'Edmonton is ready': Record-high 8 women elected to city council
Edmontonians want women at the decision-making table. That’s the conclusion after a historic election that saw for the first time a person of colour elected Alberta’s capital city mayor and racialized women earn seats on its council made up of a majority of women.
“I think there’s been a lot of discussion in the past two or three years about about the need for diversity on council, the need for diversity in our elected representation,” re-elected Coun. Sarah Hamilton told CTV News Edmonton as poll results came in Monday night.
In 12 wards, eight women were elected -- the most in Edmonton’s history.
It’s a stark difference to 2017, when Hamilton was elected as one of two female councillors.
“It says to me that message is getting through. I think what we’re going to see on council now is not just a diversity of representation of gender and of race, but of life experience,” she said.
Successful Ward O-day’min candidate Anne Stevenson, elected Monday with 26.71 per cent of the vote, echoed the sentiment.
“It’s an incredible result and I think really speaks to the pent-up demand that there’s been for this sort of diversity for city council.”
PATH PAVED BY ESSLINGER
Of the eight women councillors elected Monday, Hamilton is the only one to have served before. Some upset incumbents: Karen Principe ousted Jon Dziadyk in Ward tastawiyiniwak, Jo-Anne Wright beat Moe Banga in Ward Sspomitapi, and Erin Rutherford won in a close race over Bev Esslinger.
Esslinger was first elected in 2013 -- then the only female councillor -- and sat beside Hamilton as Edmonton’s second female councillor for the last four years.
“Eight years later there’s eight women on city council and as much as I would love to be with them, to feel that, I’m just very proud that we have that many that stepped up and will continue the work,” Esslinger told CTV News Edmonton.
Outgoing mayor Don Iveson thanked Esslinger for her service and leadership the next day.
“I think a lot of the women who got elected yesterday would credit Bev for her leadership, trying to create conditions for more women to join council. And so that must be bittersweet,” he commented.
Rutherford won the northwest ward Anirniq by less than 300 votes.
“I’ve worked with (Esslinger) before in my previous roles in different capacities in administration. She knows very much that I respect her and I know that she cared deeply about this community over the last eight years,” Rutherford told CTV News Edmonton.
“I know for a fact that this is something that I plan on building on what she started, not tearing down.”
‘EDMONTON IS READY FOR A DIVERSE COUNCIL’
Two of the new councillors will share the title of being the first racialized women to serve: Keren Tang and Jennifer Rice.
Tang’s victory in Ward Karhiio was called early in the night; according to unofficial results Tuesday, she had received 39.72 per cent of the vote.
Rice wasn’t declared councillor elect until Tuesday afternoon following a tight race with Rhiannon Hoyle, who she’d end up leading by dozens of votes.
“In the history of 100 years, 31 female councillors, 238 men,” Tang said in an interview. “And now, this time around, we finally have some of our first women of colour councillors. And that’s incredibly exciting. It sends a strong message that Edmonton is ready. Edmonton is ready for a diverse council to make meaningful decisions.”
She pointed to the numbers of female and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of colour) candidates who put their name forward in the municipal election.
“I keep saying this: If we want women, if we want women of colour elected, we need more strong women of colour running.. I really hope that they keep going.”
YWCA Edmonton was part of the push to propel women in leadership roles.
"These are artifacts that aren't in any museums but tell the story of female leadership in our city," said Katherine O'Neill, CEO of YWCA Edmonton.
"The pandemic has disproportionately affected women, particularly women of colour. To have a decision-making body of a majority of women, to roll up their sleeves and have the best post-COVID recovery plan is the best case scenario."
The last time a majority of Edmonton’s council was made up of women was 1989, when Jan Reimer was elected the city’s first female mayor.
In total, just 31 women have been chosen by the city to sit as councillors.
“Some people think that diversity is some wishy-washy thing, that it’s a feel-good thing. It is not. Diversity is so fundamental for making good decisions,” mayor-elect and the city’s first BIPOC mayor, Amarjeet Sohi, said Tuesday.
“I am excited to have eight strong women on council.”
“It’s about time,” re-elected Coun. Andrew Knack commented.
“I mean, truly, it is embarrassing that it’s taken this long in our city’s history to reach that mark.”
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Touria Izri