Langley residents recently learned of the passing of Iris Mooney on July 19, at the age of 91.
She was truly an amazing person, and a trailblazer for women in politics in Langley – particularly at the local council level.
It seems hard to believe in 2017, but less than 50 years ago, women were often considered ill-suited for politics. This wasn’t exclusively a male sentiment — there were many women were reluctant to support other women who wanted to contribute to the decision-making process. Those who persevered and ran, particularly those who were the first to get elected to a particular government body or hold a specific cabinet position, often came in for a lot of criticism.
Often that criticism came from fellow councillors, MPs or MLAs. These people may have been elected to be community leaders, but they were often reactionary in the extreme when voters sent a woman to the council or board table, or to a provincial or national legislative body.
Mooney was first elected to Langley City council in 1970. She had been a high-profile Langley resident for years, as the head nurse in the maternity ward at Langley Memorial Hospital. Her campaign slogan was a classic – “Vote for Iris Mooney – She Delivers.”
She was the first woman elected to one of the two Langley councils – City or Township. Several years later, Muriel Arnason became the first woman elected to Langley Township council.
In a 2007 interview with the Times, Mooney had this to say about her first election win: “I broke the old boys’ club. When I decided to run, an alderman said he didn’t care who ran as long as it wasn’t a woman.”
The hostility didn’t end after she won the election. Both Mooney and Arnason recounted in later years how they were given the cold shoulder by many of their fellow councillors. They were called names, they were given insignificant committee positions and they were often simply not listened to. Motions weren’t seconded, and in many other ways, they were treated as second-class councillors.
While that treatment gradually improved, particularly as other women were elected to council positions, traces of it remain visible today. In the recent provincial election, Liberal leader and incumbent premier Christy Clark was the recipient of many unflattering comments, some of which seemed to be based primarily on her gender.
This isn’t a partisan phenomenon. Current Finance Minister Carole James, who served as NDP leader from 2003 to 2011, received plenty of derisive comments during her years as leader, about everything from her looks to her voice. How often are male politicians criticized for either?
Mooney, to her great credit, didn’t let the petty comments and criticism get to her. She had a job to do, and just as she did at the hospital, she got it done with efficiency and skill.
Once she was elected, she had no problem winning elections every two years to get back onto City council. She continued on council for 10 years and then decided to retire from politics.
Typically for her though, she didn’t retire from community service. She took over as head of the Langley Christmas Bureau and ran that organization for years. It remains to this day one of the best community-based organizations anywhere in B.C. for ensuring that no one is forgotten at Christmas.
Women in Langley politics today owe a great debt of gratitude to both Mooney and Arnason. They paved the way for the many women who serve in local government today, and for those who want to do so in the future.
Frank Bucholtz is a retired editor. He writes monthly for the Langley Times, as well as sharing his insights on his Frankly Speaking blog. It can found at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca.