Torsney tells breakfast meeting: Women needed in Canadian political, & financial arenas. Guest speaker talks up the co-op sector.

By Tania Mais

BURLINGTON, ON  March 6, 2012  The empowerment of women and a commitment to the issue of hunger and poverty was the theme established by the United Nations for the 2012 International Women’s Day.  The 16th annual International Women’s breakfast presented by Honourable Paddy Torsney,  with guest speaker, Kathy Bardswick, President and CEO from the Co-operators Group Ltd. was definitely empowering but fell short when it came to adequately addressing concerns of local poverty.  Torsney and Bardswick took the time to appeal to the students and aspiring women in the room encouraging representation in politics, economics and the field of mathematics.

Guest speaker at the 16th Annual Women's Day Breakfast, Kathy Bardswick, President and CEO of the Co-operators Group shares thoughts with the 60+ high school students at the event..

There was a powerful buzz in the air as over 190 women filled the conference room of the Holiday Inn in Burlington to celebrate women.  Women were relating to each other with ease and joy.  It was inspiring to be among retired professional women, working women, mothers, eager students and a handful of male supporters.  There were groups of co-workers, friends and families. The conversations were rich, the laughs were heartfelt and the passion was fierce.

As I worked my way around the conference room, I met amazing women, including two secondary school students from Notre Dame Secondary, Sarah Lowicki and Chelsea Urquico.  These ladies were proud to announce that they were handpicked by their Principal to attend this event.  Lowicki explained that she is very active in sports at her school while Urquico advised that she is a mentor to the grade nine students.   I was also pleased to meet a student from Gary Allan Secondary, Katherine Bell and her mother Kathleen Bell while they celebrated the honour of her being chosen by her peers to represent her school.  Burlington Secondary students made up almost 30% of the quests in attendance.

I shared in a joyous conversation with an employee from A Different Drummer Book Store, Carol Hunt.  She graciously introduced me to her long-time friends and golfing companions.  Among the five spirited women (who make a point of coming together to meet at this event annually) were three retired school teachers that worked together in various Burlington schools.  Hunt reported that “Paddy Torsney is a loyal customer of her bookstore and that is how they became the destination for purchasing tickets to the International Women’s day breakfast”. Janet Dawson and her colleague, public health nurses informed me that this was their first year attending the annual breakfast.  Dawron reported “I wanted to come here and celebrate women”.

There was a token amount of male political figures including Mayor Goldring, Ward 1 Councillor, Rick Craven, and the Regional Chair, Gary Carr, in attendance.

Before introducing the main speaker, Paddy Torsney, who will be the 2013 Chair of the United Way, highlighted the value of women in the political arena.  Torsney emphasized the under representation of women in politics at all levels of government.  Torsney invited women to consider running for political office.  She maintained that  “women in politics have better outcomes for children and communities”.

Kathy Bardswick,  president and CEO of Cooperators Group spoke with confidence and ease as she highlighted the value of cooperative model in business and the important role that women play to contribute to its international success.  After reviewing many benefits of the cooperative business model (including the ability to engage and vote on decisions in a democratic style) Bardswick enthusiastically tried to entice the female students in the room to keep their minds open to mathematics and financially based studies.   Bardswick connected mathematical skills with musical ability and well developed problem solving skills.  During the question period, Bardswick highlighted some strides the Co-operative Group  is making to connect with first nations communities and minimize the impact of national catastrophes.

Ann Swarbrick, Executive Director for Habitat for Humanity in Burlington listens as Kathy Bardswick talks about the role the co-operative approach plays in the world of finance.

Ann Swarbrick, executive director of Habitat for Humanity inquired about the lack of commitment to  cooperative  housing initiative in Oakville and Burlington stating that “10% of the population in Burlington and Oakville live under the poverty line”.  Swarbrick wondered “how the Co-operators group  planned to assist the initiative to revalue cooperative housing”.  Bardswick advised that “although Cooperators Group has tried to engage in supportive dialogue regarding affordable housing, the issue does not seem to be resonating with those who have authority to make decisions about housing”.

In my discussion with Paddy, she told me she has sponsored this women’s breakfast for the past 15 years because it “celebrates women and offers the opportunity for continued networking”.  When asked about how Canada fares internationally in regards to the economic, social and political advancement of women, Torsney reported “Canada has a long way to go economically.  Although women are making more income, they should have more opportunity to influence economic policy and make budget decisions”.

In keeping with the theme of International Women’s day to address the issue of Poverty and hunger, I asked Torsney how she thought we could address poverty and hunger in our own backyards of Burlington Ontario?.  She responded: “ we need to get the information out into the community.  Did you see how surprised this crowd was to hear Ann Swarbrick from Habitat Humanity announce that there is a 10% poverty rate in Burlington.  We need to think more about the impact that hunger has on the development of our children and their access to resources. We need to ensure that the local decision makers know about these things.”

The message was clear.  Women in politics and economically influential positions have better outcomes for children and the communities according to Torsney and Bardswick.  The hope is that the young women who attended this breakfast and other events will feel empowered to get involved in cooperative businesses and political office to influence social, political and economic growth and change. We need better outcomes for our children and communities facing poverty and hunger right here in Burlington.


Tanya Mais is a graduate of the University of Toronto.  Her studies and professional life are related to mental health and justice services.  She takes a sociological approach to her work. Her quest is to contribute to social justice within an anti-racism, and anti-oppressive framework.  Currently Tanya is the proud mother of two girls and works part time at a local mental health agency in Burlington as well as volunteering at her daughters school facilitating bullying awareness discussions at the kindergarten level.   



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1 comment to Torsney tells breakfast meeting: Women needed in Canadian political, & financial arenas. Guest speaker talks up the co-op sector.

  • Sarah

    How wonderful it is to be part of a generation where seasoned professional women can influence female students. This article opened my eyes to the powerful networking women do in our community. Hopefully the young students in attendance were empowered by what they heard today and can use this knowledge to facilitate further change in an attempt to rid Burlington of families who are experiencing poverty in our own backyard.