Monday, 6 October 2014


Last week, the public saw Premier Paul Davis appoint an unelected female Minister of Public Safety arguing, among others things, the Government suffers a gender deficiency.  

Meanwhile, an intelligent and successful woman, a fine communicator, the MHA for Fortune Bay-Cape La Hune, Tracey Perry is left out of the Davis Cabinet.  She failed to make the list of the Williams, Dunderdale and the Marshall Cabinets, too.  

But the Tories aren’t the only ‘lug heads’ in politics when it comes to promoting women and levelling the scales of gender equality.  The tricks played by the Liberals in the District of Humber East, to discourage Corner Brook businesswoman Donna Thistle from running, do little to give the Party a legitimate claim to enhancing female representation in the House of Assembly. 

It seems Thistle was a cause celeb when the Liberals thought her a sacrificial lamb.  But when Frank Coleman’s departure from the P.C Leadership also removed him from a planned by-election, the Liberals decided they didn't want a political neophyte to challenge the Tories in the District after all. 

According to a time line established by some of her supporters, Donna Thistle filed papers to contest the Liberal nomination early in May.  Evidently, Leader Dwight Ball encouraged her “to get them in”. The date of the nomination process was set for June 18th.   No other contender was in sight and there was every indication she would win by acclamation.

The story goes that when Thistle attended the Liberal Convention in Gander on June 13th Liberal Party organizers, Paul Antle and Jamie O’Dea, informed her that the Party wanted to first conduct a Poll and that nominations would now open Friday, June 20. The purpose of the Poll was not clear. 

Thistle returned to Corner Brook, only to discover the following Monday June 16th , like everyone else in the Province, that Frank Coleman had stepped away from the Tory Leadership. 

On June 18th Jamie O’Dea called from Liberal Party Headquarters to inform Thistle they had cancelled the nomination for the time being because there being no imminent byelection.  Apparently, the Party was taking the action because Dwight wanted to be deferential to Coleman’s 'family' situation.

By the end of June the Liberals called at least three other nominations.  They took care of Jeff Marshall, Paul Antle and Shioban Coady allowing only the minimum period for others to enter the contest.  None of the ridings were threatened by an imminent byelection, as was Humber West. Everyone knew Marshall did not enjoy being forced to cool his jets as a second Tory leadership contest played out.

Time slid into July; still Thistle received no call from Liberal Headquarters. But by mid-July a new Candidate for Humber West, the long-time Liberal and Labrador resident Stelman Flynn, announced he was in the running.  

The Humber East nomination was suddenly back on and Thistle was no longer the Liberal Party’s darling.  A September 19th vote resulted in Flynn being declared winner.

It seems the Liberal Party establishment in Corner Brook coalesced around Flynn; even MP Gerry Byrne sent his troops out to secure Flynn’s nomination. Liberal MP Yvonne Jones and MHA Lisa Dempster took to Flynn’s Facebook Page to endorse him.

Sucker-punched by Provincial Liberal Headquarters who arbitrarily moved the Nomination dates, and now ignored by the establishment types, Thistle was welcomed when she was almost certain to lose and no other candidate was available.  But with Coleman gone and the threat of a byelection having dissipated, the goal of encouraging female candidates to run for the Liberal Party melted just as quickly.

“There needs to be further support and encouragement to address the barriers facing women who are considering a life in politics”, said MHA Cathy Bennett in a Press Release on her way to represent the Liberal Caucus at a Gathering of Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians, held in St. John’s this past September. 

These are noble words that suggest good intentions.  But they accomplish little when men and women are permitted to manipulate nominations; the key point of entry into the electoral process. They are of little use, too, when women of influence, Bennett, Dempster, and Jones, are content that the greater good is equivalent to what is best for the Liberal Party.  In the process, a more seasoned and male Party stalwart is given easy advance; the female newbie, eager to take her chances and give counterweight to a long held male domain, is tripped up.



‘Change’, anywhere self-interest reigns, is a tough business. For that reason if  women are merely content being insiders, change will be slow.  Exactly because change is hard, a singleness of purpose is demanded; successful Liberal Party women have to be prepared to make trouble when the rules don’t apply to men and women equally.  They have to be prepared to be unpopular in their own Liberal tribe.  

Ann Bell, also of Corner Brook, and an early member of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women and a female who kicked up hell inside the Tory tribe to get the Council established, could give them some lessons in obstinacy. 

Contacted by phone and asked to comment, Thistle was stoic. “I’m moving on” she said. “The immediate goal is to get rid of the Tories; but the Liberal Party needs to change, too.”

Thistle should be disappointed but not discouraged.  She might think of Tracey Perry and what she must feel with one as unsuitable, as Keith Russell, going in the Cabinet ahead of her.

Is there anything to be learned from this narrative? 

We know the pursuit of power will continue to conflict with high ideals.  Men and women seek power. It is a goal we share in common.  Still, gender equality must not be sacrificed, and women must not be shut out every time a male is perceived to be a sure shot.  Leaders, including Dwight Ball and Paul Davis, must be pushed to do more.  If men won't, women must push them. 

Women won’t win the battle for gender equality until more women help fight it.