Politics weren’t even on Pamela Lovelace’s career radar until 2010 when she saw a poster for an event with the Hammonds Plains- Upper Sackville Liberal Riding Association. She had never been a member of a political party and says didn’t understand the nomination process.
“[The event] interested me because it brought together a group of people who seemed to have a similar mindset of what we needed to do for this community,” she says. “I was excited about building community.”
She eventually served as the association’s president, and in 2013 was nominated to run as the Liberal candidate for the riding. She didn’t win the nomination. But she says she learned early on how people treat women differently in politics. She says she saw lewd, derogatory, and sexist comments aimed at women politicians.
Lovelace says she learned early that people often discourage a woman’s ambition. As a teenager growing up in the Annapolis Valley, she wanted to be a lawyer or a child psychologist. But she says her high-school guidance counsellor suggested she become a teacher or a nurse instead.
“I think that was the traditional way,” she says. “That was what was expected of girls. It was rural Nova Scotia. That was his justification, I believe.”
Lovelace left school in Grade 10, moved to Wolfville, and got a job at Acadia University. At 16, she was the youngest catering manager at the dining hall, organizing weddings and other events. But she still wanted to go back to school. So she worked part time and finished high school. When she was 19, she was accepted into Mount Saint Vincent University.
“What it taught me was you need to work hard to get ahead,” she says. “You need grit. You really need to persevere. You really need to know what you want and you need to find a way to get it.”
During her career, Lovelace worked at NSCAD, CBC, Health Canada, and the municipality of East Hants. She also established herself in her home community of Hammonds Plains. She started four farmers’ markets around Halifax, including one in Hammonds Plains. And she was one of the people behind the push to get the cenotaph in the community, which brought together Hammonds Plains, Lucasville, and the Acadian First Nations.
And then she decided to run for Council in 2016. “I knew there would be some kind of meanness,” she says. She recalls some constituents asking what her husband thought of her running for Council.
Others asked what she would do with her children if she won the district. When she pointed out that incumbent Matt Whitman had children, people said, “Well, he has a wife.”
She saw lots of comments on social media. She says Whitman called her “a dictator.” Marty Robar, a member of Whitman’s campaign team, shared a video featuring her on YouTube. It included her giving a nomination speech during the Liberal nomination contest for Hammonds Plains-Lucasville. Lovelace says the word “failure” and an evil laugh was dubbed over the speech.
Robar apologized on social media for sharing the video, and YouTube removed the video, citing it violated its policy “prohibiting content designed to harass, bully, or threaten.”
Other children taunted her kids at school. She called the RCMP after receiving anonymous threats. “There’s a sense of acceptable hate,” she says. “We knew there would be issues. We were not prepared for the fact I had to call the RCMP.”
Lovelace took 35 per cent of the vote in the election. Her run for Council taught her the practical aspects of politics, the importance of a strong team and thick skin. “
You have to sell yourself at the door,” she says. “You can’t let that get to you. Women face that in every single career path dominated by men. Every woman has to be able to look at themselves and say, ‘What do I want?’ That’s what you need to go after. You have to keep your eye on why you’re doing it. I did it because I wanted to provide a different perspective.”
She wants society to be more accepting of women in leadership. “You’re either the Virgin Mary or you’re the slut and the whore,” she says. “I think women have been placed into these very specific roles and as soon as we go outside these roles the people become uncomfortable. We need to become more comfortable with women taking leadership roles, being on boards, being the heads of companies, being the premier of Nova Scotia.”
Bernadette Jordan (MP for South Shore-St. Margaret’s) met Lovelace when she was running for Council and got to know her via Equal Voice, a national, multi-partisan, organization whose goal is to elect more women to political office in every level of government.
During Lovelace’s campaign, the two met to talk about challenges women face. She shared stories of harassment. “Social media is the best and the worst thing that’s ever happened,” Jordan says. “I see things that are aimed at me that would never be said to my male counterparts. And I told her to be ready for those kinds of things. Sometimes that can be something that will stop you from taking that step.”
These days, Lovelace is volunteering as chair of the Nova Scotia chapter of Equal Voice. She wants women to know the organization is a voice for them and can provide resources if they want to run for office, regardless of party. She also wants to “get outside of the whiteness of politics” and help more women of colour enter the political arena.
“They don’t have a lot of these women who are able to step forward and run for office,” she says. “But those who do get their name on the ballot deserve praise and celebration.”
Jordan says Lovelace has more to bring to Equal Voice than just her experience as a woman running for office. “Pam is tenacious,” Jordan says. “She is a fierce advocate for women. Just the fact she is a strong woman with a foot in the community at a grassroots level is going to be huge asset.”
Lovelace is thinking ahead to the next generation of women who will run.
“We need to work harder to make them feel more comfortable by increasing political literacy, by having those conversations in school and in the community about politics,” she says. “I think we as women tend to think that’s not my place… like my guidance counsellor said.”