This article reports on a subset of results from a field-based research project that interviewed rural women community leaders in Atlantic Canada about their experiences and perceptions of leadership, public life and running for elected office. The project is motivated in part by an effort to understand why relatively few women are elected to public office in rural regions in general, and in Atlantic Canada in particular. This article focuses on a theme that emerged consistently and intensely during the interviews: participants' moral disapproval of, and aversion to, political life as they understand it in their local environment. Interviewees in all four Atlantic provinces describe deeply entrenched networks of patronclient relations that are played out in the administration of regional economic development programmes, and identify deterrents to their own electoral ambitions therein. These results are brought to bear on the question of what distinguishes the nature of political representation in rural communities from that in urban centres.