Province urges women to run in fall municipal election

The provincial government wants half of the candidates in the Oct. 16 municipal elections to be women.

So far, 19 women have declared intention to run for office in Edmonton, compared to 34 men

Representatives of groups supporting the Ready for Her campaign joined Status of Women minister Stephanie McLean, centre, at a news conference Monday. (CBC)

The provincial government is pushing for half of the municipal political candidates in the Oct. 16 election to be women.

"I am asking women again to consider running for office," Status of Women Minister Stephanie McLean said Monday in Edmonton. "Our city halls need your voices and perspectives."

The province doesn't want the 2017 municipal election to have results similar to 2013. Edmonton elected only one woman, Bev Esslinger, to a 13-person council. Calgary elected two women to a 15-member council.

"You hear from a diversity of opinions," McLean said.

Last fall, the provincial government launched a campaign called Ready for Her to help empower women to seek office. The online forum gives tips on running a smooth campaign and fundraising effectively.

Lana Cuthbertson, chair of Equal Voice Alberta North, said having more women in politics will more evenly reflect society.

It's an opportunity to "have more people at the table who are representing those diverse groups and thinking about how to bring forward policy that impacts everyone," Cuthbertson said.

Several factors prevent some women from running for office, including the potential to be a target of hate language and vitriol on social media.

Female politicians including Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and MLA Sandra Jansen have been subject to hateful comments.

Marina Banister, president of the University of Alberta students' union, said she too has been the target of offensive language and messaging.

"There have been different people whether it's on campus or in the community that take issue with the fact that a strong woman wants to be in elected office and talk about women's issues and issues that pertain to gender," Banister said.

She said she stands up to online bullies and trolls.

"I think it's important to call out that behaviour and let them know it's unacceptable. I'm never shy to block someone or report someone if they're doing something that's inappropriate, because there's no place for that in the public sphere."

Another barrier preventing women from seeking elected office is that in many households, the onus is still on the woman to take on the majority of childcare responsibilities.

"We know it from experience that paying for childcare can be like paying a second mortgage," McLean said, adding that the NDP government's $25-per-day daycare program should encourage more women to go back to work.

So far this election year, 19 women in Edmonton have signed up to run for municipal office — more than the 15 who ran in 2013 but still far short of the 34 men who have signed up.

The deadline for people to declare candidacy is Sept. 18.