Since finishing school I’ve been mucking out my laptop to flush out the digital detritus lingering from two years of graduate study. (Note: These leftovers are plentiful and mostly pointless. If the thought of paying to accumulate pointless, plentiful documents for two years unsettles you in any way, please reconsider your grad school application and continue living as a grown-up instead.) One of my research interests in my first year of study was the founding of Greenpeace in the same Vancouver neighborhood, or nearly, where I've been living for the past couple of years. Among the old newspaper microfilm that I scoured in late 2010 was a page I didn’t examine for much more than Greenpeace news. It’s page 4 of the Globe & Mail from Sept. 21, 1971, a Tuesday. In the bottom corner there’s this double-take-worthy brief that shows just how differently (mostly) young women in politics were depicted 40 years ago.
The photo ran directly above the article in the paper. In case the image isn’t clear enough, here’s the story:
Blonde seeks Liberal ticket for High Park
Laima Svegzda, a blue-eyed blond law student, believes she has what it takes to unseat New Democrat Party member Dr. Morton Shulman in High Park.
Last night, Miss Svegzda, 23, slipped her arm around Liberal Leader Robert Nixon and confidently announced that on Monday she will seek the Liberal nomination in High Park. She is the only volunteer to step forward.
“I just think that it’s time to get in there,” she said. “I think I have a lot of things going for me, I have an ethnic background (Lithuanian). I’m young, I’m female and I have a strong feeling of what the various ethic groups want.”
Miss Svegzda spent the summer as director of a legal information drop-in centre in the city’s west end. Most of the work involved dealing with people of various ethnic backgrounds who did not know their legal rights.
What about Dr. Shulman? “I haven’t met him yet, but from what I’ve heard and read, he’s a gentleman.”
Can a law student afford to run an election campaign? Miss Svegzda smiled. “I have a lot of heart. It’s not the size of the wallet that counts, you know.”
To be absolutely fair to the Globe & Mail, she doesn’t exactly come across as an intellectual heavyweight in the interview — pretty much par for any 23-year-old. To continue being absolutely fair to the Globe & Mail, its headline is a disgrace and the article is but a scant improvement.
It got me wondering what happened to Miss Svegzda. A further news search turned up only a few more mentions of her in Canadian papers, all in the 1970s. In 1978 she was identified in a story as the acting director of conciliation and compliance for the Ontario Human Rights Commission; the following year, she was identified as the commission’s administrator.
Best else I could find on her was this exchange from the Ontario legislature on February 29, 1972. If the good Dr. Shulman is to be understood here, his reputation as a gentleman is in some question. If he does tip his hat to her, he uses his left hand:
Mr. Shulman: Well it was an interesting
election campaign, Mr. Speaker. The Liberal
candidate was especially interesting. She was
a beautiful young lady. Her name was Laima
Mr. R. F. Nixon (Leader of the Opposi-
tion): When I saw her, I thought you were
Mr. Shulman: Well when I saw her I knew
I was not in trouble, because it was going
to be a delightful campaign and it was. And
I will campaign with her, for her or against
her at any time.
Mr. P. G. Givens (York-Forest Hill): Would
the member say it was a bust?
Mr. Shulman: She was a delight, let me
say. This is the way politics should be.
In a way I was hoping she would be
elected so I could converse with her across
the floor, but there were difficulties in
arranging that. It was a pleasure campaigning
with Miss Svegzda.
I am afraid the Liberals didn't take her
campaign quite as seriously as I did unfor-
tunately. They gave her only $1,000 for the
campaign, and when they gave her this sum
they said: "Miss Svegzda, we have great
news for you. We have got $1,000 for you,
and not only that we have got a promise
from the Toronto Star of a full front-page
spread with your picture on it, which is
good for thousands of votes." And they de-
livered on both their promises. They got the
full front-page spread; they gave her the
$1,000. When that was gone, on the second
day, she called them up and said: "What do
I do now?" And they said: "Well, that's it.
You spent all there is. That's your problem."
So her campaign didn't go too well, al-
though it was of some advantage, let's say.
Mr. Givens: Would the member say it was
Mr. Shulman: I thank the member for
York-Forest Hill. Her campaign was a mag-
nificent bust. It didn't go too well, but it got
great crowds out for our all-candidate meet-