic drivers as surely as building infrastructure is.
I have been in elected office for nearly 20 years. I have served as a Public School Trustee, an MPP and Cabinet Minister and as Ontario’s first female and first LGBTQ Premier. I can tell you that along that road there have been many voices more than willing to identify barriers to my success and the reasons that I should not try. There is never a shortage of naysayers. I listened to those voices but in the end, I decided that the possibility to make a difference was worth the risks. I lost my first election in 1994 and my first nomination race in 1998-99 and those losses showed me I could survive and only reinforced my conviction that engaging the public on the issues that matter most to them was what I wanted to continue to do. I highly recommend an early loss even if winning is way more fun!
Campaigning takes a dedicated team. Find the people who believe in you, who share your value system but who are willing to challenge you when necessary. Don’t be discouraged by people with years and years of experience—yes, they can be helpful but in the end, candidates have to meet and convince people to vote for them. No technology or algorithm or message track can take the place of human contact. Beware the advisor who counsels that knocking on doors is no longer necessary!
In the end, electoral politics can be a brutal arena. Social media has contributed to the incivility of the moment. But you are tough—and by tough, I mean that you have life experiences that have formed you, have hurt and nurtured you. It’s those life experiences that we need in politics in Canada today. Our Canadian society needs you to take the risk. Sure, have a Plan B because losing is always a possibility. But you can enrich the debate just by taking part. You may not look like the politicians who came before you but that is exactly the point. That is what makes it so important that you step up.
For all the nonsense and anger and vitriol that has come at me over the past 19 years, I can honestly say that I would happily do it all over again. I know for a fact that there are young women and LGBTQ youth who feel safer in politics because I was in a leadership role. You can have the same impact in your community and that makes all the difference. Good luck and thank you for being brave!