Why aren't more women running in London's municipal election?

A prominent campaign to get more women to run for public office appears to be failing, at least at the local level. London's Women and Politics hoped women would make up half of the candidates for October's municipal election. Instead, the number is 20 per cent.

So far, women make up only 20 per cent of candidates for the October municipal election

London voters head to the polls on Oct. 22. So far, no one has stepped forward to challenge the incumbents running in three council seats. (David Donnelly/CBC)

A prominent campaign to get more women to run for public office appears to be failing, at least at the local level. 

London's Women and Politics hoped women would make up half of the candidates for October's municipal election. 

Instead, the number is 20 per cent. 

"Yeah, I'm disappointed," said Anne-Marie Sanchez of Women and Politics, a London advocacy group that aims to get women more involved in politics. 

"I'm disappointed in that we believe that it's important to have better representation, but I'm not surprised. Anyone who is a political observer knows that there is a high level of dissatisfaction with politics in general and systemic barriers that still inhibit women from running and from us achieving that 50 per cent target." 

Fewer candidates, higher cynicism 

The percentage of women in local politics has remained stagnant despite the #askher campaign, which encouraged people to ask women they know to run for office. The campaign has also included workshops for women who want to run. 

THE NUMBERS

2014

Total candidates: 86

Total mayoral candidates:  15 

Total women: 18

Total women for mayor: 2

Uncontested wards: 0

2018

Total candidates: 53

Total mayoral candidates: 14

Total women: 11

Total women for mayor: 2

Uncontested wards: 3

*as of Friday, July 13

And London has had its share of female leaders to act as role models — former mayors include Joni Baechler, Anne-Marie Decicco-Best and Dianne Haskett. 

But Sanchez says political cynicism is up across the board. 

"Maybe social media has made us more aware or vocal, but it also shows us the divisions and the cynicism out there and that inhibits people from running. That's the general state of affairs," she said. 

The provincial election polarized people but many might feel apathetic locally, said Baechler, especially after electing a council that was supposed to be young and full of integrity, but included a mayoral sex scandal. 

"The last election there was the Fontana 8 and the controversies around the council, and those negative stories create animosity in the community. People want to exercise their franchise and vote against someone," Baechler said. 

Voter turnout in 2014 was 43 per cent. Not great, but better than the 40 per cent in 2010. 

"I think that people get excited and then they get let down and they walk away. But you just have to look at what happened south of the border to see how important democracy is." 

In the last civic election there were 86 candidates for mayor and council. 

As of this Friday, with two weeks left to file nomination papers, there are 53 candidates. So far three ward seats — those represented by Jesse Helmer, Josh Morgan and Virginia Ridley — are not being contested.

What are the issues?

There are many issues for voters and candidates to sink their teeth into, but people might not see themselves as being able to make enough of a difference to chance a city hall run, one political watcher says. 

"I think there's a bit of disaffection. A lot of city councils and mayors have given Londoners a sour taste when it comes to municipal politics," said Andrea Lawlor, a political scientist at King's University College. 

"People feel motivated to enter the race when they think there's an issue, there's something they can do."
Women in Politics founder Shawna Lewkowitz tells London Morning about initiatives to get more women to run for politics. 6:47

This election includes a shortened nomination period — candidates must register to run by July 27. There's also a shorter election period and London will, for the first time, be electing candidates using ranked ballots. 

The lack of interest could be because of voter fatigue because of the provincial election and a lack of a "lighting rod" issue to galvanize Londoners, Baechler said. 

Although the BRT is a big talking point for some, it might not hold the interest of all Londoners, Sanchez said. 

"I think that the BRT has dominated the narrative of local politics so much but if you're interested in it but aren't on one side of the other, or aren't passionate about it, you may not see why you should run," she said. 

The introduction of ranked ballots may have scared some candidates off too, said Donna Szpakowski, the president of the Hyde Park BIA. She ran in the 2014 election but isn't running this time. 

"Some people are worried that if you're already in the seat, you have the name recognition, and it might work against you if you're not known," she said. "It's a lot of work to run for council, so maybe people are afraid to run. It takes a lot of time away from your family and your life and your business." 

But ranked ballots are actually supposed to favour unknown candidates, who might make up more voters' second choice and therefore win, Sanchez said. 

"I think the realities of ranked ballots might not be understood (by voters). It's too early to tell," she said. 

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