Christian politician, lawyer mark Women’s Day at TWU
By Agnieszka Krawczynski
Photo: Janet Epp Buckingham (left) and Deborah Gray sign copies of Faith, Life, Leadership: 8 Canadian Women Tell Their Stories during a book launch on International Women's Day. (Agnieszka Krawczynski / The B.C. Catholic)
Two women who are making a difference in Canadian history shared their stories of leadership and faith on International Women’s Day.
“I became the first ever woman leader of the official opposition. Who has a road map for that? You just have to figure it out,” said Vancouver-born Deborah Gray.
Gray was teaching high school English in Alberta when she ran as a Reform Party candidate in 1988. She became the first Member of Parliament for the brand-new party in 1989 and the first female head of the official opposition.
“I thought I maybe wanted a wider, and bigger, classroom,” she told several dozen men and women at an International Women’s Day event at Trinity Western University March 8.
Gray served in office for more than 15 years.
“Was I the token woman? No thanks,” she said. “Preston Manning, who was our leader, if he ever once said: ‘I would like you to vote for our candidate here, Deborah Gray, because she’s a woman,’ I guarantee you, he would have seen my south end going north.”
Gray’s first legislative assistant was Stephen Harper, who would become the 22nd Prime Minister of Canada 17 years later.
She left office in 2004. Three years later, Gray received the Order of Canada, and in 2013, Harper invited her to join the Security Intelligence Review Committee and become a Privy Counsellor.
A bold woman, a grandmother, and a Christian for about as long as she’s been riding a motorcycle (50 years), Gray has since retired from politics.
“I am Dr. Deb. I am the Honourable Deborah Gray. I am Sweetheart. I am Nana. And boy, am I blessed. Isn’t it wonderful to see how God leads his dear children along?”
She spoke at Trinity Western University, where she received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws in 2009, on International Women’s Day to help launch a new book, titled Faith, Life, Leadership: 8 Canadian Women Tell Their Stories.
Gray is featured in the book, as are other Canadian women, including lawyer and TWU professor Janet Epp Buckingham.
“Women should expect to have a significant role at the table, and I’m not talking about the kitchen table,” she told the audience.
Buckingham has represented the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada for seven years, tackling issues ranging from religious freedom and pornography, to euthanasia and the definition of marriage.
“The years addressing the definition of marriage were some of the most difficult of my life,” she said. But “the most stretching and challenging leadership assignment,” came when Buckingham dared to hope that TWU would open a law school.
Buckingham and colleague Kevin Sawatsky worked on the proposal from 2007 to 2012. They didn’t anticipate the backlash they received.
Several Canadian law societies declared they would no recognize law degrees earned by TWU law because its students promise to abstain from sex outside marriage between a man and a woman while at school.
A similar case involving TWU’s teacher education program was won at the Supreme Court of Canada in 2001. “We really thought lawyers would respect the Supreme Court precedent,” she said.
Yet again, she finds herself in court, fighting for religious freedom.
Her favourite Scripture passage from the Book of Joshua: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
“I understand those words. My faith, my family, and my community have kept me strong. God has given me the tools and community to be able to fulfill his calling on my life. It takes courage to face these opportunities in times of opposition, but God sustains us through it all.”
On International Women’s Day, event organizers praised TWU’s equal hiring of men and women. Currently, 50 per cent of faculty, 60 per cent of staff, and 66 per cent of student employees are women.
Faith, Life, and Leadership was also launched that day in Ontario.