Patience: Inside the mind of Jen Powley
Jen Powley lives with Multiple Sclerosis and is running to be councillor of district 7
Her front door has a “Masks Mandatory” sign and her home has a gentle touch. A caregiver asks how she feels, but her eyes smile brighter then the light above her, ensuring she is okay. Voting stickers are scattered around the room and Jen Powley lies on her hospital-like bed as her partner, Tom Elliott gently rubs her hand. Pride strikes as a campaign team member enters and reveals new “Vote Powley” lawn signs.
Running for district seven, the Halifax South Dowtown area, Powley is up against current councillor, Waye Mason.
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 15. Now 42, she uses a wheelchair to get around and has assistants to interpret her words.
“The only part of me not impacted by my MS is my brain,” says Powley.
Despite these challenges, Powley says she is determined to make a difference in her community.
Powley’s platform consists of investing more into electric buses with help from the federal government in support of the climate crisis.
With the Municipality accounting for over 50 percent of the province’s economy, Powley wants to push for more monitored assesment applications and a formal review of the governing statue to balance out taxes paid by commercial properties and residents.
“I was taught at a young age that we have a responsibility to the world,” Powley says while two of her campaign signs get placed against the nightstand beside her.
As her partner of over 10 years, Tom Elliott sits next to her and interprets her words, Powley begins to list letters that make it difficult for others to understand her, “B, D, P, and T,” Elliot struggles and says “Sorry love,” as Powley patiently repeats herself.
Patience, the trick Powley has practiced since a week before receiving her diagnosis when her track and field coach questioned her running on her tiptoes rather than her heels.
Benefiting both her campaign and every day life, Powley’s patience has made as large of an impact on her life as the feeling of freedom she got when she began swimming after her disabilities became severe.
As Powley mentioned in “Just Jen-Thriving Through Multiple Sclerosis” her memoir, “No more balancing, no more counting steps.”
Swimming gave her a sense of safety, the same safety she wants for Halifax.
“Sometimes change takes time and we need to be patient to get the full story,” says Powley. She chuckles and says she wasn’t always as patient as she is now.
While Powley was studying at Kings University in Edmonton, Alberta, a professor gave her “Man’s Search for Meaning” written by Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor. Powley says the book opened up a new perspective for her while adapting to her diagnosis.
“When she was quite young, she was a handful because she was very stubborn and had her mind set in certain ways,” says Powley’s mom, Barbara Morris, who lives in Alberta.
With Powley’s involvement in two refugee support groups and actively advocating for disability rights, Morris describes her daughter as a go getter and believer in the social good.
“In cartoons the person with a disability is evil and I want to prove that we’re not,” Powley says suggesting she should write a thesis on the history of people with disabilities.
Barbara Morris says her daughter was very active growing up and says her passion for helping others started from a young age.
“She loved camping and water-skiing and would take every opportunity to help other kids learn how to water ski as well,” Morris says in a soft tone while reminiscing on Powley’s childhood.
Morris says Powley decided to move to Halifax to study journalism at University of Kings College. At first, Morris had doubts about her moving across the country until Powley’s sister, Nicole Dobbs asked her mother if Powley was able-bodied, would she then push her to stay in Alberta.
“I said ‘well of course not, she can do whatever she wants to,’” says Morris.
Morris is clearly proud of her daughter for putting herself out there and wanting to fix issues that other candidates aren’t pushing forward.
Still sitting next to her on the bed, Tom Elliott looks over at his partner, Jen Powley and calmly says, “She’s got a goal in mind that she wants to accomplish and she will get at it using whatever means will work.”
Powley’s face lights up again, the room embraces acceptance.
During Powley’s fight for better services towards people with a disability, she created No More Warehousing in 2018, a Nova Scotian advocating group. Judy Haiven, an activist for social equity, joined the team working alongside Powley.
Haiven described Powley as “no Pollyanna”. She says she’s stubborn and always wants to do the best job possible.
Haiven says Powley’s mindset has rubbed off.
“I’ve learned how to be a bit more patient and see the good in people,” she says.
Haiven says there is currently a lack of diversity on city council.
“We have to look at whether new Canadians, poor people, the disabled, Black, Indigenous and brown people are represented - the answer is no.”
Haiven says it is not possible for the city to benefit all people, if all people are not represented.
Haiven continues to say, “Jen Powley is bound to shake things up.”
With Powley’s educational background and personal experiences as a person with a disability in Halifax, Haiven says Powley could make big changes by wanting to implement diverse round table meetings to discuss issues in the community.
Jen Powley has a large platform consisting of fighting climate change and turning office buildings into apartments. She says the pandemic has proved people are able to work from home.
Advocating for others holds an important place in her heart due to challenges she personally faced.
Powley is aware others may make assumptions about her based on first glance, but with a little chuckle, she says she wants the public to know she is charming.
“I think a lot of people assume that the future will look like the past. I don’t think that can be assumed,” says Powley.
As Jen Powley calmly wraps her fingers around Elliott’s hand she says, “people may look different, but we are all human.”