We started this podcast because we believe that 100 years after some women won the right to vote in Alberta, there are challenges to figure out, successes to celebrate, inequalities that need to be exposed, and stories to discover. We hope to learn as much as you through our work on this show.
Alberta’s Minister for the Status of Women Stephanie McLean is heading on a four-city tour to convince more women to run for elected office in next year’s municipal elections. The tour will feature events in Edmonton on October 18, Medicine Hat on October 20, Calgary on October 24, and Lethbridge on October 27.
Despite a record number of women being elected to the Alberta Legislature in May 2015, including nearly a majority in the governing New Democratic Party caucus, and the majority of provincial cabinet ministers being women, the number of women elected to municipal office remains low.
According to the Alberta government website that promotes the tour and includes an online campaign toolkit, women hold an average of 26% of elected seats in municipal politics and Albertans elected 490 women out of a possible 1,874 municipal positions during the 2013 municipal elections.
At the Edmonton event on October 18, the only woman elected to our City Council, Bev Esslinger, will join Ms. McLean and Métis Nation of Alberta President Audrey Poitras for a discussion about how women can launch campaigns for municipal office. The discussion will be moderated by Edmonton Journal reporter Elise Stolte.
The Lethbridge event will feature Maryanne Sandberg, Councillor from the Municipal District of Willowcreek. The Medicine Hat discussion will include past mayoral candidate Milvia Bauman, Newell County Reeve and past provincial election candidate Molly Douglass and moderator Christy Pick from Shaw TV Channel 10.
The Calgary event discussion will include Piikani Nation Councillor Angela Grier former Calgary City councillor Gael MacLeod and will be moderated by radio host and former Wildrose and PC MLA Danielle Smith.
2016 marks 100 years of women’s suffrage in Alberta. As we can see in the current American presidential race, women candidates face many challenges when it comes to seeking office, least of all still having to campaign hard against an opponent who is grossly under qualified. I have heard it said that women have to be asked five times to run for office before accepting, while it usually only takes men one ask. It is my hope that more women will seek election, and will be elected throughout the province. After all, it is 2016.
On the topic of women running in municipal elections, Miranda Jimmy launched her campaign for Edmonton City Council in the southwest Ward 5. She will be facing incumbent Michael Oshry, should he choose to run again.
Today is International Women’s Day.
Almost one hundred years ago, on April 19, 1916, women in Alberta were granted the legal right to vote through the passage of the Act to provide for Equal Suffrage (Short title: The Equal Suffrage Statutory Law Amendment Act).
The 1916 Act amended fifteen laws, city charters, and ordinances to enshrine in law that “…women shall be upon an absolute equality with and have the same rights and privileges and be subject to the same penalties and disabilities as men…” It was not until the 1960s that all women were granted the right to vote. Until those years, Indigenous Peoples, including Indigenous women, were required to give up their treaty rights in order to qualify for the vote.
One year later, in 1917, two women were elected to serve in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. Louise McKinney was elected as MLA for Claresholm and Roberta MacAdams was elected to represent members of the Canadian Armed Forces serving overseas during the First World War. Hannah Gale was elected to serve as an Alderman on Calgary City Council in December 1917.
Cora Taylor Casselman, the first woman elected to Canada’s House of Commons from Alberta, represented the riding of Edmonton-East from 1941 to 1945. In 1985, Helen Hunley became the first woman to be appointed as Alberta’s Lieutenant Governor, and she was followed years later by two other women – Lois Hole and current Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell.
It was not until 2011 that Albertans had their first woman premier, Alison Redford, who served until 2014. Just over a year later, Rachel Notley became Premier after leading her New Democratic Party to form a majority government.
Because of the 2015 election, Albertans witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of women represented in the highest offices of our province. Nearly half, twenty-six of the fifty-four NDP MLAs are women, the highest percentage in Alberta’s history. Ten of Alberta’s nineteen cabinet ministers, including our premier, are women. Two cabinet ministers, Status of Women Minister Stephanie McLean and Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne, were pregnant when they were appointed, which represents another first in Alberta politics.
The shift that occurred during the last election is more dramatic when you remember that only ten years ago, there were only two women in cabinet and 10 women in the government caucus.
Women are still overall underrepresented in the Alberta Legislature, at thirty-three percent, and only three women occupy seats in the thirty-two MLA opposition – Progressive Conservative MLA Sandra Jansen and Wildrose MLAs Leela Aheer and Angela Pitt.
Unfortunately, the prominence of women in the new government has come with a dark side. In the months after becoming Premier, Ms. Notley faced a barrage of online threats of death and violence that her male predecessors appear to have been spared. Hopefully, these types of cowardly online threats will not dissuade more women from seeking office in future elections.
