Much has been made of the fact that following the results of last week’s municipal election, St. John’s’ new city council will be made up entirely of men.
Local media have been all over it. Following election night, CBC.ca posted a story titled “Male-in ballot for St. John’s as women shut out.” VOCM carried it’s own similarly themed online article, “All-Male Council Saddens Veteran Councillor,” which featured reaction from disappointed female political leaders, including outgoing St. John’s deputy mayor Shannie Duff.
Admittedly, a male-only council, in this day and age, does seem a little anachronistic. With all the social progress we’ve made towards gender equality in the past decades, how could it be possible that a municipal council without any female representation is about to be sworn in?
Women did run in the election — five in total: Sheilagh O’Leary for mayor, Jennifer McCreath for deputy mayor, Sarah Colborne Penney for Ward 3, Tracy Holmes for Ward 4 and Deanne Stapleton for councillor at large. But after all the votes were cast and counted, none of them came out on top, making this the first city council in more than 40 years without any female members.
Cue the rhetoric.
MHA Gerry Rogers calls the lack of women on city council “shameful.”
Sheilagh O’Leary says it’s “disgraceful to not have women on council.”
Councillor-at-large hopeful Deanne Stapleton gave another opinion, further muddying the waters by saying, “I guess (voters) didn’t want a woman on council, sitting at the table.”
First of all, good one. Listen, it isn’t gender that decides elections anymore. If a woman isn’t elected, it’s her policies and her personality — who she is and how the electorate perceived her, not the fact that she’s female — that decided the result.
Second, there is no shame in the public making up its mind and electing the council it believes to be best suited to serving the city. Moreover, there is no disgrace in not electing any female councillors if there are other candidates in whom the public has more confidence. With this in mind, there is no net loss of legitimacy or credibility because no women are elected. It just means that the public has more faith in other candidates on the ballot.
If city council were an appointed body, there would be reason for protest. But as a democratically elected institution, this incoming council can’t be criticized based on gender representation. The public has spoken definitively on what it wanted, based on who it had to choose from.
But perhaps therein lies the problem. It isn’t what candidates the public chose but the field
from which they were able to make those decisions that may be ultimately responsible for this imbalance.
This is a position echoed by many female public figures, including Stapleton and O’Leary, who’ve decried the shortage of female representation on council. If more women ran for office and became involved in municipal politics, city council’s current situation could only be different.
This most recent election illustrates their argument well. Come ballot casting, out of a total field of 30 candidates to choose from, only five were female. Considering the male-dominated field, it’s no wonder that women should be under-represented on council. Having no female presence is an extreme, but not at all unbelievable result considering this ratio.
As such, the absence of female representation on the new St. John’s city council isn’t disgraceful or shameful. It’s simply a reflection of a current reality, where women aren’t stepping forward to put their names on the ballot.
Until more women enter the race, why should we expect anything different?
Patrick Butler, who’s from Conception Bay South, is enrolled in the journalism
program at Carleton University. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.