St. Stephen – “You cannot be, if you cannot see. That’s what the title should be. It resonates so much with me. For a woman to see herself in politics, she needs to see other women in politics.”
It’s a mantra that NB Southwest MP, Karen Ludwig, takes seriously. “We need mentors. You need to be able to imagine yourself there.” And as the first woman ever elected in the riding of NB Southwest, Ludwig has some first-hand experience with the art of imagining herself in the spot she’s in.
“Mom was always involved in politics in some way, and I grew up with talk of politics. I didn’t realize then, but she was a mentor. People need pathways.” And Ludwig’s pathway led her all the way to Parliament Hill, in Ottawa.
Ludwig started her career in the world of education, teaching, and eventually obtaining two Masters degrees, and becoming an Associate Dean of Universities. But it was while obtaining her PhD that Ludwig realized that the time had come to run federally.
“I went to two different women in politics early on – that’s one of the important aspects of mentorship – to get their perspective, and I sat down and talked with my family. Their support was going to be required. Running a federal campaign is expensive and time consuming. I had to know they were behind me.”
And clearly, Ludwig made the right choice. Taking office in October of 2015, she hasn’t looked back, and feels that she made the right move, at the right time.
“I didn’t take the traditional route, that’s true. I came into it later in life. But politics is a lot like education. There is an opportunity to teach, and an opportunity to learn.”
But as she made her way to Ottawa, did Ludwig experience any dissent based on being a woman in politics in Canada? “Not at all,” Ludwig states firmly. “I don’t feel lesser in Ottawa as a woman. We’re all appreciated for our knowledge and ability. It’s a supportive, respectful atmosphere.”
Ludwig attributes the feeling to the attitudes brought to Ottawa by current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. “With Justin, there is a culture of openness, tolerance. He actively seeks the views of women. It was more difficult, to be part of the Harper government.”
Ludwig isn’t far off the mark. When Trudeau took office in 2015, one of his first acts was to present a gender balanced cabinet – the first to be seen in Canadian government.
When questioned about his choices, specifically as to why the cabinet was gender balanced, Trudeau uttered the now iconic words, that cannot be said without the addition of *mic drop*, “Because it’s 2015.”
Trudeau’s words were heard around the world, and it was a profound way to introduce himself, and his government to the world.
Pushing forward what are referred to as feminist values, the Trudeau government has worked hard towards inclusion, and gender equality.
But are we going too far in the efforts to create an equal playing ground? Many organizations now tout the notion of forced quotas – calling for numbers in all committees, and in government to always be a 50/50 split. There have even been bills put forward that would offer financial incentives to put women forward for various government positions, based entirely on being female.
Ludwig sees it as problematic. “Quotas are a challenge. Recently, there was a vote in the house on Bill C237, put forward by the Kennedy South NDP MP, the Candidate Gender Equality Act.
It offered financial compensation and incentives to parties to put women forward, and I voted against it. When you start to talk quotas, you open the door to the comments that a women is in her position only because she is female. It detracts from the women who worked hard to achieve the positions they have.
“I want women to aspire to be here, and I encourage them to run. But quotas have unintended consequences.”
But that doesn’t mean Ludwig doesn’t want to see more women entering the world of politics. “We need the balance of different perspectives, and as more women are here, the tone will change. Women look at things differently.”
But that also doesn’t mean Ludwig would want committees of only women. “No,” Ludwig is again firm in her conviction, “We need balance. Men and women on committees offers a different tone. We need both voices.”
So why aren’t more women throwing their hats into the political ring? “Women need support to consider running,” says Ludwig. “They tend to wait longer, because they want to build experiences, and find the right network of people to volunteer and help – to support them. And they look for the right mentor as well.
“They think they need more than their male counterparts, and they don’t need more.”
But the landscape is, slowly, changing. Ottawa currently has the highest number of female MP’s that have ever been in the house, sitting at 27 per cent.
“I’m so honoured to be here,” smiles Ludwig. Her passion for her job, whether you agree with her politics or not, can’t be refuted. “I want to represent the riding in the best way possible.”
But what about the family/work life balance? Ludwig is away from home about 26 weeks a year, in Ottawa. And that family balance is one of the reasons Ludwig waited as long as she did to enter politics.
“Not too long ago, my daughter was in the gallery,” the pride in Ludwig’s voice is impossible to miss, “And I am so proud that she was able to be there, and see what I’m doing. It’s cool now, because my kids get it.
“They appreciate what I’m doing, and the effort I put in. They ask good questions,” Ludwig smiles again. “Sometimes they ask something I hadn’t thought about. It’s great.”
And looking forward? Ludwig hopes to see more women give politics a try, but is also looking at helping women in the business realm.
“I want to create mentorship programs and opportunities for women in business, particularly in the export sector of the market, where women only occupy five per cent of the industry. I want to help them be better informed of their opportunities.
“Like I said, you cannot be, if you cannot see.”