By Kirstin Lund
It is disappointing, and not surprising, to hear that some within the Progressive Conservative Party may have been working behind the scenes to oust leader Olive Crane.
It’s disappointing because Olive Crane, only the second woman to be elected leader of the PC Party of P.E.I., is a politician working tirelessly on behalf of her Island constituents with integrity and true caring. It’s disappointing because Olive Crane won success for her party in the 2011 election, retaining not only her own rumoured unstable seat, but five seats for a party many thought would face the same demoralizing fate of the PC Party of 1993.
It’s not surprising because the first woman to be elected leader of the PC Party of P.E.I. faced similar opposition from members after she had worked for more than five years to rebuild her decimated party. It’s not surprising because most women leaders of Canada’s political parties face a phenomenon researchers call the “revolving door” of women leaders.
In their book, ‘Still Counting: Women in Politics in Canada’, Professors Trimble and Arscott say this: “Typically women take over parties that potential male aspirants regard as being too uncompetitive to be worthy of their political ambition.” They go on to identify what typically happens after women assume leadership of an ailing party: “Women are expected to nurture electorally decimated and demoralized parties until they have been revitalized and once again appear to be viable, at which point they are often unceremoniously dethroned, and then replaced, by men.”
To be sure, in this case, leader Olive Crane was not handed her role. She fought and won a battle against four contenders, some of whom had very strong support engines.
UPEI political science professor John Crossley, in his published article, ‘Picture This: Women Politicians Hold Key Posts in Prince Edward Island’, reflected on the 1996 exit of Pat Mella as leader of the PC Party of P.E.I.: “the powerful men within the party had supported Ms. Mella only while there was little chance that the party would form the government.”
Pat Mella also fought a leadership race against two other contenders. She held the lone opposition seat in the legislature for a full term, and was a lonely voice for her party in the media. And yet, just when her onerous, effective work as the Official Opposition was coming to a close, she was replaced with a new leader. With the party in position to form government while the Liberal fortunes were waning, a power struggle within the party ensured her replacement as leader. Pat Mella went on to distinguish herself as finance minister in the subsequently elected PC government from 1996-2003, six years which demonstrated her ongoing ability, resilience and resolve.
The many similar stories across various Canadian political parties have prompted researchers and journalists to ask what the Ottawa Citizen queried in a November 1996 article: “Why Don’t Female Leaders Last in Canadian Politics?” In the article, former Manitoba Liberal Leader Sharon Carstairs was quoted as saying, “in their heart of hearts, these male politicians think that they can do a better job.”
A May, 2010 EKOS poll indicated that the majority of Canadians believe that if there were more women leaders in politics, it would have a positive effect. When asked to name the most important attribute in a political leader, the highest percentage of Canadians said “honesty”, more than double those valuing intelligence and decisiveness.
Olive Crane, in an interview with this newspaper, said, “I’m a woman of principle. People will say you can’t trust politicians and so on. I’m sorry, but you’re looking at an honest politician. What you see is what you get …I work for Islanders and I work for our party."
Leader Crane’s reputation for honesty resonated with her constituents in the 2011 election and it appears to have resonated with the majority of her party this weekend. We look forward to seeing Crane continue to lead her party with integrity and the support she received this weekend effectively lock the revolving door.
Kirstin Lund is a member of the P.E.I. Coalition for Women in Government.