When it was pronounced that her school days were over at age 14, Agnes McPhail begged to continue her education. It was not the norm for rural girls to leave their communities and attend school far from home, especially when they were needed at home. She got her wish and later returned to school.

To be good in politics you have to be able to reach out and touch people in some personal way, give of yourself in some way that will connect with them. The challenge though is to know how far to go, to never forget to stay grounded. You need to know where your own lines are or you can lose yourself very easily.

Janet Ecker, former Minister of Finance of Ontario

I can’t recall how or what the story was. I do remember thinking things need to change down there (city council) after reading the paper. So I got up from my work desk at noon went down to city hall and registered to run for council. It was on an impulse. I remember coming back from lunch and telling my boss what I had done. His response was “Sit down. We need to put a work plan in place because you are going to win”. Of course I was still in shock that I spent a $100 placing a bet rather than buying a pair of new jeans. I had no plan in place and I had no idea how to run a campaign. I certainly learned fast.

Sandy White, Councillor, London, Ontario

By nature, I am a visionary and fiercely competitive woman and upon reflection, these were the skills I brought to each task. Gender was never an issue for me. I grew up in a home where we were taught that we could be anyone we wanted to be, although there were responsibilities attached to that vision.

Senator Joan Cook , a business woman by trade, was appointed to the Senate in March 1998.

Since I had been in competitive sports forever, I saw an election from much the same point of view: you have to put all the chances on your side by preparing well, setting up a good team, giving your best, and also hoping that a bit of luck is on your side. It’s as if at the outset this competitive instinct had been naturally transferred to the politician and candidate in me.

Louise Poirier, Councillor and first President of the new FCM Standing Committee for Increasing Women’s Participation in Municipal Politics.

I learned a very important lesson. If you believe strongly, stick to your guns no matter how tough the fight. Don't back down in the face of tough opposition.

Kim Devine, Charlottetown City Councillor


In Section 5 on How To?, you will find information on how to go about establishing a campaign strategy with your team. Here we will explore some aspects of how to apply strategic thinking to your personal life. Learn to stop and think things through as often as possible; analyse your emotions and their roots; take the time needed to determine how you will react, and why. As Joan Kirner and Moira Rayner advise:

Don’t rely only on your instinct, though you must know when to trust it. Acknowledge it, trust it, but never act until you have
checked the facts and sought advice. A lot of 'instinct' is actually
old programming, emotional manipulation, or button-pushing.

“Get to know the rules of the game and work very hard.” These are the words of The Right Hon. Jeanne Sauvé in a 1974 CBC radio documentary.

Just as in business, sports or education, you need to set a precise goal, analyse the situation, set a timeframe for reaching that goal – short, medium or long term. And, as mentioned above, remember that, although it is important, you cannot rely entirely on intuition or playing it by ear.

In a speech delivered to the Women and Politics Conference in Frederick, New Brunswick, June 1987, when she was Minster Responsible for Status of Women, the Honourable Barbara McDougall stated that there were three key points in establishing a winning plan: credibility, initiative and courage. And she went on to explain how these qualities helped her develop her political career:

“You must take an inventory of your personal skills and establish
a winning game plan. But how do we get there? What are the
strategies for political success? I believe there are three keys
to winning politically: credibility, initiative and courage.

First, you must have credibility. You must establish
personal credibility within yourself, before running for office.
You must recognize your own skills and use them to your best
advantage. You must have a talent to offer on behalf of the
people you want to represent and a perspective that’s different.
And you must also be committed to accomplishing something
when you do win.

Realizing and understanding what you want to do is pivotal to
political success — to winning. You must take an inventory of your
personal skills and establish a winning game plan.

Credibility also means a thorough knowledge in your area of
responsibility. You need good training — the best you can afford —
and hard work to master the techniques of your job.

This often means taking your next degree even if you have to
sacrifice two evenings a week for three or four years, working
long hours to get to the top of a new situation quickly, meeting
always impossible demands made on you, taking vacation
when you don’t want to because it’s the only way you can fit it in.
Credibility is the path to enhanced opportunities and the beginning
of a power base.

When I first became a financial analyst in Vancouver, I thought
since forestry was the most important industry in town, I would
develop that area as a specialty. No one else was doing it and
within two years I was the only credible forest products analyst in
a province overpopulated with trees. I created my own credibility —
and then I took advantage of it.

Which brings me to the second key to political success — you must
show initiative. Look around for opportunities to increase
you responsibilities.

All too often it seems that women do the jobs they’re assigned very
well, they handle their responsibilities to everyone’s satisfaction
but when it comes to getting ahead, most women still wait to be asked. Don’t.

In my Vancouver job, the partners decided to double the size of my
department — which meant adding another analyst. They hired a new
analyst who instantly became the department manager.

It never crossed my mind to ask for the job. And needless to say, it
never crossed my employer’s mind to ask me. I often wonder what
would have happened had I taken that initiative.

In later years I knew better.

When I returned to Toronto, I wanted to get involved in politics in a
big way. I began to build a relationship with the Rosedale Progressive
Conservative Association just as David Crombie was heading into
his first federal by-election. I wanted very badly to have a voice in
policy and campaign strategy. But David didn’t know me.

So I introduced myself to Bill Saunderson, David’s campaign manager,and told him I’d like to help. Then I went home and wrote a letter outlining what I’d like to do and how I’d like to do it. Days later, Bill phoned and set up a meeting for the three of us.

I went through a series of responsible positions in the party so that by
early 1984 I was ready with my own political power base in place, and
I sought the Tory nominations in St. Paul’s. The rest as they say is history.

I was also once a salesperson for a brokerage firm. I let it be known that
I wanted to be management. Because I had run two of David Crombie’s
campaigns by then, I was offered the first female vice-presidency of the firm.

That turned out to be good in the short term only, because the firm was
taken over by another company.

I was in a duplicated position and the manager from their side was
far more experienced that I was so eventually I got the pink slip. But
I don’t regret for one minute that I took the risk and was able to test
myself in a role I really wanted.

And to take risks you need courage—which is my third key to political success.

Don’t be afraid to take risks. 'Afraid' is the wrong word — we’re all afraid to take risks but take them anyway. I used to think that courage was something you were born with; then I discovered that in any given room, everyone else was as terrified as I was.

And I realized a very great but basic truth. Courage is not the absence
of fear — courage is driving on despite your fear, despite the risk of failure.

And sometimes you will fail. But failure is a little like falling of a horse — it’s not as far to the ground as you think it is. And I speak from experience on both counts. It takes courage to be a political candidate, there’s no doubt about it. It goes without saying that it’s best not to be too thin-skinned when running for office. Many people consider politicians fair game — it’s all part of the fun. So it helps to have courage, a sense of humour and a rubber ego.”