The election of more women to the Alberta Legislature in the governing caucus brought many new voices and perspectives into our stodgy provincial institutions. The NDP moved quickly to commit to take action to eliminate domestic violence, increase access to childcare in public buildings, change Legislative Assembly sitting hours to better accommodate MLA’s with families, raise the minimum wage and increase funding for women’s shelters. The government will also introduce new rules allowing for maternity leave for MLAs, which do not currently exist in Alberta.
Nearly one hundred years after women were granted the right to vote, there area no shortage of areas in politics and society where women are still underrepresented. But at least in Alberta, there is no shortage of strong female role models in the Alberta Legislature for young women who might aspire to become future MLAs, premiers and cabinet ministers.
In recognition of International Women’s Day, today’s candidate update focuses specifically on the total number of women nominated to run for Alberta’s political parties in the upcoming provincial election. Women make up the majority of our population, but they rarely come even close to being the majority in electoral politics.
Women in Alberta politics have accomplished a number of milestones in recent years, including the election of Alison Redford as our first female premier, but the total percentage of women elected to the Legislative Assembly has actually decreased since the late-1990s.
Alberta’s 2012 election was notable for many reasons, most notably because it marked the first time the two major parties were led by women – Progressive Conservative leader Ms. Redford and Wildrose leader Danielle Smith. Three years later, only one major party will be led into the 2015 spring election by a women – the New Democratic Party’s Rachel Notley. Wildrose Party interim leader Heather Forsyth, who has served as MLA for Calgary-Fish Creek since 1993, is not seeking re-election. The Green Party, with no MLAs in the Assembly, is led by Janet Keeping, who is nominated to run in Calgary-Foothills.
The Liberal and NDP have had women lead them in past elections – Pam Barrett led the NDP during the 1997 election and Nancy MacBeth led the Liberals in 2001 – and former Edmonton school trustee Sue Huff led the Alberta Party until 2011. Edmonton-Gold Bar Liberal MLA Bettie Hewes became the first woman to lead a major political party when she served as interim leader of the Official Opposition in 1994.
There are currently 22 women MLAs serving in the Alberta Legislature (25%), down from a high-mark of 23 women MLAs (27%) in 1998. This number decreased upon Ms. Redford’s resignation in 2014, the percentage was still lower than 1998 because the total number of MLAs increased from 83 to 87 in 2012.
Only four of the twenty members of Jim Prentice‘s current cabinet are women.
The longest serving woman in the Assembly is Lesser Slave Lake PC MLA Pearl Calahasen, who was first elected in 1989 and has been acclaimed as her party’s candidate in the next election. First elected in 1997, Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman is the longest serving opposition MLA.
With the next election expected to be called in the next few weeks, Alberta’s political parties are still in the process of nominating candidates. Here is a look at how many women have been nominated so far by the five main parties.
The NDP, with a commitment to nominate a high percentage of women candidates, has so far chosen the most women candidates of the political parties contesting the 2015 election. By my count, the NDP has chosen 18 women out of 41 candidates (43%) already nominated or acclaimed. This is slightly less than the full NDP slate from the 2012 election, when that party nominated 40 women out of 87 candidates (45%).
The Progressive Conservatives have chosen 13 women out of the 58 candidates nominated to run in the next election (22%) as of today. In the last election, the PCs nominated 22 women in their slate of 87 candidates (25%), which was up slightly from 17 out of 83 candidates in the 2008 election (20%).
The Wildrose Party has nominated 33 candidates, 5 who are women (15%). In the last election, led by Ms. Smith, the Wildrose Party nominated 11 women in a slate of 87 candidates (12%).
The Liberal Party, with 12 candidates currently nominated, has nominated 2 women (16%). The Liberals saw a decrease of women candidates nominated in the 2012 election, down to 18 of 87 (20%) from 22 of 83 in 2008 (26%).
Five of the 17 candidates currently nominated by the Alberta Party are women (29%).
Number of women candidates by party
2015 election nominated/acclaimed (as of March 8, 2015)
NDP: 18 of 41 – 43%
Alberta Party: 5 of 17 – 29%
PC: 13 of 58 – 22%
Liberal: 2 of 12 – 16%
Wildrose: 5 of 33 – 15%
NDP: 40 out of 87 – 45%
Alberta Party: 6 out of 21 – 28%
PC: 22 out of 87 – 25%
Liberal: 18 out of 87 – 20%
Wildrose: 11 out of 87 – 12%
NDP: 38 out of 83 – 45%
Liberal: 22 out of 82 – 26%
PC: 17 out of 83 – 20%
Wildrose: 6 out of 61 – 9%