Councillor calls for 'women's bureau' to promote equality at city hall

An Ottawa city councillor wants the municipality to take a cue from the federal government and address what she calls "glaring" gender inequities at city hall, and introduced a plan Wednesday to help make that happen.

Mayor skeptical of Coun. Diane Deans's idea to involve city staff in fight for gender parity

Coun. Diane Deans has put forward a plan she said would address 'glaring' gender inequities at the city. It will be debated at a council meeting next month. (CBC)

An Ottawa city councillor wants the municipality to take a cue from the federal government and address what she calls "glaring" gender inequities at city hall, and introduced a plan Wednesday to help make that happen.

Coun. Diane Deans lauded the 2018 federal budget announced Tuesday for its focus on gender parity and women's issues, and said the city should follow suit. 

Only four women were elected to council this term, and Deans said the problem extends into the bureaucracy, where only three of the city's nine top managers are women.

Deans's plan includes appointing a member of council to serve as a special liaison on women's issues, as well as pushing for more gender parity on boards and commissions. She also wants to bring a group of city employees together to consider women's issues before local decisions are made.

Deans's idea to create what she calls a "women's bureau" would "put a gender lens on all that we do at the city," Deans said. That could include everything from hiring and human resources to communications, budgeting and zoning.

"That's what I imagine that we need to do to really bring this city into the next century when it comes to gender equality issues," she said.

Mayor skeptical

Mayor Jim Watson was skeptical of the idea to involve city staff in the fight for gender parity, however.

"I'm not interested in creating a big bureaucracy. I'd rather see dollars go into resolving issues of gender equality," Watson said.

He added that if he is re-elected in the fall, he'd like to make sure all city advisory boards and commissions are gender balanced. "We can't control who gets elected, obviously, but we can control who gets appointed," he said.

Watson doesn't feel there are many impediments to women running in the next election, he said, because so many women put their names forward in the last election.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said he doesn't believe there are many serious impediments to women running for municipal election. (CBC News)

"A lot of women did run in the last election. Unfortunately only four were elected," he said.

In fact, only 19 per cent of candidates in the 2014 municipal election were women.

Deans said one possible impediment to women running is the idea that the city is not a female friendly place, with so few represented at the council table and in leadership roles.

She said including more women on advisory boards and city commissions could help boost the number of women who run for elected office, because those boards are often training grounds for potential candidates.

Her plan will be debated at a council meeting next month.