During a campaign that has had a record number of candidates filing paperwork to officially get their names on the 2017 municipal election ballot, the number of female candidates has also risen significantly.
Thirty-one per cent of the 131 candidates on the ballot are women. That’s a 13 percentage point increase from the previous election in 2013, when Bev Esslinger came away as the only female city councillor.
It was the first time since 1971 that Edmonton had only a single female city councillor.
Equal Voice has worked hard over the past two years to get more women involved in Edmonton politics. In 2015, the organization set a goal to have 50 per cent of candidates in the 2017 municipal election.
“There was a strong desire to see more diversity on council. I think it was the second highest issue of concern among young Edmontonians surveyed,” Equal Voice chair Lana Cuthbertson said.
“So I think people notice there’s only one woman and want to see that change.”
Volunteers held a public relations campaign, reached out to women around the city who were thought to be good candidates and held workshops to educate potential candidates about what running in a municipal election would entail.
While the increased number of women running in this year’s election is a positive sign, Cuthbertson said there’s still a long way to go.
“One of the deterrents for women is the violent and misogynistic language that can be directed at them in politics. So we are trying to encourage positive conversation and general encouragement.”
Cuthbertson said she’d be pleased to see three or four women elected to council.
MacEwan University political scientist Chaldeans Mensah agrees there’s a genuine concern council doesn’t represent gender balance, but he believes that could give female candidates a small advantage in some ridings.
“But they need to be able to sell themselves, have a strong message to communicate and I think they will have a shot of winning actually in one or two of these wards,” Mensah said.
“They can show the wards that they have the message, the ability to connect with voters and the ability to communicate their ideas effectively. They have a chance.”
During the past 46 years, there have been 15 elections. Five times there have been at least five women on council. In 1989, there were a record seven women on council, including Mayor Jan Remier.
“It’s not right and it’s changing, but it’s been a male-dominated sort of sport,” former city councillor Jim Taylor said.
“But when you look at these numbers over the past 46 years, there have been women on council.”
One female candidate has already been acclaimed: Michelle Draper ran unopposed for public school trustee in Ward B.