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women in politics

Women in Politics is a new regular column by veteran political journalist Jane Taber. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook

Monique Taylor, the NDP MPP for Hamilton Mountain, was relentless in her fight with the Wynne government over its changes to funding for Ontario's new autism program – so much so that she was kicked out of the legislature during a particularly heated Question Period when she refused to stop yelling across the aisle at the government.

"I don't weaken at the knees to a fight. I think that comes from being from the Hammer," she says, using Hamiltonians' affectionate nickname for the city.

Her tenacity paid off – and likely cost a minister her job.

Last month, the government announced it would add $200-million to the $333-million it had announced in the budget for therapy for children with autism, and backed off its plan that would have denied some children essential therapy.

"This is good, this is good," Ms. Taylor says about the about-face, especially as it was not expected the government would go even farther than she and the families fighting for change had imagined.

Ms. Taylor says the victory goes to the parents: "I just got to walk with them."

Few opposition MPs, however, can get a government to change its mind.

Her main target was Tracy MacCharles, the Children and Youth Services minister, who ended up as collateral damage in the government's backtracking. After resolutely defending the new autism program for months – and at a cost, as she once broke down in tears amid heckling from the opposition – she lost the portfolio in last month's cabinet shuffle, but remains as minister responsible for women's issues and accessibility.

Ms. MacCharles was one of the few ministers demoted, although the Premier's Office disagrees.

"Our government believes that women's issues affect every aspect of society and having a Minister solely dedicated to that portfolio is something that should be celebrated," says Jennifer Beaudry, the Premier's spokeswoman.

Ms. MacCharles' successor, Michael Coteau, wasted no time announcing changes. Ms. Taylor notes that he comes off as the "knight in shining armour."

Still, she has little sympathy for Ms. MacCharles.

"I have to picture myself in this situation," she says. "There is no way that I would allow my government to do that to families. She made the decision. She allowed it to happen."

Among the MPPs in the legislature, there are few like her. She has four tattoos – a butterfly near one shoulder, a bird above an ankle, and two Cancer astrological symbols, including one crab on her big toe.

She didn't get her driver's license until after she was elected in 2011. She was 39 years old. The former waitress, whose daughter, Destinee, was born just weeks after her 20th birthday, could not afford a car. Sometimes, she couldn't even afford hydro, and it would get shut off. "I just fought to keep it together," she says.

Ms. Taylor and her two siblings were brought up by a single mother, Barbara, who worked shifts at a factory that made air brakes for trains. They lived in the east end of Hamilton, which was mainly a blue-collar community. She gives much credit to her mother for helping out with her own daughter years later.

She was in an abusive relationship, she says, with the father of her daughter. When he struck her while she was holding her three-week-old baby, she said, "I was gone … I have to leave for her."

She did not call the police regarding the abuse; she says now she would.

Working in bars and living on mother's allowance was not enough, Ms. Taylor realized, and so she went back to school. She found subsidized day care for Destinee, and studied accounting and other business-related programs.

That didn't yield a job, and she was back waitressing.

"I took great pride in the work I did," she says. "I loved service. It didn't matter if I was bringing you your morning breakfast or if I was serving you lunch … I always had to be the best at what I did."

Her unrelenting enthusiasm and optimism remains. She says she always believed something good would happen to her, but her break didn't come until years later when she was encouraged by a former partner – a steelworker – to volunteer for former Hamilton Mountain NDP MP Chris Charlton.

Ms. Taylor says she showed up at the campaign office, "and I have never left." (Ms. Charlton won that 2006 campaign; she decided not to seek re-election in 2015.)

A senior female NDP organizer spotted something in Ms. Taylor, and asked her to continue volunteering. Eventually, she was sent to a campaign school in Saskatchewan, where she learned how to be a campaign manager, and ended up running a steelworker's bid for Hamilton city council – and they won.

"That woman has come a long way," says Scott Duvall, the former city councillor, Ms. Taylor's former boss, and now the federal NDP member for Hamilton Mountain.

After working together for five years, she decided to run provincially in 2011. First, she won a tough nomination fight against a man, who had tried to discourage Ms. Taylor from running. He told her it wasn't her time, she says.

Mr. Duvall said her rival even came to him for support, but he refused, and she went on to defeat the Liberal incumbent – a cabinet minister – in the general election.

When Ms. Taylor speaks to high-school graduates and at-risk youth, she says: "I'm the one who made it."

To her daughter, who she says has become an independent and strong young woman, she says: "We survived."