The Inspiring Stories of Women First-Time Provincial Candidates

235 women and gender diverse people were nominated by major parties to run in the 2022 Ontario Provincial Election yet only 48 women and gender diverse MPPs were elected. Equal Voice sat down and interviewed three of the first-time provincial candidates who shared their inspiring stories and their political journeys with us. We hope that by sharing their stories more women are inspired to take the leap and run as first-time candidates!

During the Ontario Election, Aneep Dhade was the candidate representing the Green Party of Ontario for Brampton North. She has experience working across several ministries within Queen’s Park and is passionate about social justice, support for mental health, affordable housing and green transit.

Can you tell us more about your journey to politics and what motivated you to get involved?

It’s been a journey in the making. My background is political science and public policy is something that I am passionate about. I spent 15 years working with the province on various policy issues across various ministries. At some point in your career you start to think about, where do I want to go from here? What other ways can I contribute?

And so one day a colleague approached me and asked me just informally if I had ever thought of myself in a leadership role? I thought to myself that I have this type of experience and I’ve done certain types of roles. But seeing myself as an advocate and getting involved politically, was something that people approached me and said, we think that you could make a difference and have a good voice. I think hearing that, it stayed with me because I have always been involved in the community, I’ve always followed politics, and I’ve run for committees and boards and things like that before. So I guess that led me to the journey of thinking a little bit more about where I could be involved.

What made you decide to run at the provincial level? Would you ever consider running at a federal level?

I don’t know what the future holds. Do I enjoy being involved in political life? Absolutely. Having said that, the bulk of my experience is provincial. I have a background in terms of understanding funding and the legislative process and how that all fits together. So, I think, for me, that was one of the reasons I wanted to get involved provincially in particular.

What challenges have you faced so far or expect to face in the process of running?

I think making sure that people know more about what it is that we do and what it is that I represent- that’s a challenge. But, it’s one that I’m up for and I enjoy. I’d say otherwise, it’s been a positive experience. As a woman in politics, you read the stats about how many women in power we have. I hope that by going out there and speaking truth and also trying my best to talk to the experiences I’ve lived, I’m helping to increase awareness and maybe encourage other people, younger people as well, to get involved in the future. So, the challenge is just being able to represent what I believe in and also advocate for the things that I feel so passionate about with the Greens as well.

Do you think that there was a particular experience in your life that prepared you for campaigning or running for political office?

I think it might have been a culmination of a few experiences. But I do know that at a young age, I remember having the opportunity to tour Parliament and I just remember being able to witness how decision making occurs- that never really left me. I can vividly remember how I felt, even at a young age, when I was able be near the halls of power or around those arenas. I think that was one of the reasons I kind of pursued academically what I did as well.

How do you think can the low rate of women in politics be fixed?

I think that at an overall level, just seeing others who have been able to move forward in those arenas and feeling like you have an equal voice. And knowing that if you were to get involved, you’d be taken seriously at those levels and at those tables.

What do you think are some of the benefits of having more women involved in politics?

I think just lived experience. I think that the more numbers that we have where perhaps we haven’t seen as many people involved before, we’re creating an opportunity for more diversity within those experiences as well and the opportunity for others to learn. I think we should move away from having just small numbers of women and actually bring in that varied experience as well, because each of us is unique in our own way.

What advice do you have for other women or other young women interested in becoming future MPPs?

Don’t be afraid to get involved in any way, even if you were to start by volunteering or working at the grassroots level- advocacy is so important. Don’t negate the power of your own voice because you might have a louder, more powerful one than you realize. Also think of whatever it is that’s important to you there. There isn’t any reason that you shouldn’t feel empowered to fight for it, for whatever reason or whatever background you are in. As a woman in particular, I think we live in a time now where there are a lot of opportunities where we can speak our truth without fear. I look forward to seeing what the next generation will do and I hope that more women after me, continue this path forward. I think whatever work we’re doing now, whatever work women did before me, is always for that next generation. To put it simply just don’t overthink it. If you’ve got something you want to say, just say it.

Equal Voice had the pleasure to interview Ekaterini Dimakis, a 20-year-old law student who ran as a candidate of the Ontario Liberal Party in Hamilton Centre. In 2017 she was invited to join the board of directors of the Hamilton Centre federal and provincial Liberals. Ekaterini has previous experience working on the campaigns of Filomena Tassi, Vito Sgro, and Lisa Hepfner.

Can you tell us more about your journey to politics and what motivated you to get involved?

“I have always been a very community driven person. Back in Greece, where I was raised, we had a lot of environmental issues which were a big focus of mine. Also, bullying and mental health were things I was advocating for, because especially in Greece, you don’t talk about these things, or they’re often overlooked. So I found that there was a need to do something, instead of just sitting and criticizing, we needed to actually initiate change.

Then I came to Canada in 2016 and I carried on that involvement here, because I love it, it’s in my heart and my soul, to get involved with my community. It’s so amazing, especially here in Hamilton, because the community is so fabulous, it’s so rich, so diverse. There are sadly so many issues to address here but it also means that there’s so much opportunity for us to rise to the occasion, especially young people. So in Hamilton I tried to integrate with my community, I spent a lot of time focusing on public service and community service.

Then, one of my dad’s friends and a really close mentor of mine, told me to come to this Liberal Party event so I agreed to try it out. I went there and started talking with different people and that’s when I met Lily Oddie-Munro, who later became my great mentor. Being in that environment then made me think of how I could use my community service experiences in Greece to be of service to the community in Canada, or specifically my community here in Hamilton.”

What made you decide to run at the provincial level? Would you consider running at a federal level?

