Red Deer city council a model for women in municipal politics

Red Deer city council a model for women in municipal politics

Campaign to increase female candidates across Alberta

Albertans could learn a thing or four about gender equality from Red Deer.

Four women were elected to Red Deer’s nine-member city council in the 2013 municipal elections, but province-wide only 490 women were elected 1,874 positions, or 26 per cent.

Red Deer had four women on council in 2010, and five in 2007.

Currently Edmonton has one woman on its 13-member city council. Only two out of 15 positions on Calgary city council are held by women. Both Medicine Hat and Lethbridge have two women in nine seats.

Alberta’s Status of Women Minister Stephanie McLean has visited those cities with the campaign #ReadyForHer to encourage more women to run for municipal office. A new online resource to help women consider their political potential and start their campaigns is also available at

Coun. Dianne Wyntjes said the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association’s Status of Women Task Force recently challenged its members to think about women in their communities they could ask to run for office.

“I put that on my list of things to do. I thought about a woman in our community and I challenged her. We met for a conversation and hopefully she will consider it,” said Wyntjes who sat on the AUMA task force.

“Statistics have shown because of the many challenges, whether it’s home, elder care, personal education, their own job, (women) have to be asked three times before they’ll commit,” Wyntjes said.

The two-term councillor said politics doesn’t have to be mean-spirited like the U.S. presidential campaign, but a thick skin is necessary.

“There are great days, and not so great days. I’m often inspired by Michelle Obama’s comment — when they go low, we go high.”

She encouraged women considering a run for office to build a circle of trust. Women can be really hard on themselves, but there are many examples of female leaders in Alberta, most notably Premier Rachel Notley.

“Women’s fingerprints on decision making I think is very important,” Wyntjes said.

Coun. Lynne Mulder, who was first elected to Red Deer’s council in 2004, said it’s beneficial for girls to learn early that they can take a lead role in their community and be given the opportunity to develop the skills and confidence in themselves to think they can make a difference, “just as any man can, any woman can.”

“I like to talk to young women to let them know it’s very possible. I was the only girl in my family, with three brothers. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a home where we were all looked at as equals,” Mulder said.

“Most of my life I’ve been in administrative positions where quite frequently I’ve been the only women on the executive team.”

In Red Deer in 2013, only six out 30 council candidates were women. Another two ran for mayor.

She said fewer women may have had their names on the ballot, but four were elected.

“You can look at it that way,” Mulder said.

Mayor Tara Veer, Red Deer’s second female mayor, has often talked about her life-long interest in government and was inspired by the city’s first female mayor.

“(Gail Surkan) was a strong role model for me. Being able to see her function in the capacity I think removed a psychological barrier in that she was a living example of the fact that it can be done,” said Veer who will often have girls tell her they want to run for office when they are older.

Veer, a city councillor from 2004 to 2013 before running for mayor, said Central Alberta has strong roots and links to the suffrage movement.

“Going back as far as pioneers, women such as Hazel Braithwaite, she fought her way through a crowd in order to cast her ballot.”

She said council should be a microcosm of the community.

“One of the strengths of our council is that there is such diversity on our council in perspective that in our discussion and representations on behalf of the community we thoroughly discuss every matter that comes before us because there is a breadth and depth in perspective,” Veer said.

Coun. Tanya Handley said women sometimes bring a bit of a different perspective than men and it’s important to have that balance of voices.

She said periodically women have asked her about what it’s like to be on council. She also sought advice prior to running for council for the first time in 2013.

“I called a former city councillor who was also a mom at the time,” said Handley who has three children and was concerned about juggling parenting and council duties.

“She was very encouraging and said go for it. That really helped me.”

One of the best ways to encourage more women to run is through example, Handley said.

“The more women see other women doing it, they know that they can do it too and gives them a little boost of confidence.”

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