Could Vancouver voters elect an all-woman city council?

Strong field of female candidates with political or community experience

The 71 names on the Vancouver city council ballot present a big challenge for voters in terms of whittling it down to just 10 choices. But as I look over the names, I’m struck by the fact that it is the women on the list that stand out for their experience in either politics or community service.

Let’s face facts. When it comes to politics in Canada, the guys have had a good run. Even today only about one-quarter of elected officials in our country are women. If we were to elect an all-male council today, would we really be all that surprised?

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Having a city council entirely made up of women — now that would be downright newsworthy. Other jurisdictions have much higher proportions of women in politics, and so should we.

Vancouver has never elected a woman as mayor, not for the lack of trying. May Brown, Suzanne Anton, Meena Wong and Jennifer Clarke are women who have led Vancouver’s most-established elector organizations as the mayoral candidate and came up short.

In the 2018 election, two women with decidedly different visions for the city dominate the mayoral race — Shauna Sylvester and Wai Young. Whether you agree with either candidate’s policies, there is no denying they have both run effective campaigns to date.

I would put Sylvester in the “head” category as her policy-heavy campaign is as wonkish as they come. She has lot of ideas worth championing, but she is perhaps missing the connecting tissue for voters. With mere days to make big inroads, Sylvester needs her defining issue.

Young, by contrast, is all about the “gut,” and it is the gut that most often draws people to the polls. Her stance on bike lanes will rile supporters of active transportation, but she is prepared to sacrifice their votes.

However, a recent poll by Research Co. suggests that neither are a threat to labour-endorsed Kennedy Stewart or the NPA’s Ken Sim for the win.

Whereas, when it comes to seats on council, it is anybody’s race. The randomized ballot will surely lead to some election night surprises, and those running with established elector organizations (i.e. NPA, Vision, COPE) will have a slight edge.

In terms of name profile and a track record in the community, there are easily 10 women who could form a council.

With so much turnover happening in the council chamber, council would benefit by having the institutional memory Vision’s Heather Deal would bring.

She and Adriane Carr of the Vancouver Greens will bring much-needed council experience.

Experienced NPA candidates include incumbent councillor Melissa De Genova, and her counterparts Sarah Kirby-Yung and Lisa Dominato — formerly of park board and school board respectively. Dominato has shown herself to be an effective consensus-builder during the abbreviated school board term.

The NPA’s Colleen Hardwick, daughter of the late Walter Hardwick, is a movie-industry veteran who has spent the past decade building an online community development platform.

Among her counterparts on the left, Christine Boyle of the OneCity party has distinguished herself as a young leader and social justice advocate. Her background as a United Church minister could come in handy in the often-combative council chamber.

Erin Shum is an outgoing park board commissioner and now independent council candidate. She has been an effective campaigner and well-spoken in public forums.

COPE’s Jean Swanson is arguably the city’s best-known poverty activist. Her policy ideas make for good headlines if not practical application.

Nonetheless, she represents an important constituency in the Downtown Eastside and should have a seat at the table.

If elected, Michelle Mollineaux from Vancouver 1st could bring her community experience and background in high tech. She’s also a long-time resident of the city’s underrepresented south side.

I am also impressed by the experience of candidates Brinder Bains and Glynnis Chan from Yes Vancouver.

Of course, there are other qualified women council candidates I have not named, but voters have their own homework to do before the polls open.

The point is Vancouver will have a good chance to bring women to the forefront of our politics, and not just “because it’s 2018.”

It’s just a good idea.


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