Politics

The women who influenced the outcome of #elxn42

From campaign managers to beauty queens to activists, these women dominated and determined this election.

As it often goes, the federal election came down in the end to a battle between white dudes. But that isn’t to say that women didn’t make a mark. A record 88 women were voted in, making up 26 percent of the House of Commons, and the lone female party leader Elizabeth May held onto her seat. The struggle may continue for equal representation, but women and women’s issues dominated the election and, in many cases, determined its outcome.

Women ran the war rooms. The longest, costliest, most unpredictable election battle in recent history was devised, strategized and led by Katie Telford (Liberal), Jenni Byrne (Conservative) and Anne McGrath (NDP). It was the first time ever that women helmed all three of the major campaigns. Wherever your political sympathies lie, it can’t be denied that the trio supplied voters with serious issues to grapple with, from immigration policy to the economy to indigenous rights.

The niqab debate. All Zunera Ishaq wanted to do was become a Canadian citizen while practising her faith as she saw fit. Instead, the Conservatives turned her request to cover her face during her citizenship oath into a campaign wedge issue. It backfired on the Tories and galvanized their opponents. Some voters showed up at polling stations on Monday with their faces creatively covered — with a pumpkin, in one case — to show solidarity.

Rock the indigenous vote. Tania Cameron, a former NDP candidate in Kenora, Ontario, was the driving force behind the Facebook campaign that went viral in First Nations communities across the country. She helped mobilize voters and took on what she has called the “Un-Fair Elections Act,” which put extra burdens on voters on reserves and in rural communities. She was joined in these efforts by the recently-crowned Mrs. Universe Ashley Callingbull, from Enoch Cree Nation, who used her celebrity and social media platform to promote voting. The campaign was a huge success — large turnouts led to ballot shortages at six First Nations polling stations. One of the most moving images shared on Monday night was a photo of a smiling 84-year-old elder from Cold Lake, Alberta named Rosie Muskego. She got the right to vote as a First Nations person in 1960 when she was 30, her daughter Gail noted, but only exercised that right for the first time this election. Whoever got her vote, Rosie most definitely rocked it.

Missing and murdered indigenous women. Stephen Harper had little interest in the “sociology” of violence against aboriginal women but the calls for a national inquiry continued to mount — especially after the murder of Tina Fontaine and the brutal attack on Rinelle Harper. This issue, as well as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report (which the Conservatives also ignored), put movements for indigenous rights and justice front and centre in the election.

Jenny Migneault. When he was elected in 2011, winning a strategic riding north of Toronto, former Toronto police chief Julian Fantino was seen as major asset for the crime-and-punishment-minded Conservatives. But his abrasiveness as Veterans Affairs Minister undermined his party’s much-touted support for the military. Worse, he was caught on camera running away from Jenny Migneault, the wife of a veteran suffering from PTSD. The contrast between heroic soldiers and Fantino’s cowardice was highlighted by Migneault, who used her spotlight to advocate for military families who felt abandoned by the Conservatives. Fantino never recovered. On Monday he lost his seat to the Liberals’ Francesco Sorbara.

Rosemary Barton. Another Rosie who rocked the election. The CBC journalist was tapped to cover for Evan Solomon on Power & Politics, after he was fired for using his media connections to sell art. From the start, Barton was tough, fair and on point, asking smart questions and holding politicians to account. Her early September interview on Syrian refugees with Immigration Minister Chris Alexander marked a major boiling point for Conservatives. Barton pressed Alexander on the government’s inaction and then caught him in a lie when he tried to deflect her questions by accusing the show of also ignoring the issue. (In fact, the refugee crisis had been covered many times.) As the minister dissembled before the audience’s eyes, #bartonbeatdown began to trend. Six weeks later, Alexander found himself out of job.

More columns by Rachel Giese:
Hillary Clinton proves you don’t have to be nice to be likeable
To the LGBT community, the niqab debate sounds mighty familiar
Ottawa bylaw puts up barriers for trans teens

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