Represent Forum was an opportunity for candidates and participants

On March 7, a forum designed to help women make decisions about the provincial election was held at Commonwealth Stadium, attracting women (and a few men) who wanted to hear from candidates hoping to represent Edmonton Highlands-Norwood.

The Represent Forum: Women’s Edition, was attended by Janis Irwin, the nominated candidate for the NDP, and the Alberta Party candidate, Tish Prouse. On March 7, the United Conservative Party hadn’t yet nominated a candidate for the constituency. Forum organizers extended several invitations for them to send a spokesperson, but they chose not to.

Organizer Nadine Riopel was inspired to organize the event to “try and lift up voices that are under-represented in politics.”
She was also motivated by what she sees as the divisive nature of political discourse.

“I really don’t like the black/white, angry, screaming, you’re with us or you’re against us kind of thing,” she said. “I’m hoping that through having these types of conversations, we might be able to bridge that divide a little bit and understand each other a little bit better.”

Irwin discussed women’s participation in politics and how important it is that women see themselves in their elected representatives, noting that Premier Rachel Notley formed the country’s first gender-balanced cabinet.

“I’ve lived in this area for nine years and I’ve never been represented by a woman; I certainly haven’t been represented by someone from the LGBTQ community,” Irwin said. “I say that because representation matters. It really does.”

She outlined achievements reached by the NDP government in its first term, highlighting increased minimum wage and the child benefit as two key initiatives directly helping women and children.
Next was Tish Prouse, a former president of Eastwood Community League.

“In our day and age, it is incredibly condescending to have a man stand up and talk at a women’s conference,” he said, explaining that women still face many challenges and that he thinks the best thing that men can do is “shut up and listen to what they have to say.”

With that, he introduced Katherine O’Neill, former president of the Progressive Conservative Party who ran for the PCs in 2015, and is now running in Edmonton-Riverview for the Alberta Party.
O’Neill said the Alberta Party seeks to bring people together from all walks of life and across Alberta, noting that eight per cent of the party’s nominated candidates are Indigenous.

“It’s not just about having more women at the table, but having people who have never been at the table to make these big political decisions,” she said.

Domestic violence, child poverty, and affordable housing were popular topics. Participants raised these issues through “world café” styled conversations where participants had two conversations with different people by changing tables.

“I was surprised at the number and diversity of policy topics that were raised by the participants,” Riopel said. “It was good for people to have the space to talk about things other than the pipeline, or those other issues that tend to dominate public discourse.”

Alberta’s provincial election will be held on April 16.

Featured Image: Forum participants gather to hear candidates speak and voice their own concerns and issues. | Mimi Williams