Women reps on the rise

Toronto's 2010 election watched the people elect more women councillors than before and its grown into a global trend in politics and the United Nations

Move over, Mr. Councillor.

Toronto has elected more women to council.

The 45-member city council now has 15 females, up from the 10 elected in 2006. So council is now 33 percent female.

This is impressive when you consider the United Nations has called for governments worldwide to have at least 30 percent of the political representatives as women.

I’d argue having more women means council is more reflective of Toronto’s population. Elected officials should bring to the decision-making table the perspectives of the many people they represent.

And what’s great is the current crop of female reps are a diverse group themselves.

There are lefties like Paula Fletcher, Pam McConnell, Maria Augimeri and Janet Davis. There’s more right-of-centre councillors like Francis Nunziata and Karen Stintz, and even they can differ immensely in their views. Gloria Lindsay Luby was part of Mayor David Miller’s executive committee and so was budget chief Shelley Carroll.

These eight re-elected female councillors are all very opinionated and passionate politicians who speak up for the causes they believe in. I love that.

Incumbents Suzan Hall and Sandra Bussin were not re-elected, but seven new female faces will grace city hall. There’s entrepreneur and activist Kristyn Wong-Tam. Jaye Robinson, who brings 20 years of city hall management experience with her. Sarah Doucette, Mary Fragedakis, Ana Bailao, Mary-Margaret McMahon and Michelle Berardinetti round out the group.

Re-elected as rep for Don Valley East, Carroll said it’s still important to track the progress of female politicians at city hall.

“It still seems the case that it’s still okay for men to want to be politicians and study political science but for women I still feel people ask, ‘What qualifies you for this?’” Carroll said.

For her, one of the contributing factors to why more women were elected is the changes in election finance that banned corporate and union donations. This may have leveled the playing field, as not all women would have access to those same funding contacts and networks under the old system.

Many of the female politicians I spoke to said women tend to be more collaborative in their approach to governing. And residents are asking for this type of approach on council, said Don Valley West councillor-elect Robinson.

“Canvassing every day for five months at the doors, I heard loud and clear: end the petty bickering and take action,” Robinson said. “Women are strong multitaskers and like to reach consensus.”

Stintz said there are many different reasons why more women got elected in some very heated ward races.
In Ward 29, it was primarily a battle between three women, winner Mary Fragedakis, Jane Pitfield and Jennifer Wood, Stintz said.

And Mary-Margaret McMahon emerged victorious over Sandra Bussin in a field of men mainly because of McMahon’s community work, Stintz added.

“It was a great election for people to win in, if they had an interest in politics and to run against incumbents,” she said, referring to the public push for change.

Sarah Doucette, who defeated veteran politician Bill Saundercook, is pleased more women are on council.

“It’s wonderful to have more women. It bring a different dynamic,” she said. “But you run as an individual. I only had two people in 15 weeks tell me they were voting for me because I was a woman.”

A mother of two, ages 14 and 20, she said it helps her kids are older now.

“The hardest job I ever had is the nine years I was at home with my kids,” she said. “I waited until my children were old enough to take care of themselves before I ran for council.”

The increase of females on council is a hopeful sign, said Melissa Wong from the Toronto Women’s City Alliance.

“We are hoping more women on council leads to more accountability to women, girls and their families,” she said. “The new mayor (Rob Ford) said he wants to keep costs down.”

She is hopeful it won’t lead to cuts on services women rely on.

During the election, the Toronto Women’s City Alliance sent out a survey to 321 council and mayoral candidates and got 102 respondents answering questions about policing, childcare and more.

A priority of the Alliance is creating a city hall Women’s Equity Office to look at gender equality city-wide, which 81 percent of respondents said they’d support.

My hope is 15 women on council will increase the strong, diverse opinions and perspectives at city hall while at the same pushing for a more collaborative approach on council. Is that asking too much?

About this article:

By: Kris Scheuer
Posted: Nov 22 2010 12:15 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto