Sarnia’s Helen Cole is troubled that relatively few women are elected to municipal councils. So she’s doing something about it.
Cole is the founder of The Jean Collective, a new group that aims to educate women about the political process and how to get elected in Sarnia-Lambton.
“Research shows women bring a different and important perspective to the conversation. Generally, we collaborate differently and represent a different viewpoint,” she said.
“It’s not good for democracy if we don’t have women involved.”
In Sarnia, Margaret Bird is the lone woman on a nine-member city council. She was elected in 2018 from a candidate slate of 29 men and 11 women. Prior to this term, Sarnia council had three women.
In Point Edward and Warwick Township, the mayors are both women and the councils entirely men.
Generally, Lambton County municipalities have one or two female politicians; Petrolia has none.
Of the 17 members that comprise the upper-tier Lambton County council, three are women.
Cole said many women don’t run for office because they’re intimidated by the election process and onerous rules governing municipal councils.
“I think they really don’t feel they have enough experience and knowledge to consider running,” she said.
Before moving to Sarnia, Cole served nine years on St. Thomas council in the 1990s. She wasn’t daunted by the job because she’d worked as a municipal clerk/treasurer, she said.
Cole is currently business developer for the Sarnia Family Counselling Centre, and was recently named Member of the Year by the Sarnia-Lambton Chamber of Commerce.
Cole said she won’t run for office again because “it’s time for younger people to get involved.”
But she believes The Jean Collective can inspire and support younger women interested in local politics, and ultimately close the gender gap.
The Collective’s initial “meet and greet” is Jan. 20. Two dozen women registered within days of the announcement.
“It’s been amazing,” said Cole, who is organizing the collective with Carrie McEachran, Julie Hillier, Kirsty Kilner Homes, Helen Lomax, and Marika Sylvain Groendyk.
She anticipates a second meeting in February to talk strategy, then a series of monthly panel discussions and guest speakers at space provided by the Chamber of Commerce.
The Jean Collective is named for the late Jean Macdougall, a Port Stanley woman who mentored Cole in her political career. Macdougall was a cousin of Nellie McClung, the women’s rights activist and member of Canada’s ‘Famous Five.’
“Jean was a community activist who paid attention and felt it was very important to see more women involved in local politics,” said Cole. “I wanted to honour her memory by providing a way for other women to experience similar support.”
Apart from The Jean Collective, Cole is working with the Sarnia Community Foundation to establish a Jean Macdougall Fund for Women in Politics.
For more about The Jean Collective, visit Facebook or www.thejeancollective.ca.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Inaugural reception for The Jean Collective. To inspire and educate women interested in running for public office.
WHEN: Monday, Jan. 20, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
WHERE: Petite a la Carte, 170 Christina St. North.
TICKETS: Free but required. Reserve at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-jean-collective-a-women-in-politics-meet-greettickets-88306788983