Written by Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton
Editor’s Note: Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton is up for re-election. If you live in Port Hawkesbury, don’t forget to vote (for your chosen candidate) and help democracy flourish! Your voice, your opinion, and your ideas are invaluable. Never forget that!
Bill Dunphy wrote an editorial in the Oran this past week entitled, “Why Should She Run?” He articulates his answer as follows; “She should run because she can. It’s up to the rest of us to ensure that she can – safely and free of all the abuse and stereotypical bullshit that they face.” Bill then goes on to promote the Leadership School for Women – a gender equity project I was proud to help organize in Membertou this past weekend.
I waged an inner battle with myself about whether or not to share my own experiences. I decided that if we want things to change, not just for women, but any politician who has been a victim of this kind of poor behavior, then we must talk openly and honestly about “the dark side” of politics.
In my experience, I want to point out that this “dark side” of politics is not perpetuated by all men, nor by men alone; some women can also be disrespectful, hurtful, and disparaging.
Here is my experience with the “dark side” of politics.
I have received a range of threats, both directly and indirectly, since I became an elected official.
Severity ranged from threats to have me “kicked off council” to “I’d be sorry” or would “regret it” if I didn’t stop posting information on social media that refuted misinformation (particularly during the Destination Reeves Street Project).
I’ve been referred to as “that stupid blonde B*tch” (our Council chambers double as a small concert venue and have very good acoustics).
When I was fighting for our regional airport’s future survival on behalf of our Council and other Strait Area Councils, I was targeted several times and received disturbing private messages and offensive public posts for two months straight, and in the months that followed.
Over the past year, a man was sending me extremely disturbing texts, and posting equally disturbing misogynistic public posts on my social media Mayor’s page under a variety of pseudonyms (thank you to the RCMP for stopping him).
It isn’t very nice when you get messages like, “tell her I’ll make sure the next six months will be the worst of her life.”
I could share more, but you get the picture.
Aside from threats and name-calling are the accusations.
I’ve been accused of soliciting seniors to vote a certain way in exchange for dinner tickets for the Cape Breton Christmas for Seniors. My father Archie is still upset about this; dad and I donate almost $10,000 worth of food to feed more than 500 seniors and volunteers each year, and have done so for the past five years. I have dedicated 100s of hours of time to organize this venue, as have others, to collaborate and coordinate to transport seniors, buy and wrap Christmas gifts, organize entertainment, decorations, prep, and cook – all which is required to make it a success each year. The Town donates the venue and Town staff and the Evergreen Club have taken on the registrations. The accusation diminishes us all because this event is the result of teamwork and done for the love of our seniors.
I’ve been accused of being “self-serving” and “in conflict” regarding Destination Reeves Street. The Fleur-de-Lis was not one of the businesses who participated in, or benefited from, the facade program. Several business owners did, my father and I were not one of them.
I could again share more, but you get the picture.
This past weekend, more than 100 women joined virtually and in person for a leadership school for women. So many other strong powerful women shared their stories and used their voices to encourage and inspire more women to leadership.
Bill Dunphy also used his voice to talk about what he is witnessing and recognizing as poor treatment of women in the political sphere.
In truth, I consider myself one of the luckier women in politics, despite what I’ve experienced. I have the support of many citizens who stand with me – women and men who see my worth and recognize my hard work; men and women who defend me when they see or hear what Bill Dunphy describes as “abuse and stereotypical bullshit” towards female leaders.
As for the people who feel it is okay to blame me, threaten me, accuse me, say I am “over my head” or think that because I am a woman that I am an easy target, well, do your best. Launch your negative whisper campaigns. Use all of your Trump-like strategies to chip away at my character. Say all you want because the ones who will believe you are the ones who have never supported me anyway. And that’s okay. I’m not going to be everyone’s cup of tea!
But before I end this post, I want to set a few things straight.
A Mayor is not a dictator.
