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

Bonnie Crombie went from the opposition benches in the House of Commons to Mississauga mayor, running the sixth largest city in Canada and dealing with issues such as waste management, zoning and development.

Dianne Watts did the reverse. The former three-term mayor of Surrey, B.C., who oversaw a multimillion-dollar budget and a city of 500,000, swapped her 20-minute commute to city hall for the red-eye flight to Parliament Hill, where she now sits on the opposition bench.

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Ms. Watts, 56, was elected the Conservative MP for South Surrey-White Rock last year. Ms. Crombie, also 56, served one term as the Liberal MP for Mississauga-Streetsville, and was defeated in the 2011 election. In 2014, she was elected mayor.

These are two dynamic and formidable women who traded one political arena for another and discovered along the way that, although all politics is local, the council chamber and the chamber in Ottawa have big differences.

Ms. Watts points to the lack of civility in the House of Commons.

"The whole heckling thing is new," she says in an interview from her Ottawa office. Ms. Watts was Surrey's first female mayor, serving for almost a decade. Popular and outspoken, she was considered a successor to former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell, and was a star candidate for the Harper Tories.

"I never permitted that in my chambers and I never swore at another member. I never put my hands on another member, nor would I allow yelling. It's a whole different arena for sure," she says.

When it comes to women running for politics, the lack of civility in the federal chamber is mentioned as a disincentive.

Only 26 per cent of MPs are female. The number is slightly higher in local government – 28 per cent of municipal councillors are women, according to 2015 statistics from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). Just 18 per cent of Canadian mayors are female.

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Chris Fonseca, a Mississauga councillor who chairs the FCM standing committee on increasing women's participation in municipal government, says FCM campaign schools and mentoring programs have helped more women get elected.

The committee set a goal in 2005 for municipal councils to be 30 per cent female by 2026. They are almost there – and are considering a bolder goal, especially given that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made his cabinet gender-neutral.

"I do see that we don't want to put a limitation, because once you get to that 30 per cent, then what?" she asks. "Will people start to say … 'That's good enough?'"

Since Ms. Watts was elected to Surrey council in 1996, there was always a majority of women.

"There was not a quota system, I want to stress that. I'm not a fan," she said. "I think women have the capability. They are smart enough … to get where they want to go on their own merit. I think it takes away from all of the women ... that have been the trailblazers and the ones that are coming up behind us."

She says it is incumbent on her and other female politicians to mentor and support young women but let them "discover their own journey."

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Initially, Ms. Crombie's passion was federal politics. She enjoyed her short time on the Hill. "Defeat is never easy," she says

However, she realized quickly she was not finished with elected office. Four months after her defeat, and after her predecessor as mayor, Hazel McCallion, approached her to run for city councillor, Ms. Crombie was sitting in the council chamber.

Ms. Crombie ran for mayor after Ms. McCallion announced her retirement. She obliterated her opponent. It was a ferocious campaign.

That is another discovery: Municipal campaigns are as competitive as the federal ones.

"The reality is that municipal politics is far more hands-on. You don't have the support of a political party to develop policy, undertake communications and engage in community outreach," Ms. Crombie says. "You need to do it yourself. At the local level, it's about building your own brand and not relying on that of a political party which has been established in the minds of voters for generations."

Ms. Watts finds municipal politics more nimble than federal politics. "I always call it the front lines. You're very engaged in the everyday lives of people, and you can really effect change very quickly."I find that here [in Ottawa], things tend to be more partisan and the processes seem to be much longer …," she says. "I look forward to when I get back to my constituency...."

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Ms. Crombie enjoys the grassroots engagement, too, and is fearless in pushing the envelope. Recently, she has attracted controversy for suggesting that Mississauga separate from Peel Regional government and become a standalone city.

She has commissioned a study to see what that would look like, asking whether it would produce savings or costs.

"Shouldn't we be controlling our own destiny?" she says about her city - just as she and Ms. Watts are controlling their own political journey.

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