The death of the councillor and former mayor of Oshawa, Nancy Diamond, was met with sadness. She was a philanthropist, an activist and instrumental in her community.
“To understand Nancy’s passing, you need to understand how she lived, and her passion for her community and family,” says the current mayor of Oshawa, John Henry, who describes her as a passionate woman.
Diamond was one of few women able to stand the test of time in the political field, not only in Durham Region but across Canada. She was the longest serving mayor in Oshawa, and was in politics for about two decades.
But she is not alone. Durham Region has seen a number of women in political roles, including Amy McQuaid-England, Christine Elliott, Celina-Caesar Chavannes and Jennifer French. But they are not representative of women in politics in general.
Over the years, Canada has seen more female politicians, but that number has not increased by a wide margin. In the 2010 municipal election in Toronto, 15 females won seats out of the 45 available. Today, in 2017, women still only make 25 per cent of the political arena in Durham Region.
That’s partly because female politicians are often treated more harshly than their male counterparts, says Alyson King, a political science professor at UOIT. King says things need to change.
“Women are being attacked, so whether you are a Liberal, a Conservative or NDP, women seem to be under attack for being outspoken and stating their political views, and the attacks are different from what men experience,” she says.
According to King, men are attacked on what they say and do, but women are criticized personally, and the type of violence that’s threatened against them is often sexual in nature. This kind of things has been going on for years and it is a much more virulent attack, says King.
Looking back on the history of female politicians, Agnes MacPhail from Ontario was the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons in 1919. In 1921, Mary Ellen Smith was elected as the first female cabinet minister in the province of British Columbia.
From 1919 to now, we have seen a few more female politicians, but not much has changed says King, even though it might be better than 50 years ago.
“You would think that women would have broken that glass ceiling. Even in Canada, where life is pretty good, we are still fighting that fight for real equality for women,” she says.
According to King, women too often have to take on the male persona to make it in politics.
“For women to survive in that kind of environment, they have to become like men in a way, and we have a history of this, if you think back to when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister of Britain,” she says. Thatcher was known to have ruled as a ‘man’ would.
King says she is saddened and disappointed that women are still fighting the same fight in 2017. She says until changes are made, some women are not going to want to become part of this field.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is the first prime minster to have a gender balanced cabinet. King hopes to see Canada elect its own female prime minister one day.
Mayor John Henry also hopes for a better future for women so his daughters can have equal opportunities as men would when it comes to politics.
“I have two daughters so I hope the world have changed. I hope the days of old where people weren’t given equal opportunities are gone, especially in this country, Canada,” he says.
But for now he just misses his friend, Nancy Diamond.
“Every time I see a reddish convertible going down the road, I will think about Nancy,” he says.