Feature Story                                                                                                   Monday, March 4, 2013


Remarkable Women

Chilliwack is blessed with an abundance of great female leaders

Staff/Voice photos


MLA Gwen O'Mahony (L), MLA Carole James and Patti MacAhonic have upped the ante in local politics. Below panel speakers Carol Peters (L), Glenda Standeven and Jas Cheema.


ay hello to the new face of politics in the city. It's not stuffy suits sitting around reading the Globe and hoisting espressos with sugar cubes between their teeth.


Chilliwack is experiencing a critical mass of really top-notch female leaders. As first ladies of local provincial politics, Patti MacAhonic NDP candidate for the Chilliwack riding and Chilliwack-Hope MLA Gwen O'Mahony are having a blast.


On Thursday, MacAhonic held a campaign fundraiser luncheon and a forum at the Lynnwood Retirement Residences called "Ordinary Women, Extraordinary Accomplishments Women who Make a Difference".


The event featured keynote speakers MLA Carole James, Glenda Standeven, cancer survivor and co-author of Choosing to Smile, and Fraser Health Authority's Jaz Cheema, head of Diversity Relations & Translation Services and Carol Peters Aboriginal Health Liaison, who as a panel, shared rare insights into their lives and contributions to the community and fielded questions from members of the audience like Jean Scott, centenarian and powerful long-time backer of the NDP.


James is arguably the greatest female provincial politician in the history of BC, topping a list that includes former premiers Rita Johnston and Kim Clark, and opposition leader Joy McPhail. James has longevity. The former leader of the opposition is still here and she's still slogging away in the trenches.


MacAhonic, who has worked with James in the past when she was with the Wildlife Federation, was excited to have her at the fundraiser.


"She listened and she always got back to us," MacAhonic said in an interview prior to the luncheon. "I respect her and the work that she does so it was really nice that she could come out today."


MacAhonic said she wanted to do something interesting in the lead up to International Women's Day on March 8th.


"I'm participating in some activities there, but I thought it would be really nice to bring in a women's forum," she said. "I find these things inspirational and I'm hoping people will generate good conversation, good energy and give people a little bit of encouragement as they go out and face their everyday ordinary lives so that they can accomplish extraordinary things, because we're all capable of it."


The MLA hopeful plans on opening her campaign office near the Yale Rd overpass in the old employment centre on March 16th at 2 P.M.


In reaching out to the community like they're doing, O'Mahony and MacAhonic are elevating local politics from dank austere backrooms choked with cigar smoke, out into the open, and back to grass roots in the community where it belongs.


These women are a breath of fresh air in a stale political arena, and operate in tandem on a level of openness and accessibility that has never been seen before in Chilliwack. Good politics is just plain good politics.


If they have their way, in May O'Mahony and MacAhonic will be ushering in a new age of provincial politics on a more permanent basis. We can then expect an open door policy and a relaxed blue-jeans-in-the-White-House type of governance. The community deserves it.


In municipal politics, Mayor Sharon Gaetz is a wonderful example of how women are great leaders.


It's no coincidence that Chilliwack is blessed with all these wonderful women. They weren't born that way. They're self-made and worked hard to get where they are.


They're women who know what they have to do to get things done. Women who contribute with heart and soul to all their various causes. This is what it will take to inspire young people to become involved in politics and their communities.


The Liberals know what they have to do as well. They just haven't figured out how to get re-elected once they do it.




Speaker Bios


Carol Peters

Carol is a member of the Chawathil First Nation near Hope. She is a Social Worker by trade and works as Aboriginal Health Liaison on the Fraser Health Aboriginal Health Team. She is also Cultural Lead for the Aboriginal Health team. She is an active participant in many traditional and cultural activities within the Sto:lo Nation.


Carol's primary goal is to facilitate ongoing relationships within the Mainstream Health Providers and the Aboriginal community Health Teams in order to improve health care for all Aboriginal Community members.


In July 2003, just prior to becoming Leader of the BC New Democrats, Carole became Coordinator with the Northern Aboriginal Authority for Families.


Carole James

Carole James was elected MLA for Victoria Beacon Hill in 2005, served as Leader of the Official Opposition in our province for seven years, and is currently critic for the Ministry of Social Development.


She is honoured to serve the people of the community she grew up in, raised her children in, and continues to live in. Carole is married to Albert Gerow, a First Nations artist and elected Chief of the Burns Lake First Nation. She's the mother of two children, Alison and Evan, and a proud grandparent to Hayden and Charlie. She was a foster parent for over 20 years, giving care to children and adults with special needs.


Glenda Standeven

Glenda Standeven is a long time Chilliwack resident. She is an inspirational speaker, author and co-author of 'Choosing to Smile' which is the inspirational life stories of three friends who all had cancer.


Among her many achievements, Glenda was also Chilliwack's Woman of the Year in 2003, received the Governor General's Caring Canadian Award in 2005, and most recently received the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal in January, 2013,

for making a difference in the lives of others.


Jas Cheema

As an immigrant women herself, Jas Cheema has personally experienced the integration challenges faced by many immigrants. She writes about these challenges and works to foster a cross cultural understanding through her writing, consulting work, academia and volunteer work.


As Leader of Diversity Relations & Translation Services, for Fraser Health Jas is laying the foundations for more equitable and culturally competent healthcare services in the largest health region in BC. She has lead and supported various projects in the community. She is the Past Chair of the Surrey Libraries Board and Chair of the Literacy for Life Campaign with a goal of raising $500,000.


She has been recognized as a leader in the field of inter-cultural communication, diversity, and community engagement through various awards such as: Surrey-North Delta Leader of the Year; Business Person of the Year Nominee, Diversity Award; Griffin Award for making a difference through the art of writing.


See more photos below.



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