Only a fifth of Canadian mayors are women

Always striking that the diversity numbers for higher levels of government tend to be better than the municipal level, perhaps suggesting the role political parties play at the provincial and federal levels:

The idea that municipal politics are much more accessible to women is a persistent idea in Canada, despite research by scholars such as Erin Tolley and others that has challenged this idea. Part of the problem has been the overly positive media coverage around women in municipal leadership positions, and also the lack of data to either debunk or substantiate the claims. I created a database to look at the representation of women in municipalities, large and small, across the country. The reality is that we have a long way to go to reach parity.

News reports of recent municipal elections in Canada tended to exaggerate the involvement of women. In 2017, after Valérie Plante defeated incumbent mayor Denis Coderre, thus becoming the first female mayor of Montreal, there was an increase in the articles about the how many women were being elected at the municipal level. The Quebec newspaper La Presse, noting that the number of women mayors in the province increased from 144 in 2005 to an all-time high of 210 in 2017, enthused in its headline that it was “a record number.”

During the fall 2018 municipal elections in Ontario, the Windsor Star reported in a headline it was a “Historic night for female candidates in local municipal elections,” where 32 women put their names forward for council or mayor and 15 succeeded in their bids. The Globe and Mail and the CBC proclaimed the all-female city councils in two rural Ontario communities, Algonquin Highlands and Spanish. In New Brunswick, the CBC reported that more women were elected than in the past two elections, with 19 female mayors and 168 councillors. In Nunavut, Nunavut News stated that a new trend had emerged in the territory of young women in politics, as 24-year-old Ningeolaa Killiktee was elected mayor of Kimmirut and Pam Gross as mayor of Cambridge Bay in October 2018; Mila Adjukak Kamingoak was elected MLA in Kugluktuk in 2017. Finally, in the Northwest Territories, one media outlet stated that “Female candidates swept the municipal elections in the NWT,” and the CBC reported the victories of female mayoral candidates in Hay River, Inuvik, Fort Smith and Yellowknife.

While it is true there has been an increase in the number of women elected municipally across the country, the media has over-emphasized the presence of a few female mayors, giving the impression that we are much closer to reaching parity than we actually are. This over-optimistic coverage of Canada’s municipal elections is difficult to contradict, because of the lack of official national data on mayors across the country. Verifying the more recent numbers is especially problematic, as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ national verified data collection does not extend beyond 2015.

In order to verify the level of feminization of mayoral positions in the country, I created a database (which I am currently using in a handful of ongoing projects) of all mayors across Canada (including other heads of municipal governments such as chiefs, reeves, and heads of council). I identified every municipality in each of the 10 provinces and 3 territories after the municipal elections in fall of 2018. I used Statistics Canada’s 2016 census to identify population sizes. With the election results or municipal directories, I identified the mayors and their genders. When gender was not specified, I consulted newspaper articles and municipal websites. I excluded some municipalities when the mayoral positions had not been filled; for example, in the New Brunswick municipalities of Aroostook, Oakwood, Hanwell and Shediac.

In contrast to the optimistic tone of media coverage, my results show that, out of a total of 3,525 mayors, only 19.4 percent are women (figure 1).

The smallest proportions of female mayors are in Saskatchewan (13 percent), Manitoba (15 percent), Quebec (19 percent) and Alberta (20 percent), and the highest proportions are in Nunavut (32) and Nova Scotia (31 percent). It is, however, important to note that there are 25 mayors in Nunavut and 49 in Nova Scotia, which makes percentages more sensitive to single cases. As there are 1,124 mayors in Quebec, the percentage is not sensitive to single cases.

Clearly the figures show we are not close to achieving a parity zone at either the national or provincial levels.

My results also suggest that smaller municipalities are more likely to have women mayors, as the highest proportions of women mayors are in municipalities with populations of 10, 000 – 49, 999 residents (22 percent) and 9, 999 or less (19 percent) (figure 2). They also show that there are fewer female mayors in municipalities with populations of 50,000 residents or more. And in municipalities with populations of 100,000 residents or more there are even fewer: only 8 female mayors: Josée Néron (Saguenay), Sylvie Parent (Longueuil), and  Valérie Plante in Quebec; Kathryn McGarry (Cambridge), Marianne Meed Ward (Burlington), Bonnie Crombie (Mississauga), and Karen Redman (Waterloo) in Ontario; and Tata Veer (Red Deer) in Alberta).

