Understanding the importance of being a leader in her community has been part of Lori Ackerman long before she was elected Mayor of Fort St. John in 2011.
Even before spending two terms as a City Councillor and serving as the Family Service Director at the local Salvation Army, it was Mayor Ackerman’s parents who instilled in her the value of being a positive influence in the community.
As Fort St. John’s first female mayor, Ms. Ackerman’s influence is felt not only by the citizens of her community in general, but particularly the young women and girls of Fort St. John who look up to Mayor Ackerman as a role model. And given that there have been so few female role models in politics to look up to historically, Ms. Ackerman acknowledged and appreciates the role she plays in bucking that trend.
“I’ve had moms come up to me or send me notes on Facebook saying that their little girls met me when I went to their school or when their classroom came to City Hall, and [the girls] did not know that a woman could be the mayor,” said Ackerman. “And so now, they want to be mayor, and that has been so heartwarming.”
Ackerman is one of 42 female mayors in B.C. and though that number might seem high on first glance, it represents just 26 per cent of municipalities across the province, which speaks to the issue of women being vastly underrepresented in Canadian politics. Despite this, Mayor Ackerman does see some signs of progress, including in her own city.
“I’m really pleased that our election last year increased the number of females to three on council. For the longest time, I was the only one,” said Ackerman, referring to the 2018 municipal election. “It’s really given a shift to a different style of leadership.”
Given her city’s relative isolation, resources for women and girls to realize their full potential can sometimes be harder to come by – especially for communities surrounding Fort St. John. This is an area where Ackerman believes organizations like Minerva really make a significant impact thanks to its reach across the province.
“I’ve had these young ladies who live outside of Fort St. John or in First Nations communities who find out that I’m also a Minerva alumna and realize we have something in common. So now, if they find themselves in a situation where they want to reach out and have a conversation, they can do that.”
Having role models like Mayor Ackerman is a start, but more than that, there needs to be a focus on encouragement and positivity if we’re to expect more women to enter into politics. Thankfully, this focus is one that Ackerman believes has become more prevalent.
“Over the last several decades of my life, the conversations around different leadership tables or social groups tend to be about lifting people up. There’s so much out there on social media that will put you down, so people need to start disengaging from that negative force and focus on the positive stuff.”
Of course, being Mayor of a city with complexities and competing interests doesn’t always allow for disengagement from negative forces. In fact, Mayor Ackerman acknowledges that, if everyone in Fort St. John loves her, then she’s likely not doing her job as mayor. And when she’s doing her job and not necessarily being loved by everyone, it can lead to some contentious exchanges.
“For whatever reason there are those who feel they can verbally take you apart – it’s almost like [they think] it’s their God-given right to be able to take you apart,” explained Ackerman. “And it’s not just men that do that. Women will do that as well.”
But for Mayor Ackerman, her focus as a leader in the community is not on the negative exchanges or moments of contention. Rather, she believes in giving everyone every possible opportunity to realize their full potential.
Whether it’s as Mayor, a Minerva Alumna, a mom, or a resident of her city, Lori Ackerman will always find a way to reach out and impact those around her. So, while Ackerman might be the first female mayor Fort St. John, her leadership in the community might very well lead to a situation where we can start to hear about the second, third and fourth female mayors of Fort St. John.