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Ousted Edmonton Councillor Bev Esslinger embraces legacy of attracting more women to politics

Click to play video: 'Defeated Edmonton councillor Bev Esslinger embraces legacy of attracting more women to politics' Defeated Edmonton councillor Bev Esslinger embraces legacy of attracting more women to politics
Edmonton city councillor Bev Esslinger speaks to Global News after being narrowly defeated in Monday's municipal election, talking about her efforts to attract more women into politics and the work that still needs to be done. – Oct 19, 2021

Outgoing Edmonton city Councillor Bev Esslinger is approaching her municipal election loss with grace: her dream of attracting more women to politics has come true, but at her own personal cost.

Esslinger was first elected to council in 2013 and was the only woman at the table two terms ago. She said that put a weight on her shoulders.

“Eight years ago, I did a series of media interviews saying, ‘You’re the only woman in council, so how does that feel?’

“That was Day 1 and eight years later there are eight women on council,” Esslinger said on Tuesday, one day after Edmonton residents elected more female city councillors than male ones for the first time in history.

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Read more: ‘Historic moment’: 8 women elected to Edmonton city council

Over the years, Esslinger has worked to get more women into politics.

“If more women run, more women will ultimately be elected, and it’s taken some time to get that message out.

“I’m proud of that — that we’re seeing this really diverse group of women that are at the table now.”

Click to play video: 'Which Edmonton city councillors kept and lost their seats in the municipal election' Which Edmonton city councillors kept and lost their seats in the municipal election
Which Edmonton city councillors kept and lost their seats in the municipal election – Oct 19, 2021

Erin Rutherford is one of those eight women elected on Monday. She’s also the person who narrowly beat Esslinger in the north Edmonton ward of Anirniq.

Unofficial election results show Esslinger garnered 4,455 votes, or 24.66 per cent — a close second to Rutherford, who received 4,728 votes, or 26.14 per cent. There were less than 300 votes between the two.

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Of the eight women who won on Monday, only one is an incumbent: Sarah Hamilton in Ward sipiwiyinkiwak.

“You know, I’d love to have been there with them, but I’ll get to watch and cheer them from the sidelines.”

Read more: Edmonton election 2021: Incumbent Bev Esslinger loses seat in Anirniq

Esslinger has been a champion of women’s initiatives and worked to build a child-friendly city.

She also started the Gender Based Violence Initiative out of concern for the high numbers of families affected, saying she used her role to highlight some of the concerns unique to women.

She spoke to Global News about the importance of having diverse views on council.

“I remember talking LRT safety and everybody is going, ‘What?’ And I remember having women come and speak to us and say, ‘This is our experience,’ and some of the men at the table said, ‘I had no idea and I take the bus every day,’ and they would say they had no sense of what it was like.

“So to have someone that has life experience that can bring it into the decision-making table is really valuable and I think it helps us make better decisions.”

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Read more: Will Edmonton see more women on council come October?

Esslinger said there was once a time when there were many women on city council, but “then we stopped talking about it, like we’d arrived” and the numbers dwindled.

Over the years, she said challenges like fundraising for themselves and balancing family life were common reasons she heard for women not running for office.

“We might have eight now, but we’ve got to make sure we still have that into the future. The work is not done until we have equity and we’re not there everywhere.”

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‘It’s about time’: Amarjeet Sohi on record number of women elected to Edmonton city council – Oct 19, 2021

Esslinger said one of her favourite pieces of art she was given during her time on council came from a student who attended City Hall School, a program to instill civic leadership in young people.

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The student had drawn all of the members of Edmonton city council.

“It went from small to tall to thin, and there was all these men and one lady in the skirt,” Esslinger described, adding the student said they could be one of the council members too one day.

“So if I can encourage one, that’s great. I figure eight years, eight women — I haven’t done bad.”

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Veteran Edmonton city councillor Tony Caterina not reelected, ousted by Anne Stevenson – Oct 19, 2021

— With files from Sarah Ryan and Caley Ramsay, Global News

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