Female participation drops in council election

As the first full day of municipal election campaigning begins in Edmonton, political observers are starting to consider a city council with far fewer women on it.

Only 1 in 5 candidates a woman, 3 female incumbents retiring

Where are the women in this election?

10 years ago
Duration 2:23
Although a near-record amount of candidate are in the running, the proportion of women running is lower than it has been in a decade.
Ward 6 candidate Melinda Hollis is one of only 15 women running for Edmonton council this election. (CBC)

As the first full day of municipal election campaigning begins in Edmonton, political observers are starting to consider a city council with far fewer women on it.

While the number of candidates running for elected office — 119 — is the highest since the 1970s, the proportion of women running for city council seats is lower than it has been in a decade.

Thirteen of 73 candidates running for ward councillor — 21 percent — are women. In the previous three elections, it was around 25 percent, according to historical data analyzed by CBC News.

Women in the running

  • Councillor candidates, 2013: 15 of 73 (21%)
  • 2010: 15 of 61 (25%)
  • Greatest number of women on council: 6 of 12 (1989)
  • Last time no women sat on council: 1950
  • First and only female mayor: Jan Reimer, 1989-1995
  • First woman elected to council: Izena Ross, 1921

Source: City of Edmonton; Analysis: CBC

"I think a lot of women are overwhelmed," Ward 6 candidate Melinda Hollis told CBC News as council and school trustee nominations were submitted Monday.

"Women that would qualify quite well for council are also the ones whose parents are aging now," she said. "They're not only looking after their own home, they're also looking after their parents."

Three of the current four sitting councillors have decided to not run again, with the fourth — Coun. Karen Leibovici — running for mayor. Coun. Jane Batty said it's time for new people with new ideas, while councillors Linda Sloan and Kim Krushell said they want to spend more time with family.

"I think one of the things we need to look at is the job itself and how many hours that job is taking," Krushell told CBC News, pointing out that she regularly worked 60 hours a week.

She said women who have been interested in running for office have approached her. But once they were told about the hours, they lost interest.

Different story with trustees

While female participation in council elections is half that of men in Edmonton, women have made up the majority of school trustee candidates over the past three elections. This year, 22 of 40 (55 percent) of candidates are women in the public and Catholic districts. In 2010, it was 56 percent and in 2007 it was 54 percent.

Source: City of Edmonton; Analysis: CBC

"I thought at one point about running for mayor, before family issues happened, and I looked at [Mayor Stephen Mandel's] schedule, and I just said, 'No.' I love our city, I love the issues. And I don't mind doing functions, but when it's five a night, that would be pushing it for me."

Advocates say Edmonton still a leader

Janet Buckmaster, founder of Equal Voice Alberta North, a group that mentors women to become more involved in politics, said Edmonton has been a leader in terms of the number of women on council.

Janet Buckmaster with Equal Voice says even if no women are voted onto council, her advocacy group will make sure female perspectives are heard. (CBC)

Edmonton's first female councillor was elected in 1921, just five years after women were given the vote in Alberta. In 1989, a record six candidates were elected onto council, the same year the city elected its first and only female mayor, Jan Reimer. Since 2001, there have been at least three women on council.

Buckmaster said both the City of Edmonton and her organization run mentoring programs to encourage more women to take part in politics. However, if few or no women end up on council, her group will take action.

"If that becomes the reality, then we'll certainly be in discussions with the new city council with regards to their mentorship program," she said.

With files from Gareth Hampshire