You might have been led to believe that, but guess what? Did you know that before a meeting agenda is finalized, it is sent to all of council to add their own items should they wish? Each elected official around the Council table has equal opportunity to help determine our strategic direction each year, negotiate the budget each year, and play an active role in the progress of our Town. Agendas, every motion, every decision is voted on. It is a democracy.
Oh, and it wouldn’t be an election without an impassioned discussion about Reeves Street.
Some people love it, and some hate it. For those people who hate it – who gets the blame?
Before you decide – let us look at some basic facts…
Reeves Street is a Provincially-owned road.
The road diet is a “pilot” and not yet set in stone.
The Province is collecting data on speed/number of accidents, and will consult with the Town before a final decision will be made.
The Destination Reeves Street Project (road diet pilot and all) was unanimously endorsed by this term’s Council.
Town staff worked hard to leverage this $5 million dollar project with federal and provincial dollars without Council having to increase taxes to pay for it; additionally, it only cost us 10 cent/dollars (10% of the total cost).
Lastly, “if” the new road design does not reduce speeding or reduce accidents – the Province will put it back as it was, at “no cost” to the Town.
Thus, Reeve Street is still in progress.
In the past 7 years, my response to the “dark side” of politics has been to laugh and make light of it (I get that from dad). Other days, when I can’t find anything funny or ridiculous about this bad behavior, I eventually vent to friends who hear some not-so-politically-correct responses (I get that from my spicy Acadian mother). Another trait I inherited from my mom was broad shoulders and a thick skin.
Everyone has different coping mechanisms. I am always working on ways to balance the positive experiences about being an elected official with the negative experiences. This post is part of that journey. It is not an easy thing to show any kind of vulnerability, especially as a politician.
My favorite Michelle Obama quote is, “When they go low, we go high.” Therefore, I forgive all of the people who have spoken poorly to me, or about me. I forgive the people who have threatened me, or scared me. Life it too short for anger and grudges. And maybe in my anger I have offended my offenders. I’m not perfect. No one is. No one prepares you for the “dark side of politics.”
Why am I sharing? At the leadership school, many brave strong women with many years of experience shared their own experiences with the “dark side” of politics in hushed voices, in the hallways, and in between sessions. Some shared them out loud.
So I will attempt to answer Bill Dunphy’s million dollar question “Why should she run?”
I run because I want to make a difference in our home Town. I want our children to have a reason to stay if they want to. I want to be part of a plan to grow a better economy so families can return, and newcomers can make Port Hawkesbury their forever home. I want to see our Town’s citizens not have to worry about housing, loneliness, hunger, mental health, and aging in place. I want to be part of ensuring all citizens – from our youngest to our oldest, feel welcome and belong. I want to see our Town be the most inclusive, most active, most accessible, most musical and artistic place to live. I want to see our Town fully connected with our neighboring municipalities, so that we have a strong town that sustains our rural neighbors and they have strong rural communities that sustain our Town. I want to see our waterfront reach its full potential; I want to see it diversified in new and wonderful ways for citizens, visitors, businesses, our NSCC Nautical Institute, and industries. I want to see our Strait of Canso zone flourish so we can seek out new opportunities and innovate for our future using our regional transportation hub of rail, road, air and port here in the Strait and Western Cape Breton to attract new industry and businesses.
In short – I run because I can, and I should. I have a Master’s degree that specializes in Community Economic Development. I am a business owner of 17 years. I have worked these past 8 years building relationships inside and outside of our Town.
I run because my love for our Town is greater than all the bad experiences combined.
I find it exhilarating when I can see positive changes occurring before my eyes that will benefit our Town for generations to come. I remember meeting with Tom Gunn in 2013 and speaking about how important a safe walkway would be for NSCC students. Being an integral part of the plan to build an active transportation trail – to safely connect NSCC and Embrees Island to our Town – is something I am so proud of, and I know our entire Council is proud too. There are so many other examples I will share with you in the next couple of weeks.
With that, I will end with a simple request.
Raise your voices, and expose the truth about the “dark side” of politics.
The proponents of divisive and negative politics only have power if you continue to let them.