Young women seeing if they have right stuff for city politics

Mentoring program shows them how hard female city councillors work in the halls of power

At city hall 30 young women are learning what it takes to be a female councillor.

“They can’t believe the number of hours that I work,” Toronto Centre-Rosedale councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam says with a laugh.

She has opened her door to the Toronto Regional Champion Campaign.

“I think it’s a wonderful program,” Wong-Tam says.

The program pairs female councillors with young women for job shadowing and mentoring. Two young women are working in Wong-Tam’s office.

Wong-Tam says there are many smart, engaged young women who often get overlooked in city politics. She believes it is a great way to involve them in politics and get their feet wet.

The protégées learn some valuable lessons about politics and Wong-Tam’s office has a little bit more help around the office.

“It’s a win-win,” she says.

Crystal Tong, 22, is one of the protégées. She worked in Jack Layton’s constituency office and currently works in MP Craig Scott’s office. She will be with Wong-Tam for a full year, finishing next April.

“I’ve always been interested in learning more about municipal politics and the inner workings of city government and how policies are implemented,” the University of Toronto grad says.

The protégées have been able to get a taste of constituency calls and have been able to identify some of the key issues in Wong-Tam’s ward, which she describes as dynamic and high profile. Ward 27 has some of Toronto’s busiest streets and major development projects.

Wong-Tam says her office was an ideal place for women who were interested in learning about urban issues and urban planning.

“I am very happy I was paired up with Kristyn Wong-Tam because she’s a very strong woman,” says Tong. “She has a strong voice and she advocates for those who may be more vulnerable.”

The protégées are also learning what it is really like to be a woman at city hall.

Wong-Tam says based on her observations, the city’s leadership doesn’t seem to be pro-women. She says the protégées have noticed that.

“There are 15 female city councillors and that’s still not a very big number in terms of just looking at the statistics in terms of the representation of females in city hall,” says Tong. “I definitely think that there should be an increased level of women in politics.”

Another protégé Emma Marcon, 22, says she believes while city hall is very much a boys club, it is changing due to the work of women councillors such as Wong-Tam and program founder Pam McConnell, the Ward 28 councillor, breaking through glass ceilings.

Marcon adds that attitudes in Toronto need to change. She points to a fellow protégée who shared her appointment on Facebook. Male friends chastised the program, calling it sexist.

“Feminism is not a dirty word,” says Marcon. “I think that the women at city hall are incredibly brave.”

Although the protégées have only been working for a short time, Tong says if an opportunity presented itself for her to run for office she might do it.

“I’m not completely set on the being-a-councillor thing,” she says. “But there are options out there, a lot of options.”

For now, she’s just happy to be learning about politics.

“I’m just really excited for what’s in store,” Tong says. “What I’ve seen so far is already amazing.”

About this article:

By: Paula Sanderson
Posted: May 14 2012 5:25 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto