New caucus will amplify women’s voices in the North

The idea for the Northern Ontario Women’s Caucus (NOW) began with conversations between Mayor Michelle Boileau of Timmins and Mayor Cheryl Fort of Hornepayne, with the goal of creating a group to advocate for priorities and issues affecting women in the North.

“Strong and resilient women applaud, uphold, and have each others’ backs. Impact happens when entire societies celebrate women and stand with them in equality,” emphasized Mayor Fort, in a recent release.

“NOW is committed to forging women's economic empowerment,” she continued, “supporting women and girls into leadership; designing and building infrastructure that meets the needs of women and girls; and helping women and girls make informed decisions about their health. We can make Northern Ontario one of the best places to live for women.”

Since those initial conversations between Mayors Fort and Boileau over a year ago, NOW has grown to over 21 participants, with members from diverse professional backgrounds – politics, health care, skilled trades, marketing, and business to name a few.

Some of those participants include Mayor Cheryl Philip of Kearney, Kirkland Lake’s Mayor Stacy Wight, Mayor Sally Hagman representing Blind River, Mayor Madeleine Tremblay of Fauquier-Strickland, Mayor Beverly Nantel from Dubreuilville and Wawa Mayor Melanie Pilon.

Also involved are Mayor Wendy Landry of Shuniah, Mayor Deb Ewald representing Rainy River, East Ferris’ Mayor Pauline Rochefort, Mayor Suzanne Kukko of Nipigon, and Sunridge’s Mayor Justine Levesque, to name a few.

The group recently met at the last Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference in Toronto to establish the caucus’ terms of reference and its mission. That mission? “To create an alliance of women municipal representatives across Northern Ontario, and to create and preserve space for women in municipal politics, as every voice matters.”

Recently, BayToday spoke with West Nipissing’s Mayor, Kathleen Thorne Rochon about the new caucus. She too is a member, and one of the group’s goals is “to increase representation of elected officials in Northern Ontario,” speaking of the importance of “opening the doors for more women to run for elected office here, as we’re still a little underrepresented.”

The plan is to offer support to help women who are interested in politics, guidance and mentorship that could help these women “to make the jump” onto the ballot and civic service.

Further, the caucus plans to use its voice to advocate for and “cooperate across several municipalities” on issues “that are of interest or affect the lives of women in our communities,” Mayor Thorne Rochon added.

Still in the early stages, NOW plans to meet four times a year, and continues to formalize the caucus’ election procedure for an executive committee and works to develop a strategic plan that will outline the priorities it will focus on for the near future.

Overall, NOW aims to foster “a strong network of women shaping the future of Northern Ontario communities,” the caucus outlined in a release.

Mayor Boileau emphasized “there is power in standing together as women, united in our commitment to serve and represent our respective communities. “NOW allows municipal leaders to work together to inform decision-making and help develop policies to improve, not only the lives of women in Northern Ontario, but the quality of life for all residents.”

“I’m excited to see what NOW can accomplish,” Mayor Boileau added. “Let’s be heard. Let’s make change. Let’s celebrate our success.”

David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BayToday.ca