Manitoba sets record for number of women council leaders, organization says, but it’s still less than 1 in 6

When Tina Williams welcomes a group of kindergartners to the daycare center in Virden where she works on Wednesday mornings, she will no longer just be Miss Tina, she will also be the town’s new mayor.

Until now, Williams says the little ones don’t fully understand what it means when their parents praise her for his landslide victory on former Virden mayor Murray Wright last week, becoming the town’s first female leader in southwestern Manitoba. But one day, she says, they will.

“And I think it’s important for kids to see that it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, that you can do any job anyway. And I think that’s important for us kids. grown-ups too,” the two-term councilor and former deputy mayor said in a phone interview on Tuesday, ahead of his official swearing-in as mayor later that evening.

Williams was one of 22 women elected to lead councils in the 135 Manitoba municipalities that held elections this year.

That’s a small proportion, with less than one in six positions currently held by women, but it’s also the highest number Manitoba has ever seen, the Association of Manitoba Municipalities said in a recent Press release.

Including board nominees, 22% of this year’s honorees are women, up slightly from 20.7% in 2018, according to analysis by CBC News. This is roughly the same proportion as the number of women who ran for positions this year, which was 22.3%.

The data compiled by CBC also includes elected officials from urban municipalities.

And with four of Virden’s seven elected seats now held by women – including Williams as mayor – the city is one of six municipalities to have a council made up of at least half female representatives, according to the analysis. from CBC.

Williams said that’s not the only thing she thinks sets the new city council apart. At nearly 50, she’s also roughly in the middle of her age bracket, with three new advisers in their 30s and the other three in their 60s.

“I’m really happy with the higher female content, but I think age is just as important when it comes to making decisions,” she said.

“They talk to different people, so they get different perspectives.”

Kam Blight, president of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities, said he was encouraged by the shift toward more women in elected office across the province, however slow the progress.

“Those numbers are going up and I think that’s a positive sign,” he said.

“It’s great when you have people with different backgrounds, different experiences, different jobs, different educations, et cetera, sitting around the table. It makes your board that much stronger.”

More positions elected by default

Blight said his organization is working to encourage more people to apply for board positions with recent efforts like a resource center on municipal elections.

But with the number of candidates elected by default even higher this year, he said it was clear the work had to continue.

Overall, 42.9 per cent of positions on Manitoba councils were acclaimed, up from 33 per cent in 2018, according to CBC analysis.

On top of that, 18 municipalities had their councils formed entirely by acclamation this year, meaning residents of those communities didn’t get a chance to vote at all because there were no contestants.

That number is up from 13 in 2018, according to CBC analysis. It also includes the Rural Municipality of Portage la Prairie, of which Blight has been the longtime reeve.

Kam Blight, president of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities, is also the long-time Reeve of the Rural Municipality of Portage la Prairie. (Submitted by the Association of Manitoba Municipalities)

Factors like a low salary which means that work is not enough to live on and a growing wickedness towards the chosen ones in recent years could both be part of the reason more people aren’t stepping in, Blight said.

But he said he also hoped to show the good things about the role.

“Municipal politics are important. We are people’s closest individuals. We are the boots on the ground. We know our communities best and we are held accountable by our residents every four years,” he said.

“It’s also a position where you can influence and influence the most change in your municipality rather than at higher levels of government. And it can be a hugely rewarding position.”

Looking ahead, Williams said she’s excited to continue to take a collaborative approach to her work, whether she’s implementing recommendations from the city’s recent strategic plan or coloring and building with Lego.

“I am very attached to the idea that the mayor can do nothing more and is not more important than the rest of the council,” she said.

“And I think I have a board that’s ready to step in and play a very important role in that.”

Aubrey L. Morgan