Neebing ward Coun. Linda Rydholm speaks at city hall for the announcement of the Women in Politics forum scheduled for next month to promote female candidates to explore throwing their hats into the ring for public office.
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Rebecca Johnson and Linda Rydholm are rare exceptions to this city's male-dominated political landscape.
As the only two female councillors serving the City of Thunder Bay, Johnson and Rydholm are flanked by 11 male political counterparts. Both would like to that change, and hope to see more women embrace the challenges that come with running for public office.
With a municipal election approaching next year, Women in Politics gathered a group of northwestern Ontario leaders at city hall to announce a forum, taking place next month, that aims to kickstart the conversation and encourage women to put their names forward.
“I think what you have to do is talk to women,” Johnson said on Tuesday.
“Through this forum that we’re going to have, people that might be interested are going to go and figure out what this is all about. We have a group that is a supportive group that is willing to mentor women and so maybe I can take a chance on this.”
Rydholm, who is in her fourth term as the Neebing ward councillor, said that politics is one of the last frontiers that women have yet to approach equality.
“We need more women to step up and run for office, or at the very least help women with their campaigns,” Rydholm said. “The United Nations claims from their studies that you need at least 30 per cent of either gender to present that gender’s perspective.”
According to city clerk John Hannam, only 13 per cent of post-amalgamation mayoral and city council candidates have been female.
Both Hannam and Johnson, a third term at-large councillor, expressed optimism that an increased number of female candidates might result in higher traffic at the polling station, after the 2010 election saw a turnout rate of 51 per cent.
“I think it would encourage women to step out and actually say that they would like to vote for other women,” Johnson said. “Women tend to support one another in things like that so I think it would increase voter turnout.”
Both of the councillors found their political footing from serving on school boards before transitioning to city hall.
The purpose of the forum is to generate interest among younger members of society, as Lakehead University students and Confederation College students will have their cost partially subsidized as they hear from a former area politician who made significant strides.
The keynote speaker of the forum will be Lyn McLeod, a 33 year veteran who became the first female provincial Liberal Party leader in 1992.
Having McLeod, a trailblazer both for female politicians and the region as a whole, is intended to serve as inspiration and provide a prominent example of success.
“They don’t see the role models,” Rydholm said of younger women. “When you’re a young person you see the male role models but you don’t see too many women in politics.”
Johnson might have already had a direct impact upon one potential candidate.
After doing an early morning interview, she said she received an email from a woman interested in learning about the process of running for municipal office.
The forum will be held on Jan. 22.
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