Get ready to make your mark
The Sept. 24 municipal elections are still many weeks away, but it's looking like this week will be the unofficial kick-off to the campaign.
The period from May 27-31 is Municipal Awareness Week, and as part of an effort to entice more people to put their names on the ballot, the province is once again launching a public awareness campaign called Make Your Mark.
The campaign is designed to target candidates of all ages and backgrounds, but in particular is aimed at increasing the numbers of youth and female candidates.
It's a good campaign, and we support it wholeheartedly. It's just too bad that similar campaigns in the past have not worked, at least to any real degree. And it's likely that this year's Make Your Mark will produce similar results.
One needs only to walk into a municipal chamber in this region during a town council meeting to get a feel for the disparity. In most cases, two things are missing — females and youth. Who's sitting around the table? Largely retirees, especially former educators, business owners and the like. These "men" have plenty to offer their communities, but shouldn't these elected bodies better reflect our society? Sure it should. But it's not about to happen anytime time.
This is largely the case in all 275 incorporated municipalities in this province; not just the two dozen or so in the Trinity Conception region. Here are some examples. In Bay Roberts, the largest municipality in this region, all seven members of council are male. In fact, only two females — Betty Gosse and Anges Butler — have been elected to council since Bay Roberts was incorporated in 1951. There have been some female candidates, but they always came up short on election day. Do we need say more? OK. In Carbonear, Betty Ford is the lone female, and she's already served notice she will not be seeking re-election in September, while in Harbour Grace, Joan Short takes her seat among a group of six other men.
In the 68 years that Harbour Grace has been incorporated, only a handful of females have been elected, including Myra Babb, June Hunt, Bev Crocker, Elizabeth Shute, Michelle Cleary-Haire and Kathy Tetford.
It's much the same in Victoria, where the two elected females — Jennifer Baker and deputy mayor Jeanette Penney — are outnumbered by the men, and in Brigus, where Faith Roberts-Pike is the lone female. A town official in Brigus confirmed that since incorporation in '65, less than a half-dozen females have served.
The most obvious example is Clarke's Beach, where the mayor, Betty Moore, oversees a male dominated council, and most of us know how that's working out. Remember the Maclean's magazine reference to "Canada's most dysfunctional municipality?"
So what's the problem? Where are the females when it comes to elected municipal politics? Is it still true, even in 2013, that the old boys' club is alive and well? Let's hope not. Are situations like the one in Clarke's Beach forcing females to turn away? Perhaps.
The dynamics of municipal politics can be very cut and thrust, and supposed council colleagues can sometimes say nasty things to one another. There's also the public criticism and complaints about everything from snow clearing and garbage collection to water quality and tax rates. It's easy to say: "It's just not for me."
And people certainly do not do it for the pay. Many municipal leaders in this region receive no remuneration.
The truth is that females are just not seeking office in any great numbers. Historically, men outnumber females on the ballot by far, and that will again be the case on Sept. 24.
Another truth is that while a woman's role in society has changed dramatically in recent decades, and many of our best leaders are female, family commitments remain a major factor when it comes to politics, and leadership roles in areas such as education and business.
So while we hope Make Your Mark leaves its mark this time around, let's be sure to manage our expectations.
Our communities are home to a vast number of capable, visionary and dedicated females. But expect most of them to take a pass come nomination day. And that's just too bad, right guys?