As MPPs returned to the Legislative Assembly this fall, taking their seats for a sitting full of pre-election frenzy, a group of health-care professionals grumbled that there’s something missing from the current crop of politicos. Not a nurse among them.
But the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) is determined to change both the composition and the comprehension of today’s and tomorrow’s members of provincial parliament, said RNAO executive director Doris Grinspun.
Grinspun said nurses are already helping shape the health-care debate, but they have to go beyond that. “Now we need to take the next step – right onto the floor of the Legislative Assembly, whether in 2003, 2008 or beyond. As legislative neophytes, nurses will have a lot to learn, but party caucuses could use nurses’ knowledge, experience and commitment-not to mention their public trust-to reach constituencies and engage the public,” said Grinspun.
That’s why RNAO contracted Politrain Inc. to design an RN Candidate Training Program for RNs interested in getting involved in provincial politics. The first session ran Sept. 28 and 29 in Toronto with 17 registered nurses of all political persuasions signed on for two days of training. Grinspun said RNAO members were easy to recruit, eager for the training and interested in both being a candidate and supporting a candidate. The association is providing this training free for its members. There will be six sessions in all over three weekends, one in September, October and November.
The RN Candidate Training Program is designed to help nurses gain the skills they need for political life. The sessions will feature experienced multi-party political consultants, media trainers and technology and fundraising experts, this program will provide useful hands-on advice to nurses committed to running for public office at the provincial level. Components of the program include:
- Getting into provincial politics, the nomination process
- Setting up the campaign, building the team, positioning the candidate
- Looking and acting like a leader, dealing with the media, thinking on your feet
- Asking for money, campaigning in cyberspace
- Preparing for election day, scheduling the candidate, candidate canvass and voter identification
- Preparing for debates, media scrums, and one-on-one interviews
The idea of registered nurses running for political office seemed to tickle the media’s fancy – the story was widely covered on radio, television and in newspapers. During one interview, RNAO member Monica Purdy told CBC radio’s Metro Morning about what motivated her to take RNAO’s RN Candidate Training Program. “Well, having gone through this weekend’s training, and I’ve heard from a number of politicians-one of them was Marilyn Churley who spoke to us about her reasons for going into politics-and one of the things that she pointed out was this burning desire to make a change. David Miller spoke to us and alluded to the same reason in terms of wanting to make a change and that being the best motivator for going into politics. That was quite good to hear because that’s what also motivates me wanting to make a difference, and wanting to make a change.”
For RNAO board member Joan Lesmond, the training program is an opportunity to turn her dream into reality. “In most of these parties there are no nurses at the table and I think this is really an ideal opportunity,” Lesmond told CBC Newsworld. “Nurses do have the public trust, and hopefully we can bring some other issues to the table from a broader perspective.”
RNAO president Adeline Falk-Rafael said nurses see where health-care policy and people’s lives intersect adding that the public respects and connects with nurses. “Nurses have a tremendous amount to contribute to the province’s most pressing public policy issues, especially – but not exclusively – around health issues,” she said.
Lesmond agrees. “It goes broader than nursing because there are issues such as education, environment and looking at social determinants of health so you’ll be looking at many different issues, not just health issues.”