Cape Breton women in politics paving way for young families

·3 min read

Sitting in the mayor's office in downtown Sydney, N.S., Amanda McDougall works on business as five-week-old Emmett coos softly from a small couch next to his mother's desk.

Just over a month after giving birth, McDougall — the first woman to be elected mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality — is back on the job and looking to normalize the idea of new parents in positions of power.

"People were ready to see something completely different," said McDougall, who was elected in October. "What could be more different than a 37-year-old and her five-week-old in the mayor's office?"

On her first day back in the office, McDougall posted a photo on social media showing her workspace, with Emmett resting under a blanket.

Amanda McDougall
Amanda McDougall

McDougall said she intends to take Emmett to the office and council meetings. She said the reception has been positive thus far, and she hopes her path will inspire other young women.

"I think it's empowering to young parents as well to realize we can figure out a balance between career and families," she said.

Kendra Coombes, a former CBRM council member, is also adjusting to a new job while balancing the responsibilities of motherhood and a young family.

Coombes was elected as the MLA for Cape Breton Centre in a byelection last March when her daughter, Rory, was eight months old.

Room for improvement

Family planning, including lining up child care for her daughter, was one of the "biggest factors" in deciding whether to run for office, said Coombes.

She said spaces like Province House should look at ways to be more accommodating for MLAs and members of the public who have young children.

Matthew Moore/CBC
Matthew Moore/CBC

It would allow for more diversity in the legislature, she said.

"A lot of those barriers need to be broken down. And as more women are entering politics, we've seen it in the House of Commons where we've seen women bring their young children," she said.

"The more we see parents bringing their children into the workforce, the more it's going to be normalized."

Meredith Ralston, a professor of women's studies and political studies at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, said elected officials with young families should be celebrated.

"We need role models," she said. "If we don't see role models for whatever different groups there are, then people would say, 'I don't see myself there.'"

A role model

Ralston believes McDougall's path will help normalize the notion of women in power. She said everyone benefits when positions of power are held by people from diverse backgrounds.

"The idea that there is someone in that position, [who] only took a month mat leave and is now back in the office with an infant, adds to that layer of difference. This is a different experience," she said.

"It's that difference that would make her such an effective mayor and role model for women."