Ottawa Citizen

Strong female contenders could save this election

Candidates bring different skills, perspectiv­es to table

- RANDALL DENLEY Randall Denley is an Ottawa commentato­r and novelist. Contact him at randallden­

One of the encouragin­g subplots in our mostlylife­less municipal election is the possible emergence of a strong new group of women on city council. Overall, fewer than 20 per cent of candidates are women, but some of those who are running are potential major contributo­rs.

One need not be a gender equity enthusiast to understand that a city council with just four of 24 seats occupied by women is a council that is not taking advantage of the skills and experience of women, and it could get worse. Three female city councillor­s are almost certain to be re-elected, but longtime councillor Marianne Wilkinson is retiring in Kanata North.

We have heard several years of talk about how important it is to get more women on council because they bring different skills, perspectiv­es and life experience­s. That’s a valid argument, but it’s also important to broaden the pool of candidates and give voters better choices. In the last two elections, we chose too many mediocre councillor­s who are more interested in following the mayor’s lead than in thinking for themselves or strongly representi­ng their constituen­ts.

Fortunatel­y for voters, some well-qualified women have stepped up to challenge this cast of middling men. Two of the best are former CTV Ottawa anchor Carol Anne Meehan in Gloucester- South Nepean and Raylene LangDion in Alta Vista. Lang-Dion is the former national chair of Equal Voice, a non-partisan group dedicated to getting more women into politics.

Meehan is a familiar face to Ottawans because of her TV work, but it’s her passionate commitment to her suburban community and her big-picture view of the city that make her an attractive candidate. Meehan argues that Ottawa’s suburbs are getting choked with developmen­t, but roads and transit aren’t keeping pace. She’s right, and that’s a problem that needs to be forcefully addressed at city hall.

Lang-Dion stands out for her experience in government and politics as well as her advocacy on mental health and addictions issues. She’s just the sort of person to question the status quo at city hall. Lang-Dion has political smarts, too. The current councillor, Jean Cloutier, got himself into a mess over a fundraiser for developers. He didn’t seem to get why some would perceive a conflict of interest in a member of the planning committee taking money from that industry. Lang-Dion responded by releasing her own list of donors early. That’s the transparen­cy the public should expect.

Those two are certainly not the only female candidates worthy of serious voter considerat­ion. Jenna Sudds is seeking to replace Wilkinson in Kanata North. She is up against a large group of contenders, but Sudds has important experience of as executive director of the Kanata North Business Associatio­n. City council could use someone who gets the concerns of our vital tech sector.

In Bay Ward, school trustee Theresa Kavanagh is vying for the seat left by retiring Mark Taylor. Kavanagh has long political experience and is a former federal NDP candidate. She would strengthen council’s under-nourished left wing and seems unlikely to be a bobblehead for Mayor Jim Watson, partly because she is married to longtime Watson antagonist and former councillor Alex Cullen.

These are other strong female candidates. In Capital Ward, Christine McAllister has been endorsed by federal Environmen­t Minister Catherine McKenna. Putting partisan politics aside, McAllister has an MBA, business experience and an impressive resumé of community involvemen­t, including four years as president of the Glebe Community Associatio­n.

Lawyer Emilie Coyle presents a credible challenge to lifelong politician Rick Chiarelli in College Ward, and three women are competing for the vacant seat in Innes Ward.

In this election, we are fortunate to have female candidates who are highly electable, not because they are women, but because of the breadth of qualificat­ion they have. Collective­ly, they offer voters dissatisfi­ed with the status quo a great way to rejuvenate our city council.

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