Women remain underrepresented in Waterloo Region municipal politics

Female representation Waterloo Region

The infographic tells the story: municipal politics continues to be a man’s game in Waterloo Region, in spite of the fact women make up half the population.

Regional council maintained five women, Kitchener and Cambridge each gained one woman and Waterloo city council lost two female representatives.

“We’ve seen great strides made in the last couple decades, but we still have a ways to go,” said Sarah Marsh, newly elected councillor for Kitchener Ward 10.

Marsh was undecided on whether to run and said she was encouraged to do so while attending the Waterloo Region Women’s Municipal Campaign School  organized by regional councillor for Waterloo, Jane Mitchell and the YWCA  earlier this year.

“More than a dozen local female politicians took time out of their day to come and encourage more women to run,” Marsh said.

At the February workshop, Marsh said a speech by Christine Elliott, Progressive Conservative MPP for Whitby-Oshawa, resonated with her.

“In [Elliott's] experience, a lot of women don’t have that initial confidence to just put themselves out there without that bit of encouragement.”

“For myself, I was asked by several people to run and that did help me to take the plunge,” Marsh said.

Marsh’s election win represents part of a slight shift on Kitchener council from two women to three out of eleven elected representatives.

Incumbents Kelly Galloway-Sealock and Yvonne Fernandes were returned to office.

“I’m definitely happy that we increased the number of females on council,” Galloway-Sealock said.

“It’s been a while since there has been three, even with the increase in council size last term, so I think it’s really encouraging to see that.”

