From left: Sandie Bellows, Christine Elliott and April Jeffs.
All three are single parents. All three have raised boys. All three have gone through terrible physical or emotional experiences and have come out stronger on the other side.
Now, all three of these women are running to become progressive conservative MPPs in the upcoming Ontario election. And they want to get more women interested in participating in politics.
Christine Elliott joined Niagara MPP hopefuls Sandie Bellows and April Jeffs at Johnny Rocco’s in St. Catharines Friday evening for what was billed as “A Conversation with Women – Three Strong Leaders Talking Real Change”.
The open and informal discussion attracted more than 60 people both male and female and from different political stripes. Longtime political volunteer Julia McLaren, who opened the session with brief introductions of the featured speakers, said she was pleased with not only the turnout and participation from those in attendance but the quality of advice and inspiring comments from all three politicians.
“What struck me the most was the incredible chemistry the three of them had together. The conversation just flowed between them,” said McLaren.
Christine Elliott opened the dialogue sharing her experiences and explaining how she got involved with politics. She said she wanted to run for MPP but her late husband Jim Flaherty held the seat. Once Flaherty became a member of federal parliament the door opened for Elliott to pursue her goal.
April Jeffs spoke of her experience as a Regional Councilor and Mayor of Wainfleet and that being involved in her community was what lead her to seek political office. “I think we all get into politics hoping we can effect positive change and improve upon things,” said Jeffs. “You have to make difficult decisions at times and listen to all sides of an issue. Sometimes you can find a compromise and sometimes you have to make a tough decision and just know there will always be some people who won’t agree with you. That’s just good leadership,” explained Jeffs.
Sandie Bellows, who is running in the St. Catharines riding and nearly defeated longtime MPP Jim Bradley in 2011, told the audience it was her son’s hockey that got her involved in politics.
Bellows said there were some things with the local minor hockey program she thought could be improved and decided to apply to be on the board instead of just complaining about it. “There might have been one other woman but it was definitely a male dominated board back then,” explained Bellows. She kept pushing to improve a particular issue and eventually after about five meetings another board member stood up and said he agreed with Bellows. “I learned a lot about perseverance and determination through that experience and others,” she said.
One of the first questions asked of the panelists was what advice they would give to young women starting out in politics. Elliott told the audience that finding a mentor, coming out to events like this one and to getting involved at a community level were three key recommendations she would give.
All three candidates said they are hearing the same thing at every door they knock on in their respective ridings – healthcare, jobs and hydro rates. Other notable topics that were discussed Friday night included mental health services, insurance rates and equality.
Overall, McLaren felt the event was a success. “We wanted to show the unity of women in politics and that we can work together for a better Niagara.”