“I’ve been involved with both of these associations, both at a provincial and federal level for years now. But very simply put, the provincial level asked me to run three times, the federal level didn’t. This kind of sparked my interest in running provincially. When they first asked me, I was not even 18. For me politics, it’s about people, it’s about the community service, it’s about helping our community grow and become better.

So whether it be at a provincial or federal level, I think I can make a change. For that reason, I would consider running federally as well.”

Do you think there was anything specific in your past experiences, whether educational experience or anything else in your life that prepared you for this moment- for campaigning, for running?

“I would say everything has prepared me for today, for campaigning, and also beyond campaigning. To be honest, I don’t really love calling it campaigning, because when it comes to door knocking, I’ve been doing that beyond just election period. When it comes to chatting with people, getting involved with the community, being out there and listening to people’s concerns and then bringing them into our political environment has been something I’ve always done. And I always aim to do. So it goes way well beyond campaigning. But certainly everything has been preparing me. My experience in Greece, everything I learned about a system that is corrupt. In many ways, it’s a beautiful country but also very corrupt. Bringing those experiences on here and seeing the differences and seeing where we can do better has definitely helped. Or even seeing the potential that we have as a city. Hamilton is at the top 2% of best cities to live in. When I tell this to people that I meet while door knocking, they’re like beyond shocked.

In addition to everything that I’ve been doing here, I think that my degree in law and society has prepared me as well. I didn’t quite want to go into political sciences because I believe that by specifically studying law and society at Wilfrid Laurier University I have learned to look at a policy, local or legislative, and apply it to our communities, unique communities.

So in summary, everything I have experienced in life, my family situation, taking care of my grandma, my education, moving from Greece to here, staying here. Everything has built up as like a little ladder, helping me understand where I’m at today, and how I can best serve my community.”

I love your solution driven mindset. It’s really inspiring. Going off of that, what challenges have you faced so far, or expect to face in the process of running?

“The first challenge I have faced is being demeaned by people. That’s something everybody goes through at some point in their life obviously. And speaking of equal voice, women do disproportionally face that sort of backstabbing, a lot of times, we call it unreasonable criticisms, unfair criticisms, discriminatory criticisms. So, that’s certainly one thing. I remember when I first announced I was going to run, people I had worked with in the past, started demeaning me in the sense that you’re too young, or we need to change the system to not have young people like you run, or we need to have an educational requirement because you’re not capable of serving our community, because we’re better than you, basically.

I would say another one is, a lot of times knocking on the doors, yes, we get positive responses certainly, but we also obviously get the negative ones. I appreciate the criticisms, I appreciate the comments, even the disagreements, because that means that it’s a safe space for them to express their own opinion, even if it doesn’t agree with mine, or who I am. But sometimes it feels like people are robbing me of the opportunity to show them my passion, show them my potential, especially in the political sector, to serve my community, because of that sort of young woman label.”

In your opinion, what could be the cause of the low rate of women in politics and how can it be fixed?

“I would say the patriarchal and misogynistic ideas that are embedded in us. From a young age, all of us have in some way, shape, or form been exposed to those ideas -whether it be through our educational system, through parents, through our friends, through our extended family, or through the general society or social media. So we’ve always in some ways been exposed to that idea that women are not for politics or that women are emotional beings.

I would say that tokenism is a problem as well – when we say we want women to run, but there’s no further support.”

In your own opinion, what are some of the benefits of having more women involved in politics?

“The Liberal Party has this phrase at the federal level where we say “add women, change politics” and I strongly stand by that. When you move beyond tokenism, and so called diversity, that’s when you’re actually bringing in inclusion. So there’s a big difference between diversity and inclusion. You can have a diverse caucus, you can have a diverse system, a diverse community, but it can still not be an inclusive community, an inclusive government, an inclusive system, or an inclusive caucus. That is because you’re using that diversity for tokenism- to just show them as a little token, that you’re being diverse, but you’re not including them in the processes that take place or counting their voice or taking into consideration the experiences that they bring in.

Another reason why it’s crucial to have women in politics is because woman bring in experiences that men don’t. Things like sex work being a gendered issue, or menstruation, or motherhood. The wage differences, gendered violence, sexual violence. A lot of times, men cannot comprehend the depth of these issues, they just can’t. The experiences that women bring in really change politics, because we offer some things that men just cannot and that’s okay! The most important is that we value both men and women and we involve them all in the process without excluding anybody.”

What advice do you have for other women interested in becoming future MPPs?

I would say, first and foremost, do it for the right reasons. Look at your community, focus on the passion you have for your community, the issues you’re interested in and then dive into your campaign. Have a clear vision of where you want to see change, what drives you and in the process, advocate for everybody. For example, a lot of times I do advocate for young people, or mental health among young people or young women – there’s always that sort of special focus on certain groups or certain issues. But I never forget to advocate for everybody, every Hamiltonian. I do not want to see anybody misinterpret our passion to promote women in politics or women in general as forgetting about others.

Also believe in yourself, trust the process. Always remember where you started and how you started. Remember your beginnings. How driven were you when you started? Or how passionate were you when you started? There’s certainly hard days in campaigns or when I’m surrounded by people who are very demeaning, disrespectful, discriminatory. Those are the days that I do try surround myself with my support system. And we all work together to just remind me what got me into this. That’s why I also create those little videos to myself where I talk about why I loved that day. I got this positive response, or I had these amazing conversations, or I learned this and that. When you remind yourself, you’ll be able to remind your community and show them every day, to show them that you are the person the right person to represent them, and to work for them.