NEWS

middle-header-news2

womeninpoli

Top, from left, Cheryl Grace, current Southampton Ward Councillor, running for same; current Vice Deputy Mayor Diane Huber, running for Deputy Mayor; bottom, from left, two newcomers Jami Smith and Kristan Shrider, both running for Port Elgin Ward Councillor.

Hub Staff

With municipal elections still months away nine Saugeen Shores community members have added their name to the unofficial list of candidates, four of whom are women. The question is: Will Saugeen Shores see more women stepping forward this election season.

At the time of publishing current Southampton Ward Councillor Cheryl Grace will be running for her seat once again, current Vice Deputy Mayor Diane Huber has submitted her name for Deputy Mayor; and two newcomers, former Saugeen Shores Community Services employee Kristan Shrider and Jami Smith (nee Lamont), who comes from a long line of political figureheads, from community reeves to county wardens and school board trustees, have put their names in the race for the Port Elgin Ward.

During the Saugeen Shores 2014 race, out of 18 candidates five were women, with Grace and then two term councillor Diane Huber being voted into their current seats in Council Chambers. During the 2010-2014 term Huber was the sole female sitting on Council, being voted in to represent the Southampton Ward. In 2006 Huber as well as Victoria Serda and Jane Barber, who left mid-term, were elected.

According to the Rural Ontario Institute Municipal Councillor Profile, a report created in 2015, the national average of female councillors sat at roughly 27 percent, higher than 2010’s 24 percent. In Ontario 25 percent of councillors and mayoral positions were occupied by women, with heads of council seeing a ratio of 83 percent male to a female representation of 17 percent.

The report stated that the reason for lower female representation was “not statistical chance or a generational issue but rather broader societal forces affecting female candidacy” and cited a lack of socialization as leaders, too few female role models, a lack of self-confidence, an ongoing negative working environment and public scrutiny as factors.

Saugeen Shores Hub interviewed the four current female candidates and when asked what inspired the women to run for Saugeen Shores Council many voiced their community awareness and roots in Saugeen Shores as reasons behind their goals; as well as the importance to make decisions on behalf of the growing community.

“A few of the high profile discussions and/or decisions that fast-forwarded my decision to run include the new pool and the parks complex,” said candidate Kristan Shrider. “Although I have a healthy understanding of majority of the municipal departments, my heart is in recreation. I am confident that my education, training, experience and knowledge will bring value to these conversations and assurance to the residents that options will be explored that are in the best interest of the community,” she added.

Councillor Cheryl Grace said she gained an interest around the issue of the Deep Geological Repository and started attending Saugeen Shores Council meetings.

“As I observed meetings I realized how interested I was in municipal issues and how important these decisions are in maintaining a thriving community,” said Grace. “During my career as a teacher I taught high school law, government, history, and economics so I’ve long been interested in public policy issues. For our municipality, I was particularly committed to improving public engagement in the political process, strategic economic development, sustaining and improving our waterfront, and updating our planning process to ensure that we balance growth with protecting the character of the wards within our municipality,” she added.

Candidate Jami Smith said that politics is in her blood which inspired her to study Political Science at the University of Western Ontario.

“It encouraged me to get involved in my community as a volunteer. I see the role of councillor as a natural progression from my role as an active community volunteer. I was raised to believe that I can achieve anything I set my mind to,” said Smith. “I believe strongly in representing the women and parents of young families in our community at the municipal level.” The mother of two said she wants to demonstrate the importance of being actively involved while also changing the statistics of women in rural politics to show evenly balanced representation.

For Vice Deputy Mayor Diane Huber she said she felt her family’s deep roots in Bruce County was a call to participate.

“When a place is part of who you are, you are also a part of the place. I really thought, and still believe, that if you passionately care about something you should do something about it,” said Huber. “Maybe it’s getting more trees planted, building a pool, celebrating heritage buildings, getting a sidewalk installed or some other worthy cause – being on Council gives you a chance to do something about it, or at least try to do something about it because sometimes it’s a very long process and sometimes you’re just not successful,” she added.

When asked if anything had ever stopped them from achieving a particular goal or dream, each woman said no.

“I’m very fortunate that I’ve been able to achieve my goals professionally and was elected to represent Southampton Ward in 2014,” said Grace. “I have a supportive spouse, adult children and I’m retired, so I can devote a lot of time to my Council duties. I admire my colleagues who must balance these demands with full-time jobs and raising children,” she added.

Smith responded, “In short, no,” she said. “I was raised to believe that I can achieve anything I set my mind to.”

