Audrey McLaughlin moved to the Yukon in the 1970’s with “no man, no job” because she thought it would be an interesting place to live. As she became the first woman to lead a major Canadian political party in 1989 and the first female federal party leader to represent a portion of the territories in 1987, she is not only a well-known member of the Yukon community, but an inspiring figure across Canada.
McLaughlin describes her career as a social worker during an “era of community development” as an important aspect of her professional inspiration.
Without historical examples of female politicians in Canada, McLaughlin was charting new ground.
“You’re not the model that the media is used to and the institution is used to,” she says.
However, she sees that politics is not easy for anyone.
“I’m sure I faced a lot of the same challenges male leaders faced.”
She is firm that no politician working in Canada has the right to complain about their career.
“It’s a privilege,” she says.
A further barrier to women’s voices in the political field is the claim that female politicians will only talk about women’s issues.
“Yes, [issues like] the environment, the economy – this same assumption is applied to First Nations leaders. It’s changed a little with time, but not dramatically,” she says.
McLaughlin paints a fairly bleak picture of how politics have changed in Canada and the Yukon since she began her career.
“The voice of women has been muted… by the government. When I was in parliament, every year there was a day when… all political parties were grilled (by non-governmental women’s organisations in Canada),” she says. “That also used to happen with unions.”
On the positive side, McLaughlin points to the increasing openness across the country around the issue of violence against women, the increased housing provided for people with disabilities in the Yukon, and the increased community support provided by organisations like the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre and Kaushee’s Place.
McLaughlin’s role models include Marion Dower and Nancy Riche as well as Flo Whyard, Ruth Massie and Jodi Gingell, but says that her biggest inspirations are the women she has met across Canada and internationally working both in and out of the spotlight.
“That’s who you’re working for,” she says.
Her advice for women and girls working for change today is, “Be self-confident… we [women] tend to under-value our experience.”
She says it’s important to seek out a good support network, since qualified women will still face an assumption of inadequacy in politics.
“Women are held to a much higher standard,” she says. “You do the best you can.
“That’s really what you can do.”
Barb Dawson Posted this comment on our facebook page:
Barb Dawson In 1921, George was elected as the Member of Parliament for the Yukon. He retained the seat until 1935, when he was forced to resign due to ill health. Martha then ran in his place, and at the age of 69, she became only the second woman ever to be elected to Canada’s Parliament (the first had been Agnes McPhail) – the honour was made even more significant by the fact that she had won as a Conservative member in a Liberal landslide. However, Martha was a woman of her times – Flo Whyard quotes entries from Martha’s diary that make it clear that Martha considered George to be a better MP than her, and that it was her duty to hold the seat until George was physically able to take over again. In 1940 George did regain the seat, remaining until 1949, when he returned to practicing law in Dawson City.
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