By Bobbi Ann Brady, MPP
With Mother’s Day around the corner, I feel it’s appropriate to recognize and pay tribute to all women’s contributions to our lives.
Outside my office at Queen’s Park, is a wall that pays homage to females who were groundbreakers in the Ontario Legislature. I am not a radical feminist, and I believe men and women should be treated equally. The hours are long, and being away from home at Queen’s Park can be challenging. However, I presume that in today’s modern society, it is much easier than it would have been decades ago.
Although she didn’t serve as an elected official, one important female name in Ontario politics was Dr. Emily Stowe. Born in Norwich, Stowe was the province’s first female school principal in Brantford in the 1850s. She later became the first woman to practice medicine in Ontario. In the political world, Stowe was one of the driving forces behind the suffrage movement, eventually allowing women to vote in Ontario in 1917. Today, the Emily Stowe Public School in Norwich is named in her honour.
Women may have had the right to vote in Ontario since 1917, but it took until 1943 for the first woman to be elected. That year two women, Agnes Macphail and Margaret Rae Luckock, became the first to take the oath to become Members of Provincial Parliament.
Both women had a farm background. It was tough to be a woman in politics back then, and I like to think their farm upbringing helped give them the fortitude to break into what had been exclusively a male position up to that time.
Macphail was born in Grey County and became a teacher. She became involved in agricultural organizations and the United Farmers of Ontario (UFO). It’s hard to imagine today that the UFO won power in the Ontario election in 1919. Macphail was nominated for the Progressive Party in 1921 and was elected as the first female Member of Parliament in Canada, representing South-East Grey County.
Macphail ran for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation party, winning in York East in the 1943 election. She was MPP again from 1948 to 1951.
Luckock was also elected for the CCF in the riding of Bracondale (Toronto). She grew up on a farm in Arthur, and her father was a key figure in UFO. After marrying, Luckock moved to Toronto with her husband. She didn’t forget her roots and made it her mission to improve rural education.
Fast forward another three decades before the first female made it to Cabinet. Both Margaret Birch and Margaret Scrivener were ministers in the government of Bill Davis. Birch was the first, serving as Minister without Portfolio from 1972-1974. She also was Parliamentary Assistant to Premier Davis for two years and chaired the Cabinet Committee for Ontario’s bi-centennial celebrations.
Scrivener was appointed as Minister of Government Services in 1975, then Minister of Revenue two years later.
London MPP Dianne Cunningham came close to making a significant mark in the history books when she finished second in the 1990 Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leadership race to future Premier Mike Harris. As we know, Premier Kathleen Wynne became the first female premier in 2013.
MPP Elizabeth Witmer was an inspiration to me. She was fair and professional. MPP Julia Munro was another inspiration. She went about her work in a quiet, effective way.
Perhaps the first female independent MPP elected in Ontario will someday grace the wall of remarkable women (wink).
In closing, I know life can be crazy, and moms feel they are often treading water. I want you to know I see your efforts, your accomplishments and you are appreciated — Happy Mother’s Day.
Bobbi Ann Brady is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk.