Edmonton vs. Calgary competition aims to get more women in municipal politics

A competition that launched this week is pitting Edmonton against Calgary in an effort to see which city can recruit the most women to run in next year’s municipal elections.

Parity Cup organizers say cities can do better to get women on ballots next year

Kasey Machin (left) and Gillian Hynes (right) hope a little friendly competition will get more women on the ballot in upcoming municipal elections in Edmonton and Calgary. (Parity Cup)

A competition that launched this week is pitting Edmonton against Calgary in an effort to see which city can recruit the most women to run in next year's municipal elections.

Both cities will hold municipal elections in October 2021, and the women behind Parity Cup say there is lots of room for improvement when it comes to getting women's names on the ballots.

Edmonton reached the high-water mark for women on council more than 30 years ago.

"The only time we had gender parity on council was 1989, when Jan Reimer was mayor," Kasey Machin, chair and co-founder of Parity YEG, told CBC Radio's Edmonton AM on Wednesday.

In Edmonton, it's been 100 years since the first woman was elected to municipal office. In that time, 31 women have been elected compared to 238 men. Reimer is the only woman to have been Edmonton's mayor. She served two terms in the role.

Currently, there are two women on Edmonton city council — councillors Bev Esslinger and Sarah Hamilton — out of 13 members.

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Jan Reimer remains the first, and only, female mayor of Edmonton. (CBC)

Of the 15 positions on Calgary city council, three are held by women — councillors Jyoti Gondek, Druh Farrell and Diane Colley-Urquhart.

In Calgary, there has never been a woman in the mayor's seat, said Gillian Hynes, chair of Ask Her YYC. Council in the city is usually made up of about 40 per cent women, she said, but it did dip down to just two women in 2013.

There's a long list of reasons why women don't run for council, said Machin.

Some reasons include financial limitations, lack of support from friends and family, discrimination, abuse on social media and child and family care obligations.

"Really, more often than not, women just don't see themselves as politicians and they're not recruited to run at the same rate as men," Machin said.

Getting more gender-diverse representation makes for better policies and better decision making that represent everyone in a city, Machin and Hynes said.

Parity Cup has partnered with high-profile politicians and leaders in its social media campaign and it will host monthly challenges between the cities, with the first official challenge launching on November 1. 

"It's a light-hearted message, but a really serious thing, we need more women elected to municipal government," Hynes said. 

So far, Edmonton has the edge, with five women declaring candidacy for next year's election. Calgary has four.

The municipal elections will be held Oct. 18, 2021.