With more women running, councils in N.B. could look a lot different
All 3 major cities in the province could be led by women after Monday's municipal election
With less than a week until the municipal election, candidates are making final efforts to appeal to voters.
And after an extended term, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, councils in the three major cities in the province could look significantly different after Monday's election.
With women in mayoral races in Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John, all three cities in the province could be led by women.
There are also 80 more women running for council positions across the province than in the last municipal election. Advocates for representation in politics are already calling the election a success.
"I jump up and down with joy," said Norma Dube, who's a co-founder of Women for 50%, a group pushing for gender parity in provincial politics since 2018.
"It's a long time coming in terms of getting women more represented at all tables where big decisions are being made for all of us as a population and women are just not well represented."
In Moncton, incumbent Dawn Arnold is running against Erik Gingles for mayor.
In Saint John, where there is no incumbent, veteran Coun. Donna Reardon is running along with Darrell Bastarche, Mel Vincent Jr. and Howard Yeomans.
In Fredericton, veteran Coun. Kate Rogers and Corrine Hersey are running along with Drew Brown and incumbent Mike O'Brien.
If those three candidates were to be successful, it would be the first time the three major cities had female mayors at the same time.
A history of female leaders
Elsie Wayne was the first elected woman mayor in Saint John, and Shirley McAlary held the office from 1995 to 2004. Dawn Arnold was the first ever elected female mayor in Moncton in 2016. And Fredericton has never had a woman as mayor.
The major cities are also seeing more women seeking council seats. Ten women are running in New Brunswick's capital city. Eleven are running in Saint John and nine in Moncton.
"The last several years have really shown that issues of women's representation, women's voices have really sort of come to the forefront," said Joanne Wright, political scientist and dean of arts at the University of New Brunswick.
Wright said there has been a greater awareness around the #MeToo movement and issues such as sexual violence and harassment.
"We've had other periods in history where there's been an increase in activity and increase in awareness and openness to talking about these issues," said Wright.
She believes woman feel the need to make social change and cant wait any longer.
"They can't wait for other people to do it," she said. "And so there is the fact that the pandemic is happening and we're still seeing this many women, I think is a really positive sign."
Several women running in Fredericton said the lack of diversity on council was an impetus for running, and that the city's appointment of an all-male membership to the joint land development committee in 2019 was the tipping point.
"If I were even on the edge, that was the cliff," said Sharon Levesque, who's running in Ward 6. "I said, 'I've got to run.'"
Women helping women
There have also been grassroots groups to help women along the way: Women + in Politics Fredericton, See Jane Run in Saint John and Femmocracy in Moncton.
Campaign schools were set up to help potential candidates understand what it means to run a campaign, how to get funding and deal with the media. They also provided mentorship and a support system.
"There are some people who may not have run or may not [have] thought of themselves as being ready to run … without the safe space that we're trying to provide for women," said Carole Chan, a founding member of Femmocracy.
Chan, who ran in the last provincial election, said the group was born out of momentum that came from the women involved then.
"It's not just about numbers of women, it's about different voices and finding younger people to run, people who traditionally don't plug into the networks that are necessary to even be asked," said Chan.
Tiffany Mackay French is running for a second term as town councillor in Rothesay. She co-founded See Jane Run.
Mackay French said she wished a similar group was around when she first ran for council, but now she can see the difference they're making.
"Really, I had no idea how to run a campaign," she said. "And luckily I had some great friends that helped me and I was successful."
Women+ in Politics Fredericton has worked with several women over the past year to help them through their campaigns and raise awareness of the lack of diversity in the city.
"That there was no balance anywhere," said co-founder Kathi Zwicker. "And not only people of different genders … but people of different ethnicities, all sorts of voices were missing from the table."
But these groups offer more than the concrete steps of how to overcome barriers and how to set up a campaign. They have been supportive in a whole other way.
The next step — getting elected
Last November, Carole Chan lost her husband, suddenly and unexpectedly. With three young children and a job, she wasn't sure she'd be able to carry on with the group.
"I needed to quickly re-evaluate what was going to stay on my plate," she said. "And as one of the founding members of this organization. Initially, my instinct … was like, don't do anything that's not essential."
But by that time, she said the group had become essential and she kept finding herself going back to it.
Members of the group brought her food while she and her family were in mourning and the group went forward with the campaign schools they had planned.
"Life happens, but something like making sure we have better representation in our democratic institutions is beyond any individual life," she said.
As for where it all leads, there's still another hurdle — actually getting elected.
"Obviously, we'd love to see a situation where lots of them get elected and then are able to bring their issues and their perspectives to bear in their respective municipalities," said Wright.
"But even beyond that, I think it's important for everybody in society to see this many women running and just to kind of change the profile of politics."