Rookie female C.B. regional councillors reflect on their freshman year

Rookie female C.B. regional councillors reflect on their freshman year

Early in her first term as a Cape Breton Regional Councillor, Amanda McDougall, 34, found herself unwittingly at the centre of a controversy.

She had been nominated as a regional chair of the solid waste committee.

Some councillors publicly argued that she was too young and inexperienced for the role, giving rise to allegations of sexism.

McDougall was ultimately elected to the committee and says now that the incident illuminated a resistance to change.

The confidence of voters

"I really didn't digest it that night," she said. "It wasn't until I went home, rewatched council and was completely gobsmacked by some of the comments.

"I was reflecting, I'm really surprised my colleagues on council have such little faith in me when I was voted in by my constituents. They obviously have faith in me. I have education and work experience to back me up."

She is one of three women elected for the first time to regional council in 2016.

By coincidence, she, Kendra Coombes, 28, and Earlene MacMullin, 41, are also the youngest members of council.

All three of them say the tempest over McDougall's treatment has, surprisingly, made for a better council.

Change for the better

"More good than bad came out of that," said Coombes. "The whole relationship of the council as whole, that was the day it changed. It started a whole conversation between the councillors, and now, before things are said, it's actually thought through."

With a year as councillors in the bag, the women are reflecting on their collective freshman year.

Each of them say they thought they knew what to expect as local representatives, but each has discovered elements of the job for which they weren't prepared.

"It's the amount of … I'm going to say stress," said MacMullin of her work on behalf of District 2. "I knew what to expect, but I didn't realize how it would actually affect me.

"Like, when you get up in the morning — the old days — 'I wonder what I'm going to wear to work?' Now, when the alarm goes off, it's 'Oh, God, what did I forget? Did I do this? Did I do that? Do I have to call this person back?' It's 24 hours a day. Your mind is constantly going."

'All the dinners'

Coombes of District 11 is the youngest person on council.

She says she expected long hours and lots of meetings, but she never considered the number of community events she feels bound to attend.

"All the dinners — there's so many dinners!" she said with a laugh. "There's a lot of them, and so you're planning your time with your family along with those events."

McDougall, who serves District 8, had been active in community initiatives before her election.

She knew she would spend a lot of time travelling around her large, mostly rural, district, but continues to be surprised by the emotional toll the job takes.

"Issues can become very personal for different residents," she said, "and I didn't think it would affect me internally so much. There are some nights where it's difficult to go to bed because you're reeling inside your head, 'How can I help this person?'"

Opportunity to make change

The women agree that the political process takes more time to get things done than they had anticipated.

"But we do have the opportunity to influence those changes," reflected McDougall. "Recently we had some of the councillors from HRM come up and this was pretty monumental. They hadn't been up to CBRM to really talk about things and how we can work together as municipalities to push the province to make change.

"I would like to see more of that. We are in our own CBRM bubble and we don't realize the power of collaboration."