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Women make slow gains in office

Not enough women running for election, study finds

By: Kevin Ma

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jan 22, 2014 06:00 am

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Men have to step up their efforts to recruit women into politics if we want to see better gender balance on city councils, says St. Albert’s mayor.

St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse released a study this week on women’s representation in municipal politics. The study, written by University of Alberta political science PhD student Angelia Wagner, analyzes the results of the last three civic elections in the capital region based on gender.

The study is part of a partnership between Legal, Morinville and St. Albert looking at women in politics, said Crouse.

Backed by a provincial grant, the study follows on last summer’s Be On the Ballot seminar on women in municipal politics, and builds on work by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Alberta Urban Municipality Association to get more women into politics.

This study is one of the few to look at gender when it comes to municipal elections in Canada, said Linda Trimble, political science professor at the University of Alberta (and Wagner’s supervisor). Most previous studies have focused on federal and provincial elections.

“There’s a bit of a myth that women do better in municipal politics, that more women run and more women win, and that’s not actually true,” Trimble said.

Democratic principles demand that our governments include diverse backgrounds and views, Wagner said. “It can’t only be white, affluent men.”

But so far, women are chronically underrepresented on municipal councils. Wagner’s study found that women made up about 49 per cent of Alberta’s population but just a quarter of all election candidates and winners in the last three civic elections.

Just 20 per cent of St. Albert candidates in the last three elections were women, the study found, compared to 13 per cent in Sturgeon County. Parkland County had the greatest proportion of female candidates at 49 per cent.

The proportion of women candidates in local elections has risen by about one per cent per election since 2007, Wagner said.

“It is slowly creeping up, but it is very slow progress,” she said. At current rates of change, we’ll have to wait a hundred years before we hit gender parity – and that’s assuming no backsliding.

Behind the imbalance

There are several explanations for why today’s governments are gender-imbalanced, Trimble said. “Perhaps the most compelling argument is that women are put off politics – they don’t see politics as an appealing career option.”

It could also be a matter of ambition, Wagner said. U.S. studies suggest that male candidates tend to think of themselves as more qualified for office than they actually are, whereas female ones think themselves to be under-qualified – even if they have the same qualifications as men.

Wagner’s study found that women who did run for office had roughly the same odds of winning a seat on council as men – 60 per cent for women, and 62 per cent for men. In the capital region specifically, men and women had even odds of winning if they ran.

“What it suggests is that voters aren’t discriminating against women because they are women,” Wagner said. Local governments are mostly male not because voters are keeping women out of office, she concluded, but because not enough women are running for office.

One solution may be for leaders to encourage more women to run for office, Wagner said. “We need to tap more women on the shoulder and encourage them to get careers in municipal politics.”

As men make up the majority of current office holders, Crouse said they have to take the lead if we’re to get gender parity in politics anytime soon. “Men should be recruiting women to run.”

E-mail Crouse at to get a copy of the study.


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