Shrider added, “I challenge myself professionally and personally. I believe it is important to have high expectations of yourself, set goals, thrive to achieve personal bests and be proud of what you accomplish,” she said.

For Huber she credited her former teachers at GC Huston Public School Anne Eby, Jean Wark, Mary Chatterton and Mary Card who “made me really like learning” as well as Helen Mahon who saw something in a young dishwasher at the Walker House. “She became one of my biggest fans as I grew up,” she said.

Huber went on to mention a list of clubs and other supports she had received and admitted that she has been “really lucky” throughout her life. “I managed to always have whatever funds I needed (thanks, Mom and Dad) and I always found whatever else I needed to do the things I wanted to do,” she said.

The February 14 edition of The Current on CBC Radio, titled ‘Female politicians speak out about sexist, violent cyberbullying’, highlighted Canadian women in public office who had come forward to shine a light on personally threatening emails, and social media messages, something they say their male counterparts do not experience to the same degree.

When posed to the women candidates in Saugeen Shores, the question took on a life of its own.

Smith, who has experience with politics and social media, said that the good outweighs the bad. “I think social media is a very powerful tool, particularly in politics. Often platforms have built their algorithms around ‘organic conversation’, meaning posts that elicit the most comments are the ones you see first. Particularly at the municipal level of government where issues are often well understood and drive passion from our community members, I see social media as an excellent avenue for community members to have their voices heard and engage in conversation with other community members and elected officials alike,” she said.

Smith added that the anonymity of the internet makes it easier to post negative comments. “I think this is something all candidates will need to mentally prepare for,” she said.

Former Town employee, Shrider said she has dealt with her fair share of public feedback. “Working in the municipal sector for almost 23 years has prepared me to handle criticism, have the patience to listen, and most importantly demonstrate respect for others,” she said. “There are times when it is difficult to not take things to heart, not take things personally, and not let something or someone question your abilities. I equip myself with confidence, experience, knowledge, determination, ownership and passion. Possessing these attributes enables me to handle comments and situations that arise in the public sector,” she added.

Vice Deputy Mayor Diane Huber said you won’t find her on Facebook or Twitter. “Social media and other online platforms don’t discourage or empower me but they do worry me somewhat. Every now and again I google my own name and it’s amazing what’s just ‘out there’ for people to find. Photos, news stories, minutes from some meeting from decades ago and odd times when your name is mentioned as simply being at an event. We really have no control over what’s there or for how long it’s there,” she said, adding, “That’s scary.”

Huber went on to question the authenticity of some of the things she sees online. “The internet can be very anonymous and that often gives words (and the people who type them) power with little or no consequence and without the opportunity for anyone to challenge directly the legitimacy of what’s being said or to provide, perhaps, greater context to the content.”

Huber said that dealing with social media will be a necessary consideration for anyone running for office. “The reach of social media is impressive and the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue with a small or very large audience is relevant to success today. Other media options still matter too as not everyone in our community is online,” she added.

Councillor Grace admitted that social media can gauge a public reaction. “One does have to develop a fairly thick skin when you assume public office, but you have to accept that that’s part of the job and that social media is part of our world. Online commentary provides an opportunity for municipal officials and staff to obtain candid public feedback on important issues. Our Town’s staff is making a concerted effort to improve its public communication by using social media tools, and offering more ways to connect citizens and municipal leadership.”

Statistics showcasing women as being underrepresented in municipal politics are echoed from Equal Voice, a national, bilingual, multi-partisan organization dedicated to electing more women to all levels of political office. In a post, the multi-partisan website alluded that women entering into politics is on the rise, and saw uptick in 2011 at the federal level, when 76 women were elected to Parliament representing 25 percent of the 308 seats. During recent provincial election, prior to the Liberals losing official party status, two heads out of the three major parties were fronted by women and in the Huron-Bruce riding there were two female candidates in the running for the same three parties.

For a time in 2013, 85 percent of seats in the Ontario Legislature were held by women. Today, out of the total 106 MPPs, 37 are women, representing 35 percent.

From a world parliamentarian view, Rwandan women have won 63.8 percent of seats in the lower house; out of 80 seats, 49 are held by women. Cuba, Bolivia, Grenada, Namibia, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Sweden all have more than 43 percent female representation. Canada ranks 60th on the list with 27 percent. The United States of America ranks 102nd with 19.5 percent.

As many provinces across Canada will see municipal elections this October, time will tell if female representation will begin to even out across the country and if more women will try for a seat at the municipal table.

news-top

CareyOptical final