As today's city council byelection date drew nearer and nearer last week, citizens and organizations in Thompson were attempting to better know the candidates that are running in the race.
The Thompson Business Professional Women's (BPW) club invited female candidates Margaret Allan and Erin Stewart only to meet with them Dec. 2 and share their election platform in a forum with a question and answer setting.
The Thompson BPW is a non-profit organization that is one of the clubs in the national organization Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs (BPW Canada), founded in 1930. The group has been striving for the equality of opportunity for women in professional roles ever since.
Thompson president Janice Bechdoldt and past president Carol Pelton were on hand at the event, which was hosted at the Burntwood Hotel's Grapes restaurant, and greeted both candidates. Allan was the first up to speak and she started off by harkening back to the plight of women have been striving for equality in the workplace and in the political world for a long time.
Allan says that it's important to have women in politics, as they provide special insight on issues like family, child care and poverty while also handling other issues just as successfully as men.
Although many strides forward with women in public office and the professional world have been made, she notes that many young women - and young people in general - are not as involved in their communities as they should be.
"One of my priorities as a city councillor would be to advocate for opportunities for youth to understand and be involved in local politics," she says. "At the provincial and national levels, political parties have programs for young people to encourage them to participate in party politics, but at the municipal level, because we don't use a party system, this is an area that's been largely ignored in Thompson."
Allan points out that the Municipal Act allows for any municipality to appoint a youth councillor who can participate in the same activities as regular councillors do without voting. She says this is something she'd work towards getting for Thompson's city council as well.
Another point Allan made is that she would work towards partnering with the city, RCMP and social agencies to do more in Thompson to increase community safety - for example, better lighting in outdoor areas and more workshops offered for women about self-defence.
"If there's drug dealing or sexual exploitation or other activity going on down the street or around the corner, in my view its more often women who feel threatened by this kind of behaviour in their neighbourhood," she says, pointing to the Province of Manitoba's Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act, which targets properties where criminal activity is taking place through anonymous tips.
Stewart spoke directly after Allan, relating to the women gathered her experience and unique point of view she received while growing up in Thompson and being involved in the many programs and opportunities the city has to offer young people. She says that she had a very positive experience growing up in Thompson, but was discouraged when she was attending university in Winnipeg and heard people speaking negatively about the community.
"I was about 19and I started hearing stories about Thompson - bad stories, stories about violence, gang activity, a lot of negativity. It really took me aback because this is not the Thompson that I know. This is not my Thompson. So it was very hard to hear those stories," she related to the group. "I told somebody that I was going to do something about that someday, that I was going to give back and not stand by and let this continue. And who knew that one day one thing would lead to another and I'd be here talking to you."
Stewart says that she believes it would be a big step forward for the city of Thompson to elect not just a female, but a young female in her mid-twenties onto council.
"We need to have a group of individuals that are making decisions that have a variety of perspectives and a variety of opinions that go into those decisions," she says. "It's taken a long time but I think we're slowly getting therewomen are making a difference and are getting into high profile positions."
Stewart says the main areas she'd focus on if she is elected to council include consultation and communication with the community and various organizations within Thompson.
"I find that city council has a lot of values and directions that they really want to go and they have a lot of enthusiasm, but sometimes that enthusiasm makes them get ahead of themselves. They have really good ideas and they want to get right on board, but they need to get down to the community and talk about their ideas before they make decisions," she says."
Stewart says she'd like to see Thompson being built up as a regional service centre, an opportunity and education centre by partnering with organizations like Manitoba Hydro, the Thompson Regional Airport Authority and the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba. She says she'd also like to see young people get involved in grassroots programs they'd take an interest in - such as having a youth board for the Thompson Humane Society. Stewart also stresses the need to support and work with organizations like the Ma Mow We Tak Friendship Centre, Boys & Girls Club and Northern Circle of Youth.