When 338 young women from across Canada come together in the nation’s capital, historic events happen.
I was honoured to have been a delegate to attend Daughters of the Vote, an event put on by Equal Voice. The week-long conference was to have women aged 18-23 engage in Canada’s political institutions and make relationships with leaders across the country.
One delegate from each federal riding also got the opportunity to take one of 338 seats in the House of Commons. I proudly represented the Manitoba riding of Saint-Boniface-Saint Vital from April 1 to 4, 2019, taking MP Dan Vandal’s seat. I was excited to attend Daughters of the Vote, and was ready for an empowering week surrounded by strong women.
The time of this conference fell during a heightened time, with all eyes on the SNC-Lavalin affair and upcoming federal election. In my opinion, nobody could have braced the delegates for what was going to happen that week.
On Tuesday April 2, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the removal of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from the Liberal caucus. This was only 24 hours before the 338 delegates for Daughters of the Vote were to take their seats in the House of Commons.
This sparked a conversation among all the delegates in the hotel as the news broke. During the first two days of the conference, we had all sat in workshops listening to panels telling us how important it is to have women represented in Parliament, and how we need to have equal representation for gender equality.
Emotions were high the Wednesday morning as delegates made their way to Parliament Hill. To start the day off in the House of Commons, I, along with the other 38 Indigenous delegates, got to walk in a grand entry into the Chamber with our Elders leading us.
We were allowed to wear traditional clothing and regalia. We walked in proudly to the beat of the drums as we sang two songs in Indigenous languages, one being the strong woman song.
As we finished, the delegates who had already taken their seats stood up and applauded us, as we made our way to our own seats. It was empowering to see the chamber full young women, especially women from many cultural backgrounds being represented.
For myself, it was sentimental sitting there as I recognized that this institution, like many others, were not made for me. Not only am I a woman, but I am the granddaughter of residential school survivors and Canadian immigrants. My life has not been easy as I have faced racism and did not have a lot of people to look up to who looked like me. I glanced around the room with tears in my eyes seeing how many women I was with, all of whom would be blazing the path for the young girls who will be succeeding us.
Roughly 40 delegates left the chambers when Conservative leader Andrew Scheer was scheduled to speak. When Justin Trudeau spoke, a similar number of delegates also chose to walk out or simply turn their back to him.
I was not surprised when women chose to protest. I was aware of groups who had met the night before to discuss current events that were happening. I do not think the removal of two women from caucus the night before was the sole reason for these protests. Rather, they were just the cherry on top for many women making their decision to protest. Others did so to express their disapproval especially when Trudeau spoke on reconciliation. Both protests were carried out peacefully.
Every woman was rightfully chosen to attend this event and earned their seat for the day. For the two and a half hours we were in the chambers, delegates had to use the opportunity to do something historic. However, I think this blew up bigger than any of us could have imagined.
The state of press that awaited us outside the chambers can be described as a media scrum. There were so many lights and cameras, I could hardly walk. It was intimidating, and I feel for the women who had panic attacks and were uncomfortable in that setting.
There was an overwhelming amount of backlash and hate directed at delegates from the event due to various speeches, questions or actions during that day. I myself have witnessed the hostile comments both in person from delegates and the mean online remarks people were making about the young women who attended. It has been hard, but I believe it has made us all stronger by creating bonds across the country for support, and provoked important conversations.
The Daughters of the Vote experience for me was an emotional and intense week. I experienced both the positive and negative sides of politics.
I am grateful to have met so many beautiful young women from the north, south, east and west coasts. I am now able to call several of them my new friends and sisters. I realized that I am not alone in facing discrimination, racism and sexism. I am not alone in fighting for issues that I believe in such as reconciliation.
For all the negativity I experienced that week, and in my day-to-day life in this world, I can say there is so much more love and support from those that I continue to surround myself with.
I stand in solidarity with all the fierce women who openly expressed their opinions over the week as we are the future generation and leaders of this country. I am grateful to live in a country that allows diversity and recognizes the importance of various human rights of the millions of people who call Canada their home.
This is what makes our Canada: we are better, and stronger, together.