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Group wants municipal election candidates to address women’s concerns

Vancouver Courier with Ellen Woodsworth 29 May 2018

The 2018 civic election is still months away but one female-centred organization is already working on efforts to influence political parties and candidates’ campaigns.

The campaign, much like the inaugural one it organized for the 2014 municipal election, will identify pressing issues facing women, as well as corresponding actions the city could adopt to address them.

The organization is currently surveying women’s groups about what they think are key issues and it’s hosting a June 24 forum that will include discussions on top election issues, areas identified in the 2014 campaign that still need to be worked on and emerging issues.

Once issues and actions are identified, Women Transforming Cities will seek commitments from electoral parties and candidates running in 2018.

Ellen Woodsworth, founder and co-chair of the group, also served as a city councillor under COPE.

Woodsworth said WTC is already calling on political parties to put a gendered intersectional lens on their platforms, to support at least 50 per cent diverse women candidates and to support a woman for mayor.

The latter proposition is looking increasingly unlikely as far more men than women have announced an interest in launching mayoral bids.

Ian Campbell and Taleeb Noormohamed are seeking the Vision Vancouver mayoral nomination, which will be decided June 24, while John Coupar, Ken Sim and Glen Chernen are competing for the NPA mayoral nomination. That vote takes place June 3.

After splitting with the NPA, Coun. Hector Bremner announced his intention to run for the mayoral nomination for a yet-to-be-named new party.

Burnaby MLA Kennedy Stewart is running as an independent candidate as is Shauna Sylvester from Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue.

Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr is considering running for her party’s mayoral nomination but is waiting for Vision to select a candidate before making a final decision.

Not much has been heard from former Conservative MP Wai Young, who once said she was interested in the NPA mayoral nomination. She has set up a “Wai Young for Mayor” website under a new organization called Coalition Vancouver.

Woodsworth is disappointed by the dearth of female candidates and the lack of party support for one, considering Vancouver has never had a female mayor — all 39 have been men.

“I’m disappointed more women haven’t come forward and I’m disappointed that parties haven’t found some women that they would give the support to that’s needed for that person to feel able to take it on,” she said, adding, “We’ll continue to encourage women.”

Once it’s official who actually is running for mayor, WTC would considering endorsing a candidate based on their commitment to the issues the organization identifies as important.

The June 24 forum includes a session featuring women who’ve run or been elected to office. They will talk about their experiences and systemic barriers to women in local government, as well as municipal issues they consider key to women’s success. The feedback will form the basis of the Hot Pink Paper Campaign.

The forum was made possible thanks to federal government funding announced earlier this year. The funding is for a three-year project to help remove barriers to women’s political and civic participation in Vancouver and Surrey. WTC is working in partnership with the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women on the project.

Woodsworth, meanwhile, is encouraged by some developments in recent years. She points to the fact that, in January, council approved a 10-year Women’s Equity Strategy designed to make Vancouver “a fair, safe and inclusive city for all women, including self-identified women.”

She’d like to see advancements in governance such as a proportional representation ward system, which would make it easier for women, who don’t have a lot of money or connections, to run and succeed as independent candidates in neighbourhoods.

While half of Vancouver’s city councillors are currently women, Woodsworth said “there’s nothing structurally in place to ensure it happens again. There are no guidelines for parties to ensure women to run, to help them to run. More work could be done.”

Once women are elected, there are also few initiatives to help them such as easy access to childcare.

That said, she’s heartened by the upsurge in movements such as #metoo and #timesup, as well as findings in the 2017 McKinsey Global Institute report, which indicated the economic value of having more women in the labour force.

“So there have been lots of different initiatives that have made political parties start to take a look at ways in which they could bring forth policy and make a difference,” Woodsworth said.

The WTC June 24 forum, which runs from 12:30 to 4 p.m., is free and open to the public. Registration is preferred. More information can be found here.