Innovative program advances emerging women and non-binary people as political leaders
For immediate release: Burnaby, March 2023
Our Path Forward, championed by the New Westminster & District Labour Council in partnership with PowHERhouse and reGEN media, now in its third year, inspires bold diversity and inclusively collaborative initiatives in political leadership for women and non-binary people.
New Westminster & District Labour Council (NWDLC), reGEN media, and PowHERhouse have opened registration for the third-year cohort of Our Path Forward. The program advances emerging political leaders and community-facing public leadership by women and non-binary people, preparing them to run for a leadership office within the next 1-5 years.
In Canada, women only occupy 29.6% of the seats in parliament. In municipal governance, women comprise only 19% of Canada’s mayors. Only 12% of municipal councils across Canada have an equal or higher number of women than men. These facts indicate a shocking underrepresentation of women at all levels of governance and decision-making in modern, democratic Canada. These statistics are even more abysmal for people of colour and those who are gender diverse.
In 2023, two admired leaders stepped away from office. Jacinda Ardern, the 40th prime minister of New Zealand, and BC’s Melanie Marks, the first First Nations woman MLA in British Columbia's history. Both women cited a need to take care of themselves due to burnout from years of working in a hostile environment.
“If we want to attract brave, bold, diverse leaders, we must create an environment safe for respectful differences of opinion and open to constructive debate and new ideas. It is time to create a political environment where women and non-binary people flourish. Our continued energy in this area is greatly needed,” says Charlene SanJenko, a former two-term municipal politician for Gibsons Town, BC and current impact producer for reGEN media.
In the past two years, Our Path Forward has made tangible inroads in supporting women and nonbinary people to enter politics and, in doing so, create a collaborative space for governance. Hospital Employees' Union (HEU) provincial executive and community support worker Louella Vincent completed the cohort program in 2022. Her participation directly resulted in her election as the incoming 2023 president for the NWDLC.
“Confidence was the key takeaway,” says Vincent after taking the program. “I discovered I was more than I gave myself credit for. I have all the necessary skills and experience.” Vincent strongly supports women and indigenous people at the political table. “I am at the table to represent people who look like me and think like me. As a woman and an indigenous person, I bring a direct experience to the table. I have many allies who support me, all with the best intentions. However, I have the real experience to talk about certain issues.”
Hillary Bergshoeff is an assistant business representative for IATSE Local 891. She participated in the 2021 cohort of Our Path Forward, and since then, she has volunteered as the financial agent for the Burnaby Citizens Association October 2022 municipal election. “It was a grassroots campaign, and we won six of the eight available seats on the Burnaby City Council,” says Bergshoeff proudly.
Bergshoeff also responded to a call for members of the Parks, Recreation and Culture Commission, City of Burnaby and is serving a two-year term starting January 2023. And she is newly appointed to the Board of Directors for BC Crisis Centre. Bergshoeff says that participating in the Our Path Forward program changed her life. “It set me on a different trajectory. I found myself in a room full of intelligent women asking the intentional question, ‘why not me?’ I have agency, I have choice, and I choose to get involved and influence the political table. In the future, I want to look my son in the eyes and say: I did what I could when the opportunities presented themselves to right historical wrongs and make responsible choices.”
Our Path Forward, 2023, starts with an in-person morning event on Saturday, April 15, to convene, inspire, and mobilize women and non-binary people to consider a leadership role in the future. The event is from 9:15 am - 12:00 pm, and the doors open at 9 am.
Event guests speakers include: Alison Gu, Councillor, City of Burnaby, Sussanne Skidmore, President, BC Federation of Labour, and Adrienne Smith, Lawyer. The morning will also feature a panel discussion with Ruby Campbell, City of New Westminster, Megan Dykeman, MLA Langley East, and Mikelle Sasakamoose, Burnaby School Board Trustee.
The event and program are hosted and co-facilitated by former political champions, Program Lead and Co-Creator, Christina Benty and PowHERhouse Founder, Co-Creator, and Impact Media Producer for reGEN Charlene SanJenko.
The program is an opportunity to build a network of allies and mentors in politics. Its coursework includes:
Demystifying the political process to find the JOY in it.
Clarifying the values you care about most deeply and the role models who inspire you and why.
Teaching you to express what you stand for clearly, confidently and concisely
Matching your readiness with commitment, community, and connections
Building a strong supportive network of like-minded women
Combining 24-7 online access with regular interactive sessions to build purpose and fulfilment without overwhelming full schedules.
“It is time to push back against apologists for the status quo,” says Janet Andrews, Secretary-Treasurer for NWLDC. “ It is foundational to have women and gender diverse people in politics, not as an add-on but as an integral part. And it is essential for women not to be alone in politics. This program allows women and non-binary folks to hone their skills and create a support network in a political arena that we have allowed to become corporatized and combative. I invite you to reimagine politics with us.” Registration is open. Pricing is on a sliding scale to ensure no one faces access barriers. The program runs May 6 through June 19, 2023.
A partnership with The New Westminster & District Labour Council (NWDLC), PowHERhouse and reGEN Media.
“When we deliberately weave our attention, energy and collective efforts, we begin to braid for a better tomorrow.”
The following spokespeople are available for interviews:
- Charlene SanJenko, founder PowHERhouse, and impact producer of reGEN Media
- Janet Andrews, Secretary-Treasurer, NWDLC
- Christina Benty, former two-term Mayor of the Town of Golden, BC
- 2022 cohort participant Louella Vincent, a community support worker from Western Human Resource Corp (WHRC) Lower Mainland Local
- 2021 cohort participant Hillary Bergshoeff, assistant business representative for (IATSE Local 891)
For further information contact Julie Coghlan-Smith:
604 908 0890 or firstname.lastname@example.org