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The campaign school teaching NWT women to run for office

Women have been historically underrepresented in the legislative assembly in the territory, but a campaign school is aiming to change that.

The Status of Women Council of the NWT is holding a campaign school in Hay River this weekend, a politics 101 class to encourage more women to run for government.

Lorraine Phaneuf at the Status of Women office in Yellowknife.

“It’s an opportunity for women who are thinking of running to learn about techniques and theories that other people have used during their campaigns,” said executive director Lorraine Phaneuf.

“(We teach women) what to expect if you’re running, what to expect if you get elected, just to give them a holistic picture of what is ahead of them.”

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The free 2-day session will teach participants campaign skills such as fundraising, getting your name out there, and knocking on doors.

The council has held three of these classes in Yellowknife already.

This is the first they’ve moved out of the territory’s capital.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to go into the communities and do campaign schools,” said Phaneuf.

She hopes to bring the program to other Northern communities as well.

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“It’s a way of getting a critical mass in the legislative assembly so that there’s equality in the way policies are looked at, how they’re voted on,” Phaneuf said.

“It just gives an opportunity for both sides to have an opportunity to do good work.”

Influenced current politicians

How effective is this teaching?

Ask Minister Caroline Cochrane or Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green.

Both women ran for office for the first time in the NWT’s 2015 election. Both women attended the council’s course in Yellowknife prior to campaigning.

Both are now the only female members out of 19 positions within the 18th Legislative Assembly.

“I really think there is a need for more courses (like this),” Green told Moose FM.

“There were some notes that I took at that school that I went back to over and over again, especially around the timeline of when to get things done and how to make the most out of that one month campaign period.”

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Green and Cochrane will be presenting during the class alongside former Hay River South MLA Jane Groenewegen, Chief Electoral Officer Nicole Latour, and GNWT media liaison Megan Holsapple.

From no political experience to NWT Minister

Minister Caroline Cochrane.

Cochrane, the minister responsible for the status of women, says she attended the 2015 class before she ran for office out of interest more than a desire to get elected.

“I had toyed with idea of going into politics, but with no experience I was totally unequipped and not knowing what I was getting into,” Cochrane said.

The class walked her through the steps of running for office one-by-one, things Cochrane says she wouldn’t have even thought of.

“The campaign school was so well-provided that it actually made my final decision for me,” she said.

“The moral support of having well over 20 women in one room that were all looking at politics and leadership and… having that many powerful women saying ‘Yes, we need to be equally represented’ was immensely empowering for myself.”

Women in politics ‘critical’

Both politicians hope this weekend’s campaign school and their own stories inspire more women to join them.

“The numbers for women who run in the NWT are low, then of course the number of women who get elected is low,” said Green.

“Efforts to help women understand the process and encourage them to take part in it are really valuable in getting women to stand for public office.”

Green wants to see women run for office at any level, from school trustee to town councilor and even MLA.

Cochrane agrees, calling the need for women in positions of power ‘critical’.

“Throughout generations, decades and decades of governance, we’ve had a patriarchal society where men have government women,” she said.

“Women are 50 per cent of the population. Until we have 50 per cent representation of women in leadership positions, then we will always be (considered) less than.”

Women have been socialized to be humble, Cochrane says, and she wants to send the message that it’s time for them to stop holding themselves back.

“I am hoping that other women will see that taking that step forward to become a leader doesn’t mean that you’re betraying yourself as a gender, it actually is part of us,” she explained.

“We have the right be be equally represented at all levels of society. We can’t instil that in our children until, at the top tiers of society, we have recognized that women are equal and we deserve to have equal representation.”

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