In a time when the right to vote was exclusively male, Margaret Haile was determined to be the first woman to earn a seat at Queen's Park.
The result fails to impress on first glance: Margaret Haile, Ontario Socialist League candidate in a Toronto riding, 74 votes. Sounds like the low end of the typical ballot range for a fringe candidate in a provincial election. But it’s the circumstances that make Haile stand out: the year was 1902, and women wouldn’t be allowed to cast votes during an Ontario campaign for another 15 years. Despite the certainty that, had she won, she wouldn’t have been let anywhere near a seat in Queen’s Park, Haile’s pioneering run for office paved the way for all women pursuing office during the current election campaign.
Initially inspired by the activism of groups like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union to raise the quality of life for women, Haile was deeply involved with socialist movements in Canada and the United States. While based in Providence, Rhode Island, during the mid-1890s, Haile became the first woman to write for an English-language socialist publication. In the pages of Justice, she argued for a woman’s right to discuss issues “in our own way, and see how they affect us and what we are going to do about it.” In a June 1895 piece, she outlined her vision of the “new woman,” who was:
…developing other sides of her nature than the mother and wife side; one who is attempting to become an all-around human being, instead of the one-sided individual she has hitherto compelled to remain. She feels her individuality more than her sex…Her intellect trained; her tastes educated; and all her mental and physical powers developed. She does not believe that life is over for her when she stands at the altar…The new woman believes in being herself right down to the end of life, living out her own personal life.
After working in key positions for several political parties in New England, Haile returned to Canada in 1902 and joined the Ontario Socialist League’s slate of candidates for the upcoming provincial election, which included future Toronto mayor James Simpson. Since 1884, the only elected office women could hope to win in Ontario was school trustee (Toronto voted in its first three female trustees in 1892), and even then only spinsters and widows qualified. While some questioned Haile’s legal ability to run, her name was printed on the ballot in North Toronto. Regarding her chances, the Star snidely predicted that Haile “would probably get snowed under.”
Haile’s actual nomination was a fiasco. At that time, all candidates running in a riding were officially nominated at the same meeting, which sounds like a recipe for a partisan free-for-all. Attendance at all four of the Toronto riding meetings on May 22, 1902, was light due to two major sporting events that afternoon: the King’s Plate at the old Woodbine Racetrack and the home opener for the Maple Leafs baseball squad. At the session for North Toronto candidates held at St. Paul’s Hall at Yonge and Collier, incumbent MPP George Marter (formerly a Conservative, now an independent) showed up to accept his nomination but declined to speak due to the lingering effects of an illness that kept him at home the previous day. Conservative bearer William Beattie Nesbitt then decided he wasn’t going to speak either. The rabidly pro-Tory Mail and Empire noted that Nesbitt was “heartily cheered for his magnanimity to his sorely distressed opponent.” After Nesbitt rejected an offer from Marter to hold a later joint meeting, most of the audience filed out the door.