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Northeast women in politics: experiences & advice

To mark International Women’s Day, Nipawin mayor Rennie Harper, Hudson Bay mayor Betty Lou Palko and Melfort councillor Tara Muntain spoke about their experiences and gave advice for women looking to go into leadership roles.
To mark International Women's Day, northeast Saskatchewan municipal politicians Rennie Harper, Betty Lou Palko and Tara Muntain talked to about their experiences and their advice to women seeking leadership roles.

NORTHEAST — Three Northeast women that are active in municipal politics spoke about their experiences and gave advice for women looking to go into leadership roles.

This year’s International Women’s Day is on March 8.


Rennie Harper

Mayor, Town of Nipawin

Rennie Harper immigrated to Canada with her parents as a young girl and has always had the desire to give back to Canada.  

“The wonderful life that this country provided to me and my parents, I feel like I owe something to the country and I’m a huge believer in paying it forward while never forgetting your past.”

Harper was elected as mayor of Nipawin in 2016 and had not previously served in municipal government. Before public office, she worked in healthcare for almost 30 years in a variety of positions. She worked in addiction counselling and became the Director of Community Services for the North East Health District and was in charge of homecare, public and mental health. She achieved the role of VP of Operations Support for the Kelsey Trail Health Region (responsible for Strategic Planning, Quality of Care Co-ordination and Support Programs) in 2002 and filled that role until her retirement from KTHR in 2009.

When asked about the influence of women in her life, she credits her mother, Wilma Mueller, adding she was a strong and independent woman. 

“When we immigrated to Canada in 1953, my mother was a nurse but she was not able to practice in Canada and therefore had to learn the language (reading, writing etc.) so that she could challenge the Canadian nursing exams and re-gain her nursing status as she learned the language, etc. She worked in housekeeping and eventually achieved her nursing status.”

Harper said the keys that she found to being successful were to work hard, be prepared and work with people with positive attitudes, and always keep learning. Harper said she looks to leaders like Randy Goulden, President of SUMA, and, of course, her mom. Harper believes in always trying and if a door closes, choose the window beside that door.

Harper said she is an only child and left all here parents’ families behind so growing up with no cousins makes her even more proud of her children.


Betty Lou Palko

Mayor, Town of Hudson Bay

Palko became mayor recently for the Town of Hudson Bay but has been on council for over 20 years and is a retired teacher of 33 years.

The mayor said that the world has changed a lot since she was a young girl. She said women’s rights have advanced very much in most developed countries. Unfortunately, this isn’t the way it is in many countries. Women have achieved these goals on the backs of strong women who fought on behalf of those of us to follow them. 

 “One of the major issues I faced as a woman in education was when I was expecting both of my children there was no such thing as maternity leave. Even worse, I had to resign from my job (no leave). When one was ready to come back to the profession, they had to wait until a position came available and it might not have been in the area you were familiar with. There were no promises of a position for you. I returned to the profession I loved under much criticism from many women who felt I was not doing my proper duty to my children by not being a stay at home mom,” Palko said.

“When I went back to work I knew I had fantastic child care and was fortunate enough to have someone come into my home. It was not long after this that women began to push for and set up more daycares. Women continue to push and new dollars and safety rules and qualifications are coming from governments because women fought for it.”

Palko mentioned Helen Reddy’s song, I Am Woman Hear Me Roar, often roaring is what they need to do.

“My father was the person who pushed me to get post secondary education at a time when many girls were excited about getting engaged and settling down.”

Palko remembers her father telling her of how his father had abandoned his mother and four children leaving them in a log house with no means of support

“He was very adamant that his girls were educated so they were always able to look after themselves,” she said.

Palko said she is proud of the work she has done and continues to do for her community and feels great pride in the responsible, hardworking children she has raised.

“Women, be strong, be confident in yourself, challenge the status quo! We've come a long way baby, but there is even more we can mould.”


Tara Muntain

Councillor, City of Melfort

Tara was elected to the council in Melfort in the fall of 2020. Tara moved to Melfort in 2004 from a small town in Ontario.  Tara and her husband Lloyd decided to jump at business opportunity and took over TJ’s Pizza in Melfort. Tara had managed other restaurants before and was excited for the new venture.  Muntain said every experience in life gives you knowledge and that her love for the community has taken her to the council table.

She credits several women on encouraging her throughout life. Some in smaller ways and others in bigger ways, like Irene Frier and Laura Lawrence who felt she would be a good fit for public office.

Muntain said she has always watched others around her and said she takes the best and throw out the rest.  She considers every interaction, every volunteer opportunity a way to learn and grow.

She said that for women, they should not be intimidated, to know your worth and know what you have to offer is invaluable.

“You do not need to be all things at once and own up to your mistakes and move forward,” she said.

Muntain said success can be defined in so many ways and is most proud of never giving up and is excited to celebrate other women in her community. She said together we are better.