Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tilt of the gender balance makes for a historic result

The rise of women to all but one council seat on Prince Rupert City council has political junkies seeking out the history books to find parallels and to proclaim Saturday's vote as one of significant change for Prince Rupert politics.

Saturday's results which saw five female candidates named to council seats for the first time ever in Prince Rupert history, has made for a lively discussion around town as local political sideline commentators ponder how the new council will mesh and how the debate will develop over the next three years.

The Daily News outlined some of the background on Saturday's fascinating vote tallies and how local residents have responded to the changes of the weekend and the challenges ahead.

Changing face of council welcomed by critics
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Pages one three and five

On a day like Saturday, locals may have wondered what Duff Pattullo would have thought of a female-dominated city council.

In 1910, Pattullo was one of the city's first aldermen (the antiquated name for city councillors) and he served on the city's historic first council - an all-male group.

In its own right, this year's newly elected city council has just as much history wrapped around it.

Having gone through a sort of Prince Rupert-Palin phenomenon on Saturday, five of the six city council seats went to women, though none claimed to see Alaska from where they live.

"I think this is the first time this has ever happened. I've been the only female on an all-male council, and it changes the conversation a little bit," said the four-term councillor Kathy Bedard, who was re-elected with 1,563 votes on Saturday.

Bedard said she preferred a balanced approach to discussions but with mayor-elect Jack Mussallem and re-elected councillor Nelson Kinney, the load for men will be carried by two.

"It is quite exciting to see this," said Bedard.

Phenomenal - as in a slow phenomenon - might be more accurate.

When Sheila Gordon-Payne and Joy Thorkelson joined council three years ago, they evened council's gender balance, matching three men to three women.

Now it has tilted, which Gordon-Payne says is a reflection of the quality of mind possessed by all 15 candidates who ran, and not per se their body parts.

"I don't know if it will change the direction of council because we have a pretty strong community plan, but some of the tone will change and how the genders will communicate will be interesting," said Gordon-Payne.

In comparison to other Northwest communities, Prince Rupert separated itself and can say it's looked beyond gender to consider the validity of candidate credentials when it came to electing one.

In Terrace, Lynne Christiansen won the most votes for council with 1,593 votes, but four of the six council seats, and the mayor's seat, went to men.

In Kitimat, the newly elected mayor is a woman, Joanne Monaghan, but men will fill all six council seats.

And in Port Edward, men won all city council seats. Dave McDonald took the mayor's spot, beating out the campaign's only female candidate Christine Mackenzie.

McDonald said that he would have preferred having at least one female voice on council because it brought front-and-centre female concerns, which means the men of the community will have to be more open to such concerns.

"It's nice to hear a different perspective from the male and female. It's unfortunate that more females did not run but we will work with what we have," said McDonald.

Mussallem said that he was more than happy to have female councillors because it was what the people of Prince Rupert chose.

"It will be interesting to see how everyone works together. To a certain extent there will be a period of time when everybody gets to know each other and I am quite optimistic about it.

"It's different for Prince Rupert but not all that uncommon in municipal politics," said Mussallem.

Northwest Community College president Deb Stava said that the big day for council would allow a different voice to be heard, even with four incumbents returned to council.

The new dynamic had two female pillars in the Prince Rupert community happy with the subtle commentary this says about their city.

"All are strong leaders, with diverse professional backgrounds," said Stava. "I don't think we have lost male voices on council but we have gained with such diversity."

She added that the communication will be different no matter what the scenario because the Mayor has changed and so have two seats.

School District 52 Aboriginal President Debbie Leighton-Stevens said she was happy that women were well represented on council but one diverse group still hadn't placed a representative on council.

"I think it is good women are there - even as a Tsimshian woman - women make things happen and know the issues regarding community wellness."

"I'm disappointed that George Sampson did not get in," said Leighton-Stevens.
"We (the First Nation's community) need to be backing our candidates."

Sampson, was a bit of a surprise given that aboriginals make up a majority of the local population.

He only received 730 votes, finishing 12 out of 15. As for the future, this all might mean nothing more than a notable happening - a time when the importance was more window dressing than nuts and bolts.

However, it also might go the other way, with one of the councillors becoming the next Iona Campagnolo, the popular former city councillor and MP, a woman credited with representing her city and her riding with the utmost respect.

One of these councillors might also become like Duff.

Pattullo used his experience on Prince Rupert's first council to jump into provincial politics where he would become premier of the province and would eventually have a bridge named after him - in New Westminster.

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