News and Interviews

Women, Politics, and Power: Read an Excerpt from Stephanie MacKendrick's Inspiring New Book 'In Good Hands'


Author, community leader, and former journalist Stephanie MacKendrick wants young women to get excited about politics. Her new book, In Good Hands: Remarkable Female Politicians From Around the World Who Showed Up, Spoke Out, and Made Change (publishing April 2020 through Kids Can Press), will provide them with all the information they need to get involved.

Telling the stories of eighteen successful and influential female politicians, the book also functions as a how-to guide for those looking to participate in the political system, sharing information on how to get a campaign off the ground, what to know while running, and how to deal with expected and unexpected challenges.

A must-read for any young woman interested in becoming politically active, In Good Hands will embolden and inspire.

We're thrilled to share an excerpt from the book on Open Book today.


Excerpt from 'In Good Hands':


Michelle Stilwell

When the Impossible Becomes “No Obstacle”

Member of the British Columbia Legislative Assembly, Canada


I heard Michelle tell her story several years ago in Winnipeg, Manitoba, her hometown. She was the guest speaker at a career-development event my organization was running. As she spoke, there were times she was emotional and other moments when you could hear a touch of sadness, but there was never a single note of self-pity. She didn’t talk about how wrong things had gone for her, but about how she decided to play the cards life dealt her.


Resilience vs. good luck

It would be hard to find someone who better embodies the notion of resilience than Michelle Stilwell. Today Michelle is a member of the British Columbia provincial legislature. But her journey to get to this point wasn’t based on good luck. Rather, it required an extraordinary commitment to keep on going in the face of bad luck.

Michelle started out with a lot. She was born smart and athletic. She is a natural organizer and planner. And from an early age, she felt it was important Michelle Stilwell to use her voice to change things she thought needed changing. She has a deeply ingrained drive to make the world a better place.

At school, Michelle was a top athlete in basketball, baseball, ringette (a form of hockey played with a ring instead of a puck) and track. She was class president and headed up the local youth group. Michelle looked like the student most likely to succeed.


Coming back from catastrophe

But that all changed in an instant. When she was 17, Michelle was taking a piggyback from a friend when she fell. Michelle broke her neck and became quadriplegic. A whole chapter in her life closed and an entire range of interests and activities was suddenly out of reach. Michelle was in shock. As she absorbed the implications of her injury and adjusted to the “new normal,” she assessed her options.

While still in the rehabilitation hospital, Michelle was introduced to wheelchair basketball. The sports options for quadriplegics are limited, but Michelle had enough use of her hands and arms to play wheelchair basketball. She credits the sport with making her stronger and more independent, and her teammates with teaching her about living with a disability. Perhaps most importantly, she found a new outlet for her drive and passion to excel. A talented athlete before her injury, Michelle became an even more accomplished athlete afterward. She took the wheelchair basketball skills she learned in rehab, started playing locally and discovered her competitive spirit was very much intact. With her innate athleticism, she developed enough strength in her upper body to propel the wheelchair and shoot the ball.

Soon she was playing for the Manitoba wheelchair basketball team, and within two years, Michelle was on the national team, competing at the world championships in Sydney, Australia, and winning a gold medal. Michelle was the first-ever female with quadriplegia to compete in wheelchair basketball at the international level. Shortly after the 2000 Paralympic Games, though, Michelle suffered complications from her spinal cord injuries and ultimately would have multiple surgeries to deal with issues as they arose. The complications forced her to give up competitive wheelchair basketball. It was yet another loss.

Michelle then focused most of her energy on coaching others. It was at a coaching clinic that wheelchair racing coach Peter Lawless spotted her and noticed that she had very quick hands for someone with her functional ability. Peter was determined to recruit Michelle for wheelchair racing.

Michelle has quadriplegia, which means all four limbs are affected. Her upper arms and back are strong, but her wrists and hands have limited function. She is able to make the movements needed to propel the chair forward — a quick downward motion, flicking back on the wheels — but the lack of function in her hands was challenging for basketball.

Michelle was initially reluctant to switch to racing, as she had been a track athlete before her accident and was afraid that she would be frustrated to go back to something she had excelled at before. But Peter was persistent. When she finally agreed to take it on, she started training and competed in her first race. She was not happy to be beaten by a 12-year-old boy, but the loss only made her more determined. Wheelchair racing turned out to be an excellent fit for Michelle. She ramped up her training and began racing in earnest, starting with local events and building up to bigger, more competitive races. By 2005, Michelle was competing in the European Championships. Just two years after taking up the sport, she competed in the T52 quadriplegic class at the World Championships in Assen, Netherlands, where she won a silver medal and another gold.

Impressive as these athletic achievements were, Michelle was busy in other areas at the same time. She was a successful motivational speaker. She became a community advocate for people with disabilities and children with special needs. She got married and became a mother. During her competitive years, Michelle continued to be active as a leader.

As she was preparing for her record-breaking London Games, politics suddenly and unexpectedly came into Michelle’s life. “I never dreamed in high school that I would ever run — or want to run — as a member of the legislature,” she recalled. It just wasn’t on her radar.


A reluctant politician

A local broadcaster who had become a good friend after interviewing her told Michelle she should consider running for office in the 2011 federal election. He had seen her determination, drive, toughness and leadership skills, all qualities that he thought would make her a good politician. The first thing she said was, “Why me? I don’t know anything about politics.’’ But she didn’t say no. She thought about it, and she realized that she knew a lot about politics. She had been on numerous boards for sports organizations and knew what was involved in leadership from those experiences. “I spent 20 years in Para sports, and I can tell you there is a lot of politics in sports.”

