With municipal elections coming up this fall, Roddickton-Bide Arm Mayor Sheila Fitzgerald and St. Lunaire-Griquet Mayor Dale Colbourne are encouraging women throughout the province to throw their names in the mix, run for election, and bring their unique but indispensible perspective to council.
“I’m not saying women should get elected simply because they’re women,” explained Fitzgerald. “But oftentimes there are missed opportunities because women don’t put their names out there.”
Fitzgerald and Colbourne note that throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, and even more so throughout the rest of Canada, there remains a gender imbalance, as women comprise approximately one-third of council members.
But in their towns the balances are a bit different. In Roddickton-Bide Arm and St. Lunaire-Griquet, the women on council actually outnumber the men, four to three.
So Fitzgerald and Colbourne are well aware of what women bring to the table.
According to them, in their experience, this tends to include an emphasis on community and social programs.
“We have women on our council who have taken the social side of council and ran with it,” said Colbourne. “Because of it, we have a 50-plus club and all these different social things that we wouldn’t have had if it was an all-male council.”
She feels this side of a council is as necessary as being able to make decisions on things such as infrastructure.
“Because not only are you taking care of your roads and your sewer and water systems, you also have to take care of your people,” she said.
According to Fitzgerald, women tend to be caretakers and gatekeepers in communities, many being very involved in volunteer organizations. This perspective is often what gets transferred to council, hence an emphasis on social programs.
But, despite this level of community engagement, women often don’t take the next step to get into leadership positions, such as council.
“What we’re saying is, throw your name in there,” she said. “We need that perspective.
“It’s about taking the transferrable skills that are already there, and moving them and just putting them on a larger scale.”
Furthermore, with declining populations, there is a growing concern that less people are running in municipal elections and there won’t be enough for some towns to put together full councils.
Therefore, it is important to them to encourage as many people as possible to get involved. Motivating women could be a big part of doing that.
“We need all hands to throw their hands up to say they want to be on council,” said Fitzgerald.
According to Colbourne, whether you win or lose in an election, is not important. What’s important, for her, is just to put your name out there.
“If you lose, kudos to you (because) at least you’ve tried,” she said.
Both Fitzgerald and Colbourne are in their first terms as mayors and intend to remain involved on their councils. Fitzgerald intends on running for a second term as mayor this year. Colbourne, meanwhile, hasn’t decided if she will run for re-election as mayor but intends on running for another term as councillor.
They are both on Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador as well. Colbourne is the Northern director and Fitzgerald is the Small Towns director.
They advise people to watch their local paper for when their town’s nominations are open.
The municipal elections are on Sept. 26.