By Chris Lewis | Vol. 32 No. 7 (May 1 2019)
After a lifelong involvement behind the scenes of politics, one Helen Conway-Ottenheimer has stepped up to seek the role of MHA for Harbour Main district.
Conway-Ottenheimer grew up in the community of Marysvale. It was here, in her hometown, she said, where she was first introduced to politics. She remembers her parents hosting a number of political figures in their home, where she would get a front row seat to plenty of healthy political debate.
This would ultimately kickstart her interest in the workings of politics, and current affairs. She eventually went on to study political science at Memorial University (MUN). There, she served on the executive of the PC Youth party, and even went on to become its president when she was 20.
“I was really happy, at that point in time, to become a delegate for John Crosbie’s leadership campaign in 1983. I got to go to Ottawa, and I just loved being involved in that campaign. Unfortunately, he didn’t win the leadership, but it was a great experience,” Conway-Ottenheimer said.
Her husband, John Ottenheimer, was an MHA for three terms, totaling in 12 years. She says this made it so that there was never a lack of political influence in her life at any given time.
Now, Conway-Ottenheimer is looking to take on that role for herself, seeking election as the PC candidate in Harbour Main district. She told The Shoreline that the decision to add her name to the ballot was, despite such a deep history with politics, a rather difficult decision. Still, she felt it was an important one.
“As a woman, I had to seriously consider the challenges that women face, but I think one of the important things was, I see there is an under-representation of women in politics,” she said. “I think we have less than 25 per cent representation in the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature. That’s worrisome to me. I think we need to strive towards fair representation. I believe women bring a very important perspective to the table. I also believe it’s time for me to get into politics so as to provide a voice for the people of the district. A strong, clear, voice.”
Conway-Ottenheimer said she worries about the general outlook on the political system here in the province, noting she’s seen and heard many residents of the province expressing their discontent with what is currently in place.
“I see that people seem to be disgruntled, or discouraged, about the political process. I feel that, in order to have a healthy democracy, we need people to be out there voting. I’m hoping that, through my involvement in politics, I’ll be able to encourage that in people. I want to see younger people involved, and just a more healthy democracy in general,” Conway-Ottenheimer said. “It’s a responsibility on my part, I feel, to at least attempt to contribute in this way. I think all of my background has brought me to this place, now.”
Conway-Ottenheimer said that people in her district have a range of concerns. But from what she can tell, the main thing is that they want to be listened to. She hopes to utilise this knowledge and become the ear, and the voice, the people of Harbour Main district are looking for.
Conway-Ottenheimer is a lawyer by trade, where she’s practiced in areas of human rights law and criminal defence. She said her years as a lawyer will undoubtedly help her prepare for the role of MHA, should she be elected on May 16.
“As a lawyer, you’ve got to advocate on behalf of your clients. It’s really no different in this arena. You have to represent the people who have elected you. It’s a very serious responsibility, just as it is if you were a lawyer representing a client – you have a duty to represent them to the best of your ability, and there’s a high standard there. I see that same thing apply, if I’m privileged enough to be elected,” Conway-Ottenheimer said. “You have to be there, and you have to be accountable. As a lawyer, you have a responsibility to stay in touch with your clients and be their voice, so it’s honestly very similar… I will be a clear, strong voice. I will not be afraid to ask the tough questions, and the hard questions, in order to serve the people of the district.”