When new B.C. Liberal leader Kevin Falcon announced his new-look caucus Feb. 7, there was a notable lack of women.
Of the 27 roles, most of them critics, only seven are females.
“We only have seven females,” Tegart said with a laugh, when asked about the disparity. “The thing is a good leader will go out and recruit really good candidates, and Kevin is very aware of what a good team looks like.
“Renee Merrifield has a very significant role (Critic for Environment & Climate Change) and Karin Kirkpatrick has a very significant role (Critic for Education, Children, Family Development, & Childcare). And Shirley Bond is staying on as Opposition Leader until such time as Kevin wins a seat.
“We do have a limited number of women in our caucus, but they all have a role that I think they’re quite pleased with, and some are pretty high profile.”
Tegart is in her third term as MLA for Fraser-Nicola, and she admitted it’s still a tough world for a female politician.
“Politics is a tough role to be in as a woman, particularly at a provincial and federal level,” she said.
Tegart said it’s difficult for women to fundraise and difficult to put together a team.
“Nominations are incredibly difficult for women, and we tend not to nurture women for leadership roles at the provincial and federal levels,” she said. “If you look at school boards, you see quite a number of women because education is something that is near and dear to the heart of moms and females, and that seems to be a natural place for people to get their feet wet in politics.”
That’s where Tegart got her political start, and she said the scariest thing is to put your name on a ballot and have strangers vote for you.
“In order to win, we have to go out and ask for your vote, and ask for your money to support the campaign,” she said. “We have to work really, really hard. Sometimes twice as hard as men. I’ve been so impressed with so many women in my life who’ve been very successful politically, but I don’t know one who would tell you it was easy.”
The first time Tegart ran for school board, her mom gave her $200 and that was the full campaign budget.
“It’s my understanding that from a male perspective, there’s often a team around them and they often have a ‘bagman,’ someone who says ‘I will collect the money,’” Tegart said. “That just wasn’t my experience. I was always amazed when people came up to me and said, ‘How do I donate?’ And I thought, ‘You want to donate? How exciting!’”
Tegart drew inspiration from good friend Carol James, former leader of the B.C. NDP who served as Finance Minister under current Premier John Horgan. She watched James rise in the party, and under her leadership the NDP captured 41.52 per cent of the popular vote and 33 out of 79 seats in 2005 election. But she was forced out of the leadership position in 2010, with 13 caucus members urging her to resign.
“To watch what happened to Carol makes you really cautious because how many women have actually been able to stay in leadership jobs?” Tegart asked.
In the most recent provincial election, Chilliwack Liberal candidate Kelly Velonis lamented the low level of discourse on social media, and said some people spent more time talking about her appearance than her party’s policies.
That’s one of the many reasons Tegart said she’s avoided social media.
“I don’t even look at it,” she said. “There is nothing that is off base and you’ve got to get a thick skin. The way I deal with it is I know what my goal is and I’m here to do the work. I don’t have time for Twitter, Facebook, TikTok and whatever else. I get up every morning with a list of things to do, and at the end of the day most of them are checked off.
“But social media has definitely changed everything, and made it tougher.”
So is there hope? Is there anything to suggest that when Tegart talks about these same things in a decade, things will have changed?
She believes the answer is yes.
“Absolutely,” she said. “We need young people. We need ethnic groups. We need a welcoming process to come into politics, be part of a team, be part of an election and have fun doing it. We need to see more of that and less of social media and sniping at each other. This is probably the most satisfying job I’ve ever had because of the people, and the things you can accomplish to make their lives better.
“But in 10 years? We’ve got a lot of dynamic young women who right now are pretty busy with families. But as kids grow and you get more time to contribute to your community and maybe the province, hopefully they think this is an honourable job to do.”