Election does not mirror faces in street

October 14, 2018

By Daphne Bramham, Vancouver Sun |

Women and visible minorities remain under-presented around council tables.

When Andy Yan looks at the chaotic civic election landscape, with its many independents following the collapse of long-standing parties and so many incumbents packing it in, he’s not surprised.

“It’s because the city has changed so much,” says Yan, the director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program.

He’s not talking about bricks and mortar. Yan is talking about citizens and how the civic parties and the civic politicians look nothing like the population.

At 51 per cent of the population, female representation in politics has never measured up to that. It surprised Yan. But for women, this is nothing new.

Fewer than a third of B.C.’s current mayors are women, according to Equal Voice. It doesn’t have statistics on the percentage of female councillors.

There are anomalies. During her three terms as Surrey’s mayor, Dianne Watts led councils that had a majority of women, as does the current council under Mayor Linda Hepner. At first, those female-dominated councils got a lot of media coverage, which is funny since the male-dominated ones are rarely written about in those terms.

But this time around, only one of the eight mayoral candidates is a woman and only 11 women are among the 48 council candidates. In Vancouver, a third of the mayoral candidates and 46 per cent of the council candidates are women.

The whys of women’s chronic under-representation have been widely studied, discussed and written to little effect. Social media is just the latest reason fewer women may be willing to run or run again. Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read, for example, isn’t running again. Her single term was marred by credible death threats that forced her out of the public eye briefly.

Visible minorities, even in municipalities where they comprise roughly half the population, are also not well represented.

Over the years, old-line civic parties have been slow to recruit and mentor non-male and non-white candidates. This time, women and minorities with political aspirations have gone elsewhere. They’ve formed new parties or are running as Independents. They’ve been helped by changes to election-financing rules that limit donations to $1,200 and make it easier to compete.

With less money being spent on campaigning, it’s possible that turnout will be low on Oct. 20. That too may be an advantage to candidates closely connected to a specific group — whether it’s geographic, ethnic, gender-based or LGBTQ. Of course, candidates still need to ensure that their supporters get to the polls.

The discrepancy between who governs and who is governed is starkly obvious on Yan’s charts that use 2016 census numbers to calculate the percentages of women, visible minorities and immigrants in Metro Vancouver.

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