'We've come a long way': Eight women on new Edmonton city council after historic election

It’s never happened in Edmonton before — eight of the councillors heading to city hall are women and two of them, women of colour. 

'Now we've shattered that glass ceiling,' ParityYEG researcher says

Edmonton city council will consist of eight women and four men, a significant change from the previous council of two women and ten men. (David Bajer/CBC)

It's never happened in Edmonton before — eight of the councillors heading to city hall are women and two of them, women of colour.

In Monday's municipal election, Edmontonians voted in eight women and four men for council, a significant change from the previous council of 10 men and two women. 

It's something that Bev Esslinger has been pushing for since she was the lone woman on council from 2013 to 2017. 

"The day after I was elected, I did lots of media interviews because I was the only woman on council," Esslinger told CBC News Tuesday. "And today I'm doing lots of media interviews because there's eight women on council."

In 2017, Sarah Hamilton joined her at the council table. 

This election, women ran in 11 of 12 wards.

"So, you know, we've come a long way," Esslinger said.

Before Monday, the highest number of women elected to Edmonton city council was seven, in 1989.

That year, Jan Reimer became the first woman elected Edmonton's mayor, and six of the 12 aldermen were women.

Council voted to drop "alderman" in favour of "councillor" six years later.

Edmonton's newly elected mayor and councillors. Top row, left to right: Amarjeet Sohi, Erin Rutherford, Jo-Anne Wright, Keren Tang. Middle row, left to right: Sarah Hamilton, Andrew Knack, Michael Janz. Bottom row, left to right: Jennifer Rice, Tim Cartmell, Karen Principe, Ashley Salvador, Anne Stevenson, Aaron Paquette. (Photo collage by John Zazula/CBC)

On Monday, Esslinger lost her seat in Ward Anirniq by a small margin to Erin Rutherford, but said she's happy she helped encourage more women to run.

"It's exciting — they launched some strong campaigns, and it was great to see them be successful," Esslinger said.

ParityYEG at work

The organization ParityYEG has been helping women develop their campaigns since 2017 with the aim of increasing the number of candidates.

Rajah Maggay, a research and policy adviser in Edmonton, also the vice-chair of research for ParityYEG, said she was surprised and delighted to see the election outcomes. 

"Having women at the table means that you get more experiences, you get more diverse policy too," Maggay said in an interview Tuesday. "It means that the experiences of women are going to be at the forefront and not just an afterthought."

Maggay noted that Edmontonians also voted in two women of colour to city council, something many didn't know had never happened previously.

"They wouldn't believe that we've never elected a racialized woman before," Maggay said. "And now we've shattered that glass ceiling." 

Diversity room to grow

Najib Jutt, a political strategist, suggested having three councillors of colour out of 12 is still fairly low in relation to Edmonton's true demographics. 

"I'm a bit disappointed that we don't have a better representation in terms of racial diversity," Jutt told CBC TV News anchor Sandra Batson during election coverage Monday night. 

He referred to a candidate in Ward tastawiyiniwak, Ahmed Ali, who he thought would have scored higher on the ballot. 

Ali is a former Edmonton poet laureate, African youth outreach coordinator and a community member on the Edmonton Arts Equity Committee. 

"But I think in terms of gender representation and overall representation of marginalized and racialized voices, I think we have a pretty good council that's more reflective of Edmonton and Edmonton's future as well," Jutt added. 

This municipal election drew the highest voter turnout in more than decade, with 37.6 per cent of eligible voters casting ballots for council, mayor and school board trustees, the city said Tuesday. 

It's a significant election result, said Chaldeans Mensah, a political science professor at MacEwan University.

"I think this is a momentous period in the history of Edmonton," Mensah told CBC News. "Women in government are going to be in the forefront of governors in Edmonton."

Esslinger said it's beneficial to hear women's points of views in decisions on public transit, for example, to enhance safety for women and girls.