The upset in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the lost opportunity to elect the first female president of the United States caused Her Vancouver to dive deeper into our understanding of what it means to be a woman in politics. We decided to bring our examination to the grassroots of Canadian governance by interviewing Joyce Murray, the Member of Parliament for Vancouver Quadra.
Her Vancouver selected Joyce, not because we have a personal affiliation with the Liberal Party of Canada (we don’t), but because of her pioneering work on environmental issues facing Canada and British Columbia and her push for gender equality in government appointments. Joyce has been advocating for ‘green living’ long before it became a catch phrase, and she has a rich family history of woman in leadership to draw from for inspiration.
It wasn’t until Joyce was an adult that she learned her great-grandmother was medical doctor, Viola May Coe, the first woman doctor west of the Mississippi and the President of the Oregon Women’s Suffrage Society, the year the woman got the vote in Oregon. Even though Joyce didn’t grow-up knowing the extent of Viola May Coe’s achievements, her own mother, Charlotte Coe Murray, was a strong female example.
“I think that my mother as a role model was somebody who followed her passion in becoming an architect. She was the only woman architect at the time in the UBC School of Architecture. It was really a man’s field back then. What you get from a woman leader as a mother: you soak up some attitudes about following your heart or jumping in the deep end.”
Joyce’s idea of jumping in the deep end was her decision to run for the liberal party leadership in 2012.
“Another candidate clearly had a good fan base (Read: Trudeau Mania) to start with but you know I had some politics and policies that I wanted to put into the public sphere and into our parties discourse. I felt compelled to enter that leadership race even though some thought it was a foregone conclusion. In the end I got more votes than all of the other candidates combined so clearly there was an interest in the kind of policies that distinguished me. Many of these policies were accepted by our party and are now a part of the Prime Minister’s platform.”
Take it back 37 years and in 1979, Joyce and her husband, Dirk Brinkman co-founded Brinkman and Associates Reforestation Ltd. It started as a small tree-planting proprietorship in British Columbia and expanded and diversified into a company today with 600 full-time and 800 seasonal positions. In 2012, the company planted their billionth tree. CBC made a documentary on their tree-planting adventures in 1979 titled, “Do It With Joy.” You can watch the shortened version below. This background in environmental advocacy became Joyce’s push to enter politics.
“I didn’t know a lot about politics at the time I was considering running. I had been very engulfed in growing the reforestation business that Dirk and I owned and raising three kids. But I was looking for a way I guess to contribute on the level of environment and climate change. I wrote my thesis on climate change for my MBA program, printed out 40 copies of the thesis and started to try to flog it to politicians. I would say, “Look we have to do something about this both nationally and provincially,” and I really made no progress. So yeah, I decided that I would seek a seat with the provincial liberals and just see how I could serve the public good with my commitment to the environment and climate change.”
The first serious suggestion that Joyce should enter politics came from an encounter at a Truck Logger’s Association meeting where Joyce was criticizing the then NDP government for not reinvesting in the forests. According to Joyce, additional forest rents were being used for political purposes as opposed to for ecological and forest regeneration.
“There was an election coming up in a year or so and Gordon Campbell (Former BC Premier) had graduated from the same MBA program that I had at SFU and he saw me speaking at a Truck Loggers Association meeting. Gordon heard me speak and hold my ground against whomever I was challenging on the platform. When they tried to rebut me I had some facts and figures and held my ground. He said, “You know we could really use somebody like you as a candidate in our next election.” He was making a big effort to recruit women and I really had no political background so it took me a year to decide that might be something that would be a next step for me.”
In that year, Joyce continued to have an active role in running Brinkman and Associates but the idea of entering politics was germinating in the back of her mind.
“I was thinking it was kind of an interesting idea but I didn’t see myself in that role and then a year later I decided to go to campaign school for women put on by the Canadian Women Voters Congress in British Columbia which is a group of women volunteers whose mission it is to encourage more women to run for politics. I saw a little ad in the paper in New Westminster that said, “Three-day campaign school for women. If you think this might be something you’re interested in, come and find out more.” And so that’s what actually took me to decide to seek the nomination.”
Today, the Canadian Women Voters Congress continues to run workshops for women. While Joyce’s own experience in politics has seen positive projects and opportunities come into fruition she still believes Canada has a long way to go in developing gender equality in and outside of politics.
“We haven’t completely ended the gender bias in politics and I think the research suggests that you have to have 30% women to really start changing the underpinnings of the way a system works and the way things are being done. That 30% makes the real difference and we’re not there yet. So I really think it’s an important campaign to continue, that of bringing women into leadership roles. There is a lot more of that now than when I was a young woman. There’s still not 50% Members of Parliament but there are many reasons. There are extra barriers for women. Not tied to discrimination but just the fact of what women take on in a family situation; they still by in large take on the majority of family obligations.
Finding the balance in work and family life is hard no matter what your field of work but a career in politics has it’s own unique challenges.
It’s really difficult to limit the time you spend on work with politics because today I have a job in Ottawa, which is as a legislator. I have another job which is as the parliamentary secretary to the treasury board and I have a job here to serve constituents which is a lot of meetings, letters, emails, and events that we organize; ways that we try to advance the public interest. There’s an endless draw on a political representatives time and so knowing where to say no to create some time for family and personal life; I think all politicians struggle with that.
When we asked Joyce about areas in women’s rights that still need advancing she highlighted the continuing issue of violence against women. Joyce suggested that violence against women could be a symptom of a deeper problem: Lack of societal equality. Joyce focuses her efforts in this area by encouraging young women to take on leadership roles.
“I think it’s important to give young women confidence that they can be leaders in whatever groups they’re a part of or whatever their areas of interests, to step forward and be the problem solver and take a leadership role, go for it. If that habit starts early on, then I think more will see themselves as important and as potential political leaders and we’ll see more running for office. In general men tend to self-confidently step forward and want to be the MP, or MLA or the city counselor and women have to be recruited because there are not as many of them that step forward. I’ve heard many women say, “I’m interested but this other person is fine and is good, so I don’t think I’ll do that.” So they’re needing to prove to themselves why they should run rather than saying, “ This is what I want and I’m going to go for it. Men have the same lack of knowledge but are not hesitant to step forward and say, “I can do this.” I think that has to do with getting young women to seek leadership positions early on so that by the time they’re adults that’s just a natural way to contribute.”
As far as Joyce’s response to the election of Donald Trump over Hilary Clinton she says:
“I was really looking forward to the first woman president in the United States and so that didn’t happen. I think at this point it’s really important for people in our government to join the Prime Minister in being constructive about the situation. The United States is our biggest trading partner and long term cultural ally and friend. Many families are blended; my mom was American so I have lots of connections with the United States and I think there are American leaders who are thinking very progressively about how to have a better society so we need to work with them and that’s what we’ll do going forward as a government.”
Other policies that Joyce ran her liberal leadership campaign on were putting a price on carbon emissions, legalizing marijuana and banning tanker traffic off the Pacific North Coast. She continues to oppose the Kinder-Morgan pipeline, a rallying cry that was heard this weekend as Her Vancouver stumbled upon thousands protesting the pipeline in the downtown core.
After our meeting with Joyce we biked across town to meet our kids at the Vancouver Aquarium. Eight years ago Joyce put a private members bill on the table that would have taken the GST off the purchase of bikes and the cost of bike equipment and accessories. In the end the bill wasn’t put forward because focus shifted to banning tanker traffic in the Pacific North Coast. Coincidentally when we were loading our kids onto our cargo bike to head home from the aquarium, Joyce and a team member walked by on their way in.
They were going to a meeting on marine preservation.