NEWS
11/08/2016 18:59 EST | Updated 11/09/2017 00:12 EST

Narrow US election battle leaves women in Canada surprised, disappointed

OTTAWA — Expectations of a shattered glass ceiling were gradually giving way to surprise and disappointment Tuesday as women in Canadian political circles waited nervously for a historic Hillary Clinton election victory some feared wasn't coming.  

"If she doesn't win tonight, clearly a formidable and talented woman with a tremendous campaign team — it makes us wonder if the U.S. electorate was ready for a female president," said Nancy Peckford, executive director of Equal Voice.

"We always thought it would be close. We saw some momentum in the fall that hasn't held. Clearly the voter base for Mr. Trump likely was more faithful and more loyal to him, despite everything, despite all the racism and misogyny.

"It is no doubt a tremendous missed opportunity for the U.S. electorate."

Susie Erjavec Parker, who organized an election-watching party in Winnipeg for "nasty women" and "bad hombres" — a nod to insults Trump used in one of the presidential debates — described the mood Tuesday night as one of "nervous trepidation."

Parker said the early numbers were "scary," but she remained convinced the West Coast would give Clinton the victory.

"I'm frankly still shocked that it's this close," she said. "It's a shame, because his entire candidacy has overshadowed what should be a historic win for her."

Even if Clinton loses, women can take heart at the campaign and her accomplishments, she added.

"No matter what, she's going to say, like she did in her 2008 concession speech to Obama, 'We got through one glass ceiling, and we're going to get to the next.' And I think no matter what, this generation of young women have seen a woman run for president. No matter what, that barrier has been broken. So I really hope that those doors stay open."

As Canada's first female prime minister, Kim Campbell had been looking forward to seeing the Democratic nominee become the first female U.S president, not only because she thinks she was qualified for the job but because of the powerful message it would have sent about women in leadership positions.

Beyond that feminist goal, though, Campbell was motivated by anxiety over the prospect of a win by Republican candidate Trump, who she views as unqualified, untruthful and undermining democratic institutions in a world where many countries still strive for peace and security.

"I am so appalled that it's even close," Campbell said. "It makes me feel that I don't understand the world anymore. But we are living in a post-fact society, and it's very, very frightening."

Speaking earlier Tuesday, though, Hazel McCallion, the longtime former mayor of Mississauga, Ont., said Trump had a positive influence on the campaign.

"I think Trump has made his contribution by shaking the establishment in the United States," she said.

"I think it brought forward a lot of people who felt they didn't have a voice or felt they could accomplish anything and I think that has been good."

Other women in Canadian politics also spoke of the sexism and misogyny that will be a legacy of the remarkable 2016 campaign.

"I think that there will be real implications from the divisiveness and the toxicity that we've seen and it's going to take some time to get over that," Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said Tuesday morning, long before the polls closed.

Beyond the general sexism directed at Clinton as candidate and the outrageous anti-women rhetoric that has been raging on social media, Trump has also been accused of sexual assault by multiple women.

He was also caught on tape boasting about groping women without their consent and has made demeaning comments about the physical appearance of some women.

"I want to be seen as an equal, not a sex object, and he has objectified us and that really bothers me," said Senate Liberal Mobina Jaffer.

NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson said women around the world might view a Trump win as all too familiar.

"It will be a very discouraging confirmation of what, unfortunately, too many around the world have experienced — that the underqualified man gets promoted over the highly qualified woman," said Malcolmson, the critic for status of women.

"And that will mean even more than we have a lot of work to do, not just in the States but all over, around truly removing barriers to women's success and truly bringing in gender equality to all elements of our public and private life."

— With files from Gwen Dambrofsky in Edmonton

— Follow @smithjoanna on Twitter