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Seize Opportunities

Change your life today. Don't gamble on the future, act now, without delay.

Simone de Beauvoir, a French feminist writer whose "The Second Sex" is a feminist classic.

Any human anywhere will blossom in a hundred unexpected talents and capacities simply by being given the opportunity to do so.

Doris Lessing; her 1962 The Golden Notebook became an iconic novel for the feminist movement for its consciousness-raising themes.

An essential part of your personal strategy will be to seize the opportunity to run when it arises. It may be during a by-election when the focus is more on your community than on the national agenda. It may be because your involvement in social, community or business activities are providing you with unique visibility at the right time. Or it may be because party officials see you as a winner. It may also be because you are the right person to lead a single-issue campaign at any given time.

Many women were invited to run by their party or asked to run by people who believed in their capacity to represent them well. There are indeed numerous stories about women who were elected because they seized an opportunity that presented itself. Here are two particularly interesting ones that were provided for this course by the women quoted.

After more than 25 years as an activist in the Liberal Party, at the provincial and federal levels, Senator Sharon Carstairs seized the opportunity to take a leading role:

“In 1984, I ran for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Manitoba and defeated three men on the first ballot. There were two reasons for my success. There was not very much interest in what appeared to be a moribund party and there was only one other serious candidate.”

Honourable Flora MacDonald had been Executive Director of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada (1957-66), then its National Secretary (1966-69) before retiring for the first time from politics to take on academic challenges. She offers us this story of how her career as an elected politician was launched when she seized the opportunity that was offered to her:

“Much of my life has been dictated not so much by deliberate design as by accidental interventions. Although I had been involved in the political milieu for many years, for a time as Acting Executive Director at the Progressive Conservative National Headquarters, my first venture as a candidate came about as the result of an initiative of colleagues at Queen’s University.

At the time, I was the first female ever to be enrolled in the National Defence College’s year-long course in International Relations. The class traveled widely, meeting with bureaucrats and politicians, business and labour leaders, and occasionally with women’s groups in some 25 countries. It was while we were in Hong Kong that I received a telegram stating that my colleagues had decided to put my name forward as a candidate for the Progressive Conservative nomination in the federal riding of Kingston and the Islands, and they hoped I agreed. I gave it considerable thought and in the end said to myself, "Why Not?" even though the seat was then held by the Liberal Minister of Finance, Ben Benson.”

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