Although some strides are being made toward gender parity at the municipal level, there is still a lot more work to be done. As my results show, mayoral positions remain largely inaccessible to women candidates, and this is without taking other variables, such as ethnicity and sexual orientation into account, and using a binary measure of gender.

Source: Only a fifth of Canadian mayors are women

Lack of council diversity puts municipalities at risk

Good and thoughtful analysis by former colleague Erin Tolley. One of the paradoxes is that federal and provincial visible minority representation is reasonably good, with the major gap being at the municipal level. Her work in understanding why this is so is important:

Local politics are often viewed as an entry point into political life. Municipal candidacy requires less money, gatekeeping by traditional political parties is relatively absent, and successful candidates who become councillors can fulfill their terms at home without having to uproot their families to the provincial or federal capital. As a result, we might expect to see city councils that are more diverse. However, that expectation is simply not borne out, as we saw recently in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa, where only a handful of racialized councillors won seats in the October 22 municipal elections.

But less has been said in the media about Mississauga, the country’s sixth-largest city and one where the lack of racialized representation on the municipal council is perhaps especially acute. In Mississauga, 57 percent of the residents identify as members of a “visible minority” (more than in Toronto, Vancouver or Ottawa), and there is now just one racialized councillor, Dipika Damerla. Prior to that, Mississauga’s council was entirely White.

In fact, most municipalities in Canada are governed by councils that are predominantly White and mostly male. Women, racialized minorities, Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities and LGBTQ individuals are numerically underrepresented on most city councils. The lack of diversity means many voices are excluded from the decision-making process. This puts municipalities at risk. Large swaths of the population may feel underrepresented or ignored, and council may miss out on important views.

Damerla, a former provincial politician, ran in a Mississauga ward that was vacated after the retirement of a 30-year council veteran. The presence of long-time incumbents and the significant advantage they wield is one reason the demographic profile of municipal councils has remained so stagnant. Some have talked about the need for sitting councillors to “make way” for more diverse voices. In London, Ontario, Arielle Kayabaga, the first Black woman to serve on that city’s council, was elected. Late in the campaign, her candidacy was endorsedby Rod Morley, who dropped out of the race to put his support behind the only woman candidate in the ward. Morley has run for provincial and municipal office before but, in explaining his decision to leave the race, he told the London Free Press, “The power (balance) is wrong right now. I want to try to do something about that.”

In Mississauga, just two sitting councillors opted not to run for re-election this time around. The incumbents who did run were all re-elected, some garnering more than 90 percent of the vote. These incumbents block the road to newcomers. Limiting the number of terms that mayors and councillors could serve might help, but term limits are virtually unheard of in Canadian politics, and they remain a controversial measure.

It’s not that there is a shortage of racialized candidates in Mississauga. Of the 78 candidates who ran for council in this election cycle, 44 were racialized Canadians. That’s 56 percent of all contenders. Moreover, every ward race included two or more racialized candidates, as did the race for mayor. In the most tightly contested ward, seven of the 11 candidates were racialized, but the incumbent, Ron Starr, was ultimately victorious.

The issue is not that racialized candidates aren’t running in Mississauga. The issue is that voters aren’t choosing them.

Low voter turnout is an important factor. In Mississauga, voter turnout was just 27 percent, and there is evidence that racialized Canadians are less likely to vote than White Canadians. When we look at variations in voter turnout, socio-economic explanations are influential, but we also need to think about role model effects. If racialized minorities are looking at the political landscape, and they do not see their concerns being reflected, they are less likely to engage in the process. It is thus a vicious cycle. Strategies to increase voter turnout among racialized minorities must be a part of any effort to address the persistent Whiteness of municipal politics.

Finally, there is the question of voter preference. All else being equal, we know that voters gravitate toward candidates with whom they share an ethnic or racial background. This is the same for White voters and for racialized voters, and it is particularly apparent in municipal contests, where voters’ electoral decision-making occurs in what is often called a “low-information” context.

