Representing the Niagara Falls riding at the third annual Daughters of the Vote conference last week has left Niagara-on-the-Lake resident Carrie Robinson inspired and energized.
The four-day event wrapped up on International Women’s Day last Monday, appropriate for a virtual gathering of 338 young women and gender-diverse youth representing each of the federal ridings across the country. From her student apartment in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Robinson was able to participate and work with politically-minded colleagues from across Canada.
In her third year at Bishop’s University, Robinson is taking a double major in international studies and political science, with a minor in world religion. As the communications director of the university’s Policy and International Studies Association (PISA), Robinson saw Daughters of the Vote as a perfect opportunity for her to learn more about the political process and to network with women who are making change.
It’s the third year Equal Voice, a multi-partisan organization dedicated to electing more women to political office, has run the program. The objective is to expose participants to Canada’s political institutions and the women and men serving in them. The hope is to inspire young women to participate in the political sphere, and take action in their local communities in the years and decades to come.
Robinson, like all the other delegates, had to apply to represent her local riding. In her application, she focused on two issues she felt were not only front and centre locally but also impacted her personally.
“The first was the recovery of the tourism industry,” she says. “Our town of Niagara-on-the-Lake was especially affected by it this year. My family’s business (Oh Canada Eh?) was affected by it, and I didn’t find employment last summer because the whole tourism sector was shut down.”
Backlash against the visitors who did actually come to NOTL in 2020 fueled her second focus.
“Niagara Falls has become so increasingly diverse,” she begins. “This summer, with all the people from the GTA coming down instead of American and international tourists, I was distraught at how they were treated, and how people looked at them. I really wanted to discuss with other delegates about being allies to Muslim women and others.”
“What I study is the way politics and religion intersect,” Robinson continues. “I was really hoping to talk to other delegates to get their insight on multiculturalism, and the fact that when people are educated about other religions, they not only tolerate it but can see how beautiful all these cultures and religions are.”
Both issues fit in well with her studies at Bishop’s. Robinson expresses interest in pursuing one of two future career possibilities upon graduation. One would involve her working in cultural preservation internationally for a non-governmental agency (NGO), such as UNESCO. The other option would see her being involved in domestic politics, running a campaign or perhaps putting her name forward as a candidate herself.
Daughters of the Vote featured a number of sessions that linked strongly to Carrie’s educational focus. Workshops on provincial, territorial and municipal politics were featured. Panels focused on topics such as Canada’s feminist foreign policy, reconciliation, employment in politics, inclusiveness, the realities of rural politics and engagement from the LGBTQI2S perspective. Each day ended with a chance for the delegates to discuss and reflect upon their experiences, and the final day wrapped up with a virtual House of Commons session.
Panelists and speakers included Maryam Monsef, Canada’s Minister for Women and Gender Equality, Green Party of Canada Parliamentary Leader Elizabeth May, Marilyn Gladu, Chair of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women
and Geneviève Guilbault, Deputy Premier of Quebec. Messages from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the leaders of all the other political parties were part of the House of Commons session as well.
When asked which sessions stood out to her, Robinson points to two speakers in particular.
Jody Wilson-Raybould is the MP for the BC riding of Vancouver Granville. A member of the Indigenous We Wai Kai Nation, she is the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General. Wilson-Raybould resigned from Trudeau’s cabinet in February, 2019 in the wake of the SNC-Lavalin affair, during which it was alleged that the Prime Minister attempted to influence her in an ongoing prosecution against the Quebec-based company. Wilson-Raybould subsequently ran in the federal election that year as an independent, and won.
“I was really inspired by the strength and resilience she has to have to have run and won as an independent,” says Robinson. “She spoke about how partisan politics, as important as it is, forces you to believe in x, y
and z, while as an independent, she can really speak on what she believes.”
Jean Augustine was the other guest who made a mark on Robinson. In 1993, Augustine, an immigrant from Grenada, became the first African-Canadian woman to be elected to parliament. She won four consecutive elections in the riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore before leaving politics in 2006.
“I had never heard of her before,” Robinson admits. “Her energy was amazing, the way she presented her story, in a more casual tone, but very energetic. She spoke about how the structures of government were not set up for women. When she first got to the House of Commons there were no female washrooms. The microphones weren’t adjustable to her height.”
Robinson continues, “as the only black woman she had such a unique perspective, and she felt an obligation to speak for so many people. She didn’t go to school for political science, she was a teacher and a principal. She spoke about how politics is for everyone, you just have to be the right person, be driven and want to do it.”
Being driven and interested in politics seem to have come naturally to her. She speaks fondly of the many political conversations she has had over the years with her parents, Anne and Ross Robinson, as well as her former step-father, Art Frank and her brother Scott. She suggests that it’s just the way she’s wired.
Looking to the future, Carrie hopes to get involved in local politics this summer when she is back home from Sherbrooke. As well, if a federal election is called, she has plans to be very involved, though she can’t give specifics yet.
In the meantime, she will continue to be a key member of the PISA group at Bishop’s, and she will be working for a professor on an alumni involvement project. As well, Robinson will represent the school as part of their model United Nations delegation at a virtual simulation in New York City. All experiences that could result in a deeper commitment to her town, province and country in the future.