Nadine Riopel wanted to help others understand issues and candidates

Billing itself as “An election forum for the rest of us,” the Represent Forum: Women’s Edition brought together 50 women on March 7 to discuss issues and ask questions to help them make decisions about the upcoming provincial election.

The forum was hosted by Eastwood Community League and organized by Nadine Riopel, a resident of Spruce Avenue.  

“I’m a facilitator interested in developing social capacity, which means helping people meet other people and creating communities,” she says. Riopel wanted to apply her skills to help the community, and decided to help women like herself understand the issues and candidates for the upcoming Alberta election.

“I’m not into politics. It’s a new venue for me. It’s funny because people were asking me, ‘Who’s backing you? Which party?’ But it’s nonpartisan. I don’t have any party backing me.”

She started organizing the forum in September, gathering stakeholders, researching provincial politics, and performing informational interviews.

“As a voter, I would like to be informed, but most of the information comes from the campaigns so it comes down to whose spin I like better. Unless you’re a political nerd, it’s hard to find more substantive information, especially for women.”

She focused on women specifically because she saw the need. Women are not represented equally in politics, and she was concerned about the increasingly divisive nature of political discourse. The forum followed a “world cafe” format: NDP candidate Janis Irwin and Tish Prouse from the Alberta Party made short statements, followed by a panel discussion. However, the main focus was on identifying and learning about issues that matter most to the participants with the help of experienced facilitators.

“I thought I would bring together regular people and we could have a conversation that would help them get to vote and understand the different perspectives,” says Riopel.

Through discussions in small groups, they discovered that these concerns covered so much more than the media’s oversimplified emphasis on pipelines.

“They wanted to know, if you cut spending, how do you maintain social services, but if we don’t cut, how do we make it sustainable?”

Overall, Riopel says she believes it was a useful conversation and is considering organizing a similar forum for the federal election in the fall.

“I hope it’ll make a difference. People said they heard points of view they hadn’t considered before and it broadened their perspective.”

By and large, the conversation was productive and civil, mainly because of the format of the event and the intention. “We weren’t there to convince others, but to find understanding for ourselves,” says Riopel. It is her hope that through making these meaningful connections, people will stay engaged with politics and not leave it to the mudslingers.

She adds, “At the end of the day, we are better together. The goal is to talk, and we should talk between people, not just unidirectionally. And there should be no gathering without connections. Making connections with people who live near us is important.”

Featured Image: Nadine Riopel, a facilitator, is considering organizing another forum for the federal election. | Rosanna Wegner