More women are needed in municipal politics

"Campaign school" aims for a more diverse city council.

Stephanie MacInnis-Langley is executive director of the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women.
Stephanie MacInnis-Langley is executive director of the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

The Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities says women should represent at least 30 percent of elected members of local governments. City councillors Jennifer Watts and Barry Dalrymple—both not re-offering in next year’s municipal election—recently stated HRM’s council needs younger, more diverse voices. A free, municipal “campaign school” this Saturday at Mount Saint Vincent University wants to help with that. Stephanie MacInnis-Langley, executive director of the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women, spoke to The Coast about why more women must be encouraged to take a shot.

Municipal elections will be held on October 15, 2016. Why is it important that local councils include more women?
I believe that women have a separate skill set to offer, in terms of how they approach issues [and] in terms of what they see as key issues. Women are very active and very involved in their communities, and they’re very interested in women’s health and child care, as well as the economy. And they’re very responsive to constituents. I’m not saying that someone else isn’t, but I think that based on what the research tells us about women, they’re very focused on co-operation, they’re less focused on hierarchy and they offer a diversity of opinion to a discussion.

Most council members continue to be middle-aged, or older, men. What’s happening on the female candidate-recruitment front? 
What we find is a lot of women don’t see themselves as being the elected representative for their community, and there’s barriers to that. Some of the barriers are women still remain primary caregivers of children and certainly remain primary caregivers of seniors, or of family members who need support. So it limits their ability to participate. These jobs, of course, as elected officials, are not nine-to-five jobs. The challenges women face is the timing, they’re heavily outnumbered in most [public office] opportunities, and when they’re in those positions they’re often seen to represent all women—without any concept of the diversity that we really do need at these tables.

In general, who usually attends these municipal campaign schools?
It’s women interested in their communities, and interested in offering skills and talent and a different perspective. Oftentimes those perspectives are formed by different social experiences. And [attendees] want to have an impact on government decisions that impact the lives of women.

In the 1990s, Moira Ducharme was Halifax’s first—and only—female mayor. When do you suppose we’ll see the next woman elected to that post?
If women will run for elected office at any level, it’s about encouraging those women to take it to the next level. And we have to look at how we support women in doing that.

Lots of capable people—women and men—avoid running for office, for various reasons. How do you get around this, with respect to getting more women to consider politics?
We have a responsibility to treat our politicians in a more respectful manner. I think one of the challenges we have is no matter what our criticism is of our political the end of the day, we need to be respectful of one another. We need to respect the contribution anyone who puts their name forward brings to the table.

Interview conducted by Michael Lightstone

Municipal Campaign School for Women
Sat Oct 17, Mount Saint Vincent University
166 Bedford Highway, 9am-4pm, free

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