In cities like Mississauga, where municipal candidates run without party labels and there is limited local media coverage, voters have to rely on other cues to sift through their ballot box options. Name recognition is one such cue. But voters also use candidates’ race, gender and other sociodemographic characteristics as a shortcut to infer information about politicians’ issue positions, policy preferences and suitability for office. There is a tendency for voters to believe that candidates who are most similar to themselves will be best able to represent them. Decision-making shortcuts play a role in all electoral campaigns, but they matter especially in local politics because of the absence of other information.

In a low-information context where demographic cues play a role, turnout is low, White voters are more numerous and the field is dominated by White incumbents, the outcome — mostly White councils — is entirely predictable.

But in Mississauga, there is even more to the story.  The second-place finisher in the mayoral race is a candidate who was charged with a hate crime in a case still before the courts on election day. That candidate received more than 16,000 votes and the support of 13.5 percent of Mississauga electors. Clearly, there is a segment of the city’s population for whom racial equality is not top-of-mind. The vote is a means of registering resistance. It gives voters a tool to fill the seats of decision-making tables with representatives for whom equity and inclusion are guiding principles. When prospective voters opt out (or are left out), the risk is that those spaces will be ceded to other voices.

In the absence of more diverse representation, what can elected bodies do to ensure marginalized voices are included? One thing Mississauga has done is to create a Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee to provide advice to council on “ethno-cultural relations and diversity matters.” The committee includes the mayor and two councillors as well as 20 community representatives. The committee is advisory in nature, so it is not a replacement for elected representation. However, it could give members exposure, networks and experience that might serve them well if they choose to enter electoral politics.

Diversity on council isn’t a matter of political correctness. It goes to the heart of representative democracy, which is premised on elected bodies reflecting the citizens they serve. Elected bodies are unlikely to ever be a perfect microcosm of society, but the persistent homogeneity of municipal councils is of concern. Councillors invariably draw on their own experiences and beliefs when they exercise their duties, and plenty of evidenceshows that decision-making tables are more effective when they include a broader range of perspectives. The exclusion of diverse voices from municipal councils may result in flawed policies, and that threatens the effectiveness and very legitimacy of the decisions that are taken.

Source: Lack of council diversity puts municipalities at risk

Non-citizen voting in local elections is long overdue: Cole

Desmond Cole on municipal voting for non-citizens. While I understand this position, have never been convinced by the arguments in favour of municipal voting, as most of these also could be applied to provincial and federal voting (e.g., healthcare and education provincially, EI and employment programs federally).

Given that Canadian citizenship is relatively accessible (apart from the fees!) in contrast to many European countries, simpler and more effective from a political integration perspective to encourage and facilitate citizenship, with the full range of voting rights:

Immigrants are the backbone of Ontario’s economy and the source of much of its growth. Our government deems newcomers fit to live, work, invest and raise families here, but somehow unfit to make electoral decisions about the laws and regulations that govern their lives. Sheesh.

While municipalities all over the world allow at least some non-citizen residents to vote in local elections, Ontario’s politicians have long seemed afraid to follow suit.

Interestingly, our provincial political parties allow non-citizens to buy party memberships and to vote in partisan leadership contests. Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown allegedly signed up more than 40,000 new party members during his recent leadership bid, many of them from so-called “cultural communities” (i.e. black and brown first- and second-generation immigrants). His campaign didn’t ask if all these folks were Canadian citizens — it wasn’t deemed a relevant factor to their ability to partake in that democratic process.

Canadians seem increasingly supportive of allowing some non-citizens to vote in municipal elections. City councils in Toronto and North Bay have formally asked the province to enfranchise non-citizens who have obtained permanent residency; officials in Halifax, and in five municipalities in New Brunswick, have made the same request of their respective provincial governments.

This was what I hoped for all those years ago with I Vote Toronto and in retrospect I am only sorry I didn’t push the threshold even further than permanent residency.

Before 1988 in Ontario, you didn’t have to be a citizen to vote. You had to reside or hold property in the municipality where you planned to vote; Nova Scotia allowed non-citizen British subjects to vote in local elections until 2007.

The need to vote and the benefits of being able to do so — for permanent residents, foreign workers, students and undocumented people — are just as critical for new immigrants as they are for citizens. Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals should acknowledge this and extend the municipal franchise to all non-citizen residents.

Source: Non-citizen voting in local elections is long overdue: Cole | Toronto Star