With the close of nominations Friday for the Nov. 5 municipal elections, one word best describes the number of declared women candidates - disappointing. For example, in the three, large capital-area municipalities, the number of female candidates amounts to a shocking 15 per cent in Charlottetown, Stratford and Cornwall.
It seems this same issue comes up every election – whether it’s federal, provincial or municipal. Why can’t we get more women candidates to put their names forward for nomination or election?
The problem obviously hasn’t been adequately addressed, a plan formulated or solutions found. In a province where women comprise slightly more than half the population, gender equality is largely absent when it comes to candidates for elected office.
All is not lost. In each of the five largest municipalities, there is one woman candidate offering for mayor. Kim Devine is running in Charlottetown, Nancy Beth Guptill in Summerside, Sandy McMillan in Stratford, incumbent Minerva McCourt in Cornwall and Anne Van Donkersgoed in the newly-created Three River amalgamated municipality. But that is largely where the positives end for female candidates in municipal races.
There is only one woman out of 11 members on the current Charlottetown city council. Melissa Hilton will face a tough challenge to return to city hall since she decided to change her ward and is running against incumbent Bob Doiron in Ward 6. It does set up an interesting replay since the two faced off in last fall’s provincial byelection in Charlottetown-Parkdale.
The number of women candidates for Nov. 5 is especially disappointing because usual roadblocks or other impediments are not in play for P.E.I.’s municipal politics. For example, political parties are absent and candidates don’t have to deal with party machinery, executives or screening to let their name stand. These are pure, grassroots elections.
The federal and provincial governments have stepped up with child-care supports, which should allow more women with children to enter the workplace and seek elected office. So, what’s standing in their way?
Sadly, social media, which can play such a positive role, also poses a possible roadblock. Many Islanders, especially women, have endured baseless, personal attacks on Facebook or Twitter because social media trolls are always willing to bad mouth anyone or anything at any time.
Municipalities themselves can shoulder some of the blame. Few have initiatives in place to encourage more women to run. We see where there is an emphasis on getting younger people into politics, but oddly, little to support women.
The low number of women now seeking election will ensure there is nothing close to gender parity once the votes are counted on Nov. 5. There is still time for female candidates to come forward but the window is closely rapidly – 2 p.m. Friday afternoon.
It’s ironic that as P.E.I. celebrates the 25th anniversary of the ‘Famous Five’ - where in 1993, the positions of premier, lieutenant-governor, speaker, deputy speaker and opposition leader were all held by women - we have regressed dramatically when it comes to women in elected office.