A Fernie woman has gained new insight into the inner workings of Canadian politics and a sisterhood of future female leaders after a political leadership program in Ottawa.
McKinley Richards was one of 338 women selected to represent their community and communicate their vision for Canada at the Daughters of the Vote 2019 program from April 1-4.
“It was really exciting, it was a very interesting experience,” said the 21-year-old Fernie Secondary graduate. “Very insightful, I learned a lot for sure.”
During the program, delegates were addressed by every federal party leader and had a chance to engage with Ministers, critics, and advocates.
Richards was representing the Kootenay-Columbia riding and took her local MP Wayne Stetski’s seat during a historic sitting in House of Commons last Wednesday.
She previously worked as a page in the House and described the sitting as the highlight of the program.
“When I was working as a page, it was really visible that less than 30 per cent of the MPs were women,” she said.
“It was something that we noticed and something we talked about as the pages. I never thought that I would witness an all-female house and I think that’s kind of cool that (Daughters of the Vote organizer) Equal Voice made that happen.”
Richards also got a taste of the media furor and scandal that often surrounds politics.
Daughters of the Vote made headlines when a number of delegates shunned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in protest of his handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair, which involves alleged political interference and obstruction of justice by the Prime Minister’s Office.
During the historic sitting in the House of Commons, delegates heard from the leaders of each party, with a number of women walking out during Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s speech then turning their backs on Trudeau.
The protest followed the ejection of former justice minister and attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, and former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott from the Liberal Caucus.
Richards welcomed the opportunity to hear from each party leader. However, she was shocked by some of the media coverage of the delegates’ protest.
“It was really great that they took the time to speak to the Daughters of the Vote,” she said. “That showed that this initiative is something that’s important to them.
“There definitely was a lot of different responses to those speeches and I think whether you agree with… the responses of walking out or turning their backs, you can’t deny that it did take a lot of courage for those women to use their space and to stand up for their values and what they believe in.
“I think it did show that women are powerful and present in Canadian politics, but, more importantly, that we have that power and that’s why it’s important to include women in the conversation.
“That’s what Equal Voice is about – not the partisan side of things. It’s really to empower women to be involved and be part of the conversation.”
Richards is studying international economics and development with a minor in management at the University of Ottawa. She is passionate about global quality education, social entrepreneurship and women’s empowerment, and hoped to raise these issues during Daughters of the Vote.
“One of the biggest things I was looking forward to discussing is the importance of including women and marginalized people to take on those leadership roles, and supporting each other and being a part of important decision making,” she said.
“But a lot of the other issues that were discussed are also really important to me. There were some great speeches about climate action, further development of reconciliation, the importance of mental health awareness – things that definitely need more attention on an international scale.”
Following the Ottawa event, Richards and her fellow delegates are now eligible for a leadership grant to accelerate advocacy efforts in their local communities.
She will return to Fernie this summer before graduating from university in December.
“I’m really looking forward to working on something, most likely in Fernie,” she said.
While Daughters of the Vote may not have inspired a future career in federal politics for Richards, it has given her new insight into the inner workings of Canadian government and a sisterhood of future female leaders.
She currently works for development organization Cuso International and hopes to one day start her own non-profit or social enterprise.
“There are a lot of different ways to make change,” she said.
Equal Voice has secured funding for another Daughters of the Vote program in 2021 and Richards encouraged women aged 18-23 in the Kootenay-Columbia region to apply.
“It’s pretty cool that initiatives like this are becoming more common and are really to support that diversity inclusion in politics and in leadership in general,” said Richards.