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One Hundredth Anniversary of the Expansion of the Electoral Franchise to Women in Nova Scotia

One Hundredth Anniversary of the Expansion of the Electoral Franchise to Women in Nova Scotia

One Hundredth Anniversary of the Expansion of the Electoral Franchise to Women in Nova Scotia

Hon. Jane Cordy: 

Honourable senators, on April 26, I was very pleased to attend a milestone event commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the expansion of the electoral franchise to women in Nova Scotia. The event was hosted by the Honourable Arthur LeBlanc, Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia.

The event was also a great opportunity to celebrate many firsts of women in Nova Scotia. Gladys Porter was elected as the first woman MLA in 1960. Mary Helen Pierro was the first woman elected chief under the Indian Act in Wagmatcook First Nation in 1962. Coline Campbell was the first woman MP from Nova Scotia. Alexa McDonough was the first woman in Canada to lead a major political party. Daurene Lewis was elected as Canada’s first female African Canadian mayor in Annapolis Royal in 1984.

Some Nova Scotia women at the event were Rosemary Godin, a former MLA; Suzanne Lohnes-Croft, a current MLA; Minister Kelly Regan, minister responsible for the Status of Women; Diana Whalen the first woman deputy premier in Nova Scotia; Mary Clancy, first woman elected as an MP for Halifax; Myra Freeman, the first woman lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia; and Yvonne Atwell, the first African Nova Scotian woman elected as an MLA.

Honourable senators, in 1972, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau appointed Margaret Norrie, the first woman from Nova Scotia, to the Senate of Canada; Sister Peggy Butts, who was my high school principal, and Senators Bernard, Coyle and I have represented Nova Scotia in the Senate.

All of these women were appointed by Liberal Prime Ministers. That is only five women since Confederation — not so great.

The right to vote for some women in Nova Scotia did not happen until 1918. The vote was restricted to women who were Canadian citizens over the age of 21. They had to be property owners. These were the same restrictions placed on the male voters, but the number of women property owners in Nova Scotia was relatively small.

The expansion of the vote to women may have been granted in 1918. However, efforts were made through numerous bills in the Nova Scotia legislature dating back to 1891. Unfortunately, there was a strong anti-suffrage presence in the Nova Scotia legislature to stop these bills at every stage.

In his opposition to the 1893 bill to expand the vote to women, James Wilberforce Longley, who was Nova Scotia’s Attorney General, spoke about the “sanctity of separate spheres whereby women should be protected from the baseness of politics.”

In the 1895 debate he stated that the true functions of women were: “First the bearing and bringing up of children and this is the highest. Second, the creating of home and beautifying of home life. Third to charm men and make the world pleasant, sweet and agreeable to live in. Fourth, to be kindly and loving, to be sweet and to be cherished, to be weak and confiding and to be the object the of man’s devotion.”

In response to his comments of 1893, a letter to the editor of the Halifax Herald stated:

With due respect to Mr. Longley for his chivalrous desire to save us from self-destruction, we will take the risk of the strain upon our delicate “moral fibre” of depositing a ballot once in four years. Mr. Longley’s high-flown rhetoric to the contrary, it is ballots not “personal charms” that count with politicians.

Honourable senators, leaders in Nova Scotia, both women and men, have worked hard to improve opportunities for women in my province. Women have come a long way since Confederation when they couldn’t vote. It was refreshing that after the federal election of 2015, 50 per cent of cabinet was comprised of women.

I would like to thank Honourable Arthur LeBlanc for commemorating the achievements and contributions of Nova Scotia women. Many broke barriers and opened the door for others in political life. It was a pleasure to celebrate their stories. Thank you.