Get ready to make your mark

The Compass - - OPINION - —Terry Roberts

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?

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