New Brunswick

Want more women in politics? Try a campaign school, councillor says

A city councillor in Guelph is suggesting Fredericton initiate a campaign school that would encourage more women to run in municipal politics.

In Guelph, 5 out of 13 city councillors are women — and that's low for the Ontario city

Leanne Piper, a city councillor in Guelph, says more women need to run for local politics because they represent half the municipality. (Twitter)

A city councillor in Guelph, Ont., suggests Fredericton start a campaign school to encourage more women to run for municipal office. 

In Guelph, five of the 13 city councillors are women.

Coun. Leanne Piper attributes those numbers to the Women's Campaign School, which was put on in the spring of 2018 in Guelph. 

"Women who run for politics are just as likely to be elected as men," she said. "The problem is getting women to run in the first place." 

Even before the campaign school, Guelph was making progress. Between 2006 and 2010, seven women, including the mayor, sat on council.

Earlier this week, Kate Rogers, Fredericton's only female councillor, spoke out about the lack of gender diversity on city council — something she's been pushing since she was first elected seven years ago.

At a council meeting Monday night, Rogers also called out city staff for proposing five men for a committee to look into possible development on the New Brunswick Exhibition grounds in Fredericton. 

Rogers says it's time Fredericton council and different committees receive gender-sensitivity training to generate gender parity. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC file photo)

On Twitter, Fredericton's former police chief Leanne Fitch said she was proud of Rogers for speaking out.

"Accountability for misogyny at [the City of Fredericton] is long overdue. I've seen it, felt it, experienced it."

Rogers 'strong and empowered'

Rogers, who has sat on many boards in Fredericton, said she often tries to generate discussion at council committee meetings but often meets resistance or eye rolls. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

On Friday, Piper described Rogers as a "strong and empowered" woman for speaking out. 

"The definition of a representative government is that your local government and every level of government is represented as a society as a whole," said Piper, who did a master's degree on leadership and representation in municipalities.

"Society as a whole, if we say it's 50-50 male-female, then that representation should be seen in decision-makers creating policies." 

Disrespect toward women common at Fredericton council, female councillor says

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Fredericton's only female councillor says some of her all-male colleagues are disrespectful toward women and reluctant to bring more gender diversity.

Piper said it's important to have women on council because other women find them more relatable. She said decision-making also requires a diverse voice.

It also says something about society as a whole.

"It sends a larger message to Canadians and those outside Canada that we're an inclusive culture and we elect a diverse range of people to our government." 

Women don't feel good enough to run

Often, she said, women don't run for politics because they think they are not educated enough, don't know enough about policy planning or council matters, aren't embedded in a community, or don't have the money for a campaign.

Sometimes, they don't receive the support of their own families. 

"They figured you either needed to be in business or a member of a service club," Piper said. "The research shows that women are very embedded in the community. They're just embedded in a very different way."

Instead, women are more likely to be involved in parent councils, church groups or non-profits.

She said the campaign school was designed to eliminate some of the barriers holding women back from running for political office.

The school was open to potential candidates, as well as candidate supporters, such as campaign managers.

It was designed as a safe space to talk about their questions about running. It was also a place to talk about past criticism from the public.

Women supporting women

On Twitter, Fredericton's former police chief Leanne Fitch said she was proud of Rogers for speaking out. Fitch said accountability for misogyny is long overdue at city council. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

Although, the course was welcomed by many, Piper said some members of the public were disgruntled. 

"There were men that said, 'Why can't I go?'" she said. "The information in the workshops is generic information that every candidate should know."

More than 100 people were interested in the campaign school. She said it's something that should be offered in municipalities across Canada, including Fredericton.

"Women need the support of women," she said. 

With files from Information Morning Fredericton