Supreme Court Justice Laurel Halfpenny-MacQuarrie (left) swore-in Brenda Chisholm-Beaton as Port Hawkesbury’s first ever female mayor, during a ceremony held on November 1, 2016 at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre’s Shannon Studio.

PORT HAWKESBURY: A much discussed leadership school that was cancelled due to the pandemic, will now be taking place next month.

The Leadership School for Local Government for Women, originally scheduled for May 1 and 2, has been rescheduled to August 21 and 22.

Co-chair and Port Hawkesbury Mayor, Brenda Chisholm-Beaton, said a survey is being circulated to determine preferences for a virtual or in-person event, and to determine obstacles to participation.

Organizers Government FOCUS want to bring 100 women from eastern Nova Scotia together for the two-day leadership school focusing on First Nation and municipal government.

“We want to enroll 100 women in total to participate from all of the 16 communities in eastern Nova Scotia and we want to able to understand the needs that some women will have in terms of participation,” the mayor explained.

According to organizers, the school is designed to inspire women, to talk about local leadership opportunities and demonstrate how women can impact and grow their communities.

According to organizers, this initiative has a strong focus on removing barriers for women from First Nation communities and municipalities who wish to participate.

Women registering for the leadership school will be asked to identify potential barriers to participation at the time of registration, and some accommodations can be made.

“They want to do it in-person but they might need support with either travel, or child care, or elder care, or an overnight stay, then that will give us the information that we need to accommodate as many women as we can,” the mayor noted. “If their preference is virtual, for example, we can look at whether or not there’s access to Internet, if they have the electronics that they would need to participate and if there are some struggles with regard or some obstacles to that, then we might be able to look at smaller satellite locations that we can connect virtually to the leadership school.”

On March 16, 2018 a panel entitled “We Rise: Women in Politics” was hosted by Cape Breton Voices and Equal Voice Nova Scotia to discuss issues related to women’s involvement in the political process. Several Government FOCUS members participated in this panel or were present for this event.

Of the panel topics covered, barriers to women’s participation in politics resonated with women in attendance.

Close to 130 women had recently gathered at a province-wide Campaign School for Women in the Halifax Regional Municipality but the distance for women in the Strait area was prohibitive so it was suggested that a local leadership school for women, held in a central location would reduce these travel and time barriers. It was further suggested that a local government leadership school planned collaboratively with First Nation and municipal leaders would be a good way to inspire and promote women in local government.

The idea of a local leadership school for women in the Strait and Cape Breton regions garnered immediate interest from other panelists and leaders and some women in attendance agreed to assist with idea and concept development.

Over time, others joined and came together to form: Government FOCUS (Female Objectives Cape Breton-Unama’ki and Strait Region). This initiative now includes women from all of the First Nation communities and municipalities in eastern Nova Scotia.

Chisholm-Beaton said the options for organizers right now are two in-person venues, or one venue.

“We know for sure that if we were to enroll 100 women and we end up with 50 or fewer women that want to attend in-person, then the venue that we will likely chose as the in-person event will be the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre,” the mayor said. “If we’re over-subscribed and we want to break-down those numbers, so it’s easier to socially distance. The women who are attending, as well as the volunteers who are assisting… then we would break those numbers down into two and connect those two venues virtually and the second venue would be the Town of Port Hawkesbury at the Civic Centre.”

She added that organizers are currently drafting an agenda and compiling an information package for attendees.

Presently there are 30 women serving in elected seats in the six First Nation and 10 municipalities of eastern Nova Scotia, and they represent only 22 per cent of council positions and 19 per cent of top leadership positions like chief, mayor or warden.