She was reluctant, but he persisted. “It can sometimes take a long time to understand what you actually do know,” Michelle said.

Michelle didn’t run then, but she got involved. She worked on another candidate’s campaign. “I’m an organizer, so I became the volunteer coordinator, overseeing phone calling, events and the scrutineers [volunteer observers for each party at polling stations].”

When she returned from London, a member of the BC provincial legislature called to ask whether Michelle would speak at a conference. “I was running my own business as a speaker, and I thought it was just another gig, so I said okay,” Michelle remembered. But the conference turned out to be the BC Liberal Party Convention. “Again, I asked, ‘Why me?’” Michelle said. “And he said, ‘Because you tick all the boxes. You are a successful business owner, a wife, a mother, an athlete and you have a disability.’”

“I have trouble saying no,” she confided with a laugh, “so I said yes. Once I agreed to co-chair, that’s when they put on the full-court press. People at the convention kept coming up to me and saying I should run. There were lots of phone calls, lots of encouragement. Christy Clark, who was then premier of British Columbia, called me and that sealed the deal. I’ll tell you she is a great salesperson!”

In January of 2013, Michelle ran unopposed to become the Liberal Party candidate for the riding (electoral district) of Parksville-Qualicum. The election was four months off — not much lead time to learn all she needed to know about politics.


Running on her own terms

Although she was a rookie, Michelle entered into the fray on her own terms. “I was still competing. That was one of the main conditions I insisted on if I was going to run. I was just not prepared to give up sport because I still had goals I wanted to achieve.” So after she was named the Liberal candidate for her district, she left for Australia to train and ultimately to compete in the 2013 World Championships in Lyon, France. Her strength of will and amazing organizational skills were key to her ability to be an athlete and a candidate at same time. She said, “I campaigned over the internet. I did a lot of Facebook and video. We sent out mailers. Then I came home during the writ [campaign period] and campaigned in person.” Michelle won her seat by a strong margin.


Challenging but rewarding

Michelle spoke openly of the challenges of her role as representative in the Legislative Assembly. “No one can ever prepare you for it. It’s not 8-hour days — it’s 12- to 14-hour days. You spend weeks away from home. I spend Sunday to Thursday in Victoria. It’s not that far, but too far to commute daily. I have a teenaged son. He is 16 now, but he was just 11 when I was elected. You miss out on a lot and that is something that you struggle with — particularly if you are a woman. I was not at the soccer practices or at the tae kwon do belt trials.”

But that is only part of the story. She went on to add, “Having said that, the biggest surprise in all of it was how rewarding it is. You look around the community and see the changes you have had a part in making. Being in cabinet, you make changes that affect the whole province.”


As a politician, Michelle was empowered to make the kinds of changes that she used to push for as a community advocate. “I am probably proudest of the single-parent employment initiative that we undertook to help single parents live better lives and get off the welfare cycle. We expected around 400 people to apply to participate in the program, and so far, we’ve had 4000. We’ve reached 10 times more people than what we thought. But even something simple like helping a constituent get their electricity turned back on or helping someone get emergency financial assistance so they don’t end up homeless, it’s just so rewarding.”

Excerpted from In Good Hands: Remarkable Female Politicians from Around the World Who Showed Up, Spoke Out and Made Change (April 7, 2020), © 2020 Stephanie MacKendrick, published by KCP Loft, an imprint of Kids Can Press.


Stephanie MacKendrick is a former journalist dedicated to women's career advancement and non-profit leadership. She served as board Vice-Chair for The Samara Centre for Democracy, engaging Canadians in politics, and played a key role in establishing the Canadian chapter of the 30% Club, which aims to increase the representation of women on corporate boards. Stephanie was President of the board of The International Alliance for Women (TIAW) and co-founded the TIAW World of Difference 100 Awards. She has twice been recognized by the Women's Executive Network as one of Canada's Most Powerful Women: Top 100, and in 2010 was admitted to the Freedom of the City of London (UK).

Buy the Book

In Good Hands

Written for young women interested in running for office, this book is unlike any other, with inspiring stories of eighteen women role models along with the all the tools and resources needed to get a campaign off the ground.

Stephanie MacKendrick, a former journalist now dedicated to women's career advancement, believes the time for women in political leadership is now. Judging by the recent wave of activism that developed into a flood of women seeking elected office, she's not alone.

MacKendrick has created a one-of-kind insider's guide for young women interested in joining this movement and becoming part of the political system. It explores everything from what to expect in a campaign, to how to deal with the inevitable challenges, to why it's worth it to run. It combines uplifting stories of women who have run for office with practical strategies for doing so.

Perfect as both a cover-to-cover read and a reference tool, the text is divided into three parts: first, engaging profiles that include the personal advice and encouragement of eighteen women who have run for office across the political spectrum, around the world and at all levels of politics, from Michelle Wu, past president of the Boston City Council, to Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand; second, a detailed twelve-step campaign plan with advice on developing the qualities needed to run; and third, a collection of articles, books and organizations to help eager readers learn more. Also included is a foreword by Anne Moses, founder and president of IGNITE.

Offering equal parts inspiration and information, this unique guidebook is just the thing to help young women transform “I'll think about it” into “I'll do it!”