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Citizen support “vindicating” for women’s conference, St. Mary’s councilor says

SHERBROOKE – It wasn’t the result she was hoping for, but St. Mary’s District Councilor Kaytland Smith doesn’t bear a grudge. In fact, she says, “We respect every council’s right to discuss and decide on all ideas brought to them.”

The decision, specifically, was the five-member, all-male Richmond County council’s refusal last month to provide financial support to local women who may want to attend a political leadership conference in Port Hawkesbury in early May.

Since then, she says, private citizens and business owners in the Richmond area have come forward to make up the difference. “It is vindicating that people see the value in what we are trying to do,” Smith says.

The gathering is being organized by the group Government FOCUS (Female Objectives Cape Breton-Unama’ki and Strait Region), of which Smith is an active member. It had asked for Richmond council’s help in covering the cost of child care and other expenses participants might incur.

But Warden Brian Marchand told media that while he’s, “not against it, people should have the ability to go to it on their own. There are many women that are mayors and wardens right across this province and probably right across this country. There are many women in politics right across the spectrum from provincial to federal, so I don't think they’re at a disadvantage in any sort of a way as opposed to men.”

Added his fellow Richmond councillor James Goyetche: “I think it would be kind of irresponsible on my part, and kind of stupid, to use taxpayers’ dollars to encourage somebody to run against me.”

The decision generated a flurry of criticism across the province. “It’s really disheartening when you’re trying so hard to give women a hand up to see councils like Richmond not supporting women running,” federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan, a Nova Scotia MP, told the CBC. “We know when women’s voices are heard we’re all better off.”

So far, six of 16 local municipal and First Nations councils have approved financial assistance for women who might wish to enroll in the two-day “Female Leadership School”. These are: Potlotek First Nation, Guysborough County, Victoria County, Inverness County, Town of Antigonish, and the District of St. Mary’s.

“Following the discussion (with) the Richmond council, we have been contacted by (those) who have pledged to sponsor women to attend the Leadership School,” Smith says. “It is heartwarming (that people) felt compelled to sponsor a female attendee. It’s the shining light on this entire situation.”

When asked if he had anything to add, Marchand emailed: “No comment.”

Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal