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Women running campaign show

Lorraine Sigurdson, who is running Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin's re-election campaign, says it takes different skills to be a manager than a candidate.


Lorraine Sigurdson, who is running Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin's re-election campaign, says it takes different skills to be a manager than a candidate.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/10/2015 (1576 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba may have fewer female candidates this election, but there are plenty of women running the show from behind the scenes.

At least 17 campaigns in Manitoba, including many of the high-stakes ones, are being managed by women. All three major campaigns in Kildonan-St. Paul are being quarterbacked by female managers, all of them young.

Brandon-Souris is the same. There, the Green, Liberal and NDP campaigns are all helmed by women.

For the first time, all three major national campaigns are being run by women, including Liberal campaign chief Katie Telford, Conservative boss Jenni Byrne and the NDP's Anne McGrath.

But a posse of women in the backrooms doesn't necessarily lead to more women on the ballot. In Manitoba, the three main parties and the Green party are fielding only 17 female candidates. That's not quite a third and down five from the 2011 election.

Lorraine Sigurdson, the veteran NDP organizer running Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin's re-election campaign, says it takes different skills to manage a campaign than to be a candidate, which often comes with intense public scrutiny and, if victorious, a job with long, family-unfriendly hours that dissuade many women.

"I think it's two different kinds of people," she said. "Generally, those of us who end up in the backrooms stay in the backrooms."

This is Sigurdson's fourth stint as a campaign manager in a decade. She is one of seven female campaign managers running local NDP races, putting the party at parity.

She said the NDP has traditionally fostered women in senior roles by mandating half the provincial executive must be women. And, especially on provincial campaigns, central party strategists often determine who will run riding-level races, assigning experienced backroomers to specific ridings. That centralization may have helped foster a strong roster of female backroomers among Manitoba New Democrats.

Other campaigns with women at the helm include those of Saint Boniface-Saint Vital New Democrat Erin Selby and her Liberal rival, Dan Vandal; Minister of State for Social Development Candice Bergen, who is running for re-election in Portage-Lisgar; and Winnipeg South Centre NDP candidate Matt Henderson, who has two women co-managing his run. Doug Eyolfson, Liberal candidate in Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley, has seen his campaign managed by two well-known Liberal activists working tag team — Cheryl Conley-Strange and Karen Taraska-Alcock.

Though there's been ample attention to the persistent dearth of female candidates, less regard has been paid to the role women play in critical backroom roles. Women have traditionally done the grassroots work on campaigns — the phoning, the door-knocking, the public relations — but rising to the top job has been rare. Candidates typically pick campaign managers from the ranks of senior party activists. Networking, reputation and personal loyalties hold sway, an insider system that traditionally doesn't favour women, especially when most of the candidates doing the choosing are still men.

Natalie Duhamel said Vandal approached her to run his campaign and had to ask twice before she agreed. The longtime Liberal activist worked in Ottawa and in former Winnipeg South Centre MP Anita Neville's local office but then took a little break from intense campaigning before stepping back into the fray in Saint Boniface-Saint Vital.

Duhamel, daughter of late former Liberal MP and senator Ron Duhamel, said growing up in a political household helped foster her interest in campaigns. She said she doesn't believe being a woman stymied her, but she had to work hard, with elbows up, doing the grunt work of organizing — in ridings, on leadership tours, with the Young Liberals — to build a political reputation beyond the shadow of her popular father.

"I've had a solid group of backroom women I've known for a very long time," she said. "I see the forces out there. I try not to let them hold me back."



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Updated on Tuesday, October 6, 2015 at 6:59 AM CDT: Replaces photo, changes headline

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