"I think it is sad to think people regard women's aspirations to be bank presidents or heavy equipment operators as 'odd.' That is limiting our expectations of ourselves and other women."
Growing up in Corner Brook, Lynn Verge, BA'70 (LLB '73, Dalhousie), never considered a career in political life. Not seeing any women in positions of power may have had something to do with it. The accepted Old Boys Parliament, which excluded females, didn't help either.
However, by the time Lynn graduated from the Dalhousie law school she was ready to tackle the issues of the day, namely women's issues. As the 1996 Alumna of the Year, Lynn is recognized for her outstanding achievements in political life over the past 20 years. She says she was propelled into political life by the women's movement. But it was her strong interest in the field that kept her involved.
"I have clear memories of the '66 provincial and '68 federal elections and news coverage reached me in Halifax about the '71 and '72 elections, which were the pivotal elections when the government changed and Smallwood was defeated," recalls Lynn. "It killed me to miss those political developments."
It was during the '60s that Lynn decided she would become active in a party and the obvious choice was the party that was challenging Smallwood. The Progressive Conservative Party won Lynn's allegiance and continues to hold it today.
Lynn's road to the top of the provincial PC ladder was a well-paved one. At 28 she was elected MHA for Humber East, a seat she held for 17 years. While in that position, she held the education and justice portfolios in Brian Peckford's government. Both were well suited to her.
As education minister (1979-1985), Lynn was involved in the reorganization and expansion of the high school program. She says being a part of the government that added Newfoundland content to the curriculum and injected arts programming for credit was a delight.
It was a constant thorn in her side, however, when students would complain about the Newfoundland Culture course. "Every time I heard a student talk about the course as very boring I was disappointed. I felt that in the hands of the right teachers the course was magical."
As a member of the cabinet, Lynn also got to see another of her concerns addressed.
"I had the satisfaction of participating as a cabinet minister in bringing about the matrimonial property act, which I had lobbied for as a private citizen, as a lawyer, and as a member of the Corner Brook Status of Women Council."
Her justice portfolio (1985-89) allowed her to do much more to advance women's rights in the province. Legislation establishing the support enforcement agency, an arm of the justice department that enforced court orders for family support, was a big accomplishment.
"As a lawyer practising in the '70s, I had shared in the frustration of trying to enforce a court order for child support. Sometimes it was futile to even try," she said. The new legislation "lifted a big burden off the shoulders of dependent parents — for the most part, single mothers."
Aside from her accomplishments as one of the first female cabinet ministers in the Newfoundland government, she fulfilled one of the goals she had outlined in a speech to the Holy Heart of Mary graduating class of '79. At that time she said: "I think it is sad to think people regard women's aspirations to be bank presidents or heavy equipment operators as 'odd.' That is limiting our expectations of ourselves and other women."
Lynn has never limited her aspirations, and she says she is quite aware of the fact that she broke new ground. Throughout the '70s she worked diligently as an advocate for women to encourage more women to get elected to all levels of government, school and hospital boards. Little did she know at the time that she would hold top spot with one of the province's leading political parties.
Lynn feels that her role as leader of the PC party affected people's attitudes about having a woman premier.
"I think my election as leader of the party and the treatment I got at the hands of the electorate are positive indicators." However, she adds, the prospect of having a female premier is a big stretch for some people, and she hopes she pushed the barrier enough to make it easier for the next woman to step up to the plate.
Lynn has also been impressed by the number of children, especially young girls, who have approached her since the election.
"It seems to me that it has to make a difference for them to see a woman political figure, whereas my generation didn't."
She may be out of the public spotlight for now, but Lynn never rules out the possibility of running for office again.
"I've never attempted to have a long-term plan because I've always been conscious of the uncertainty of political life." She's still very interested in what's happening in the province, but for the time being has decided to put her energy into other interests such as teaching at Memorial and getting back into law practice.
Lynn and her husband, Bob, live in Corner Brook.