Terrace Mayor Carol Leclerc prides herself on keeping a level head and listening to others, no matter how tense the situation can be.
“I think it’s important through leadership that you are calm and you are open, you’re listening and not being emotional, because sometimes women get painted for being emotional,” she says. “It’s not that you’re lacking emotion, but you want to make a decision based on facts.”
Gender stereotypes such as perceived emotional instability can delegitimize and discourage women from pursuing political careers, convincing themselves that someone else must be better suited for the job.
As Terrace’s first female mayor, Leclerc says having women’s voices represented at the political level is incredibly important, and can empower future generations to be courageous and confident when navigating their own lives.
“The biggest thing for me now is saying to people when you’re on committees and different things is that women think differently, and it’s really important for that voice to be at a committee level, at a council level,” she says. “It’s still a male-dominated world, and we just need to make sure that our voices, our perspectives are represented.”
Leclerc made history when she won the mayoral race against candidate Bruce Bidgood in 2014. Now three months into her second term, Leclerc reflected on her past aspirations, and admits at first, she never thought she’d be the one sitting in the mayor’s seat.
The 58-year-old was born and raised in Terrace, and worked as the districts trade coordinator for the Coast Mountains School District 82 (CMSD 82) before beginning a career in politics. The first spark wasn’t until she heard MLA Wendy McMahon speak at an executive assistant conference in Cranbrook, B.C.
“McMahon’s last comments Friday afternoon were, ‘More women need to get in politics.’ And the two [Terrace] women beside me turned and said, ‘Carol, that’s for you,’” she says.
Leclerc had already held leadership positions with several community organizations including the Veritas school board, soccer league coach, and was an assistant district commissioner for Scouts with her three kids. She says she didn’t have any political experience at the time, so she joined a city social planning commission and got to know former councillor Marilyn Davies.
Six months later, as the municipal elections came closer to November, Leclerc decided to put her name in — on the last day of nominations.
“My husband [Roger Leclerc] said to me, ‘You go get those papers and find two people who are going to get you elected.’ And I did,” she says. “There were 10 of us running, and I was the last person to get in.”
She served nine years as a city councillor from 2003 to 2011, working with Mayors Jack Talstra and Dave Pernarowski during the years of economic fallout following the closure of the sawmill and the pulp mill. The pine beetle epidemic had also destroyed the city’s forest economy.
“People were leaving, and there was just this sense of hopelessness,” she says.
Leclerc says she believed it was important to look to new industries and businesses to rebuild Terrace’s economy. One of the first decisions the new council had to make was where the city’s new Walmart would be. The city would need to fix together a parcel of land and put in traffic lights on Hwy 16 so Walmart could come to Terrace, but at a $400,000 cost.
“To me, that was a no-brainer. You’re going to spend $400,000 but you’re going to reap that back in taxes over years, and it brings people into the community. It was the first step in the economy, but it was an important step.”
Leclerc saw the city go through many transitions over her terms as councillor, including the relocation of the George Little House from Hall St. to Kalum St. to become a refurbished VIA Rail station to attract tourism, and the beginnings of an economic upswing from BC Hydro’s Northwest Transmission line and the Red Chris Mine developments.
Though it was challenging to juggle commitments with council, several committees and community organizations, it became exhausting, Leclerc says. In 2014, she decided she would not seek re-election and continued to work in human resources at CMSD 82.
But a year later, Leclerc’s name was back on the ballot for the BC Liberals’ nomination for the Skeena-Bulkley Valley riding. She won against another female candidate Carol Fielding in 2012. In the provincial spring election, Leclerc took 43 per cent of the vote, losing to NDP MLA Robin Austin by approximately 600 ballots.
After that campaign, Leclerc says the mayor’s seat was still out of her consideration. Then in 2014, there was a vacancy with Mayor Dave Pernarowski announcing he would not seek re-election. But it wasn’t until council members and residents asked her to run that she began to consider it, one of them being former mayor Jack Talstra.
“The vote and confidence of people to take that next step is probably the biggest thing. People believe that you can do this, and maybe I should give it a try,” she says.
She captured 60 per cent of the vote over candidate Bruce Bidgood in the 2014 municipal election. In total, 162 B.C. mayors were voted into office, 76 of them were female, 115 male.
As a mother of three and grandmother, Leclerc says having empowering conversations with young women can be instrumental when encouraging them to pursue a political career.
“Women are just over 50 per cent of the population, but we are under-represented in politics,” she says, mentioning that one in five mayors in Canada are women.
Women represent less than a third of the seats in Parliament and in provincial and territorial legislatures. On the municipal level, women only make up 18 per cent of mayors and 28 per cent of councillors across the country according to a 2015 Federation of Canadian Municipalities statistic.
Though Leclerc says society has made strides in the last few decades that have seen women take charge in leadership roles, including B.C.’s second female premier Christy Clark, and Nisga’a Lisims president Eva Clayton, school district superintendent Katherine McIntosh and city chief administrator Heather Avison as more local examples.
For Leclerc, International Women’s Day is an opportunity for women to recognize their own abilities and accomplishments, and the accomplishments of others, to lift each other up.
“International Women’s Day is a day for women to come together to celebrate achievements, where we’ve come from to where we’re going. I love to tell men we’re taking over the world,” Leclerc says with a laugh.
“I think about how many women are in better leadership roles today than they were 25, 30 years ago, because I think there has definitely been a trend over the last couple of decades. The opportunity for women to be in leadership roles, to be role models can show others that, yeah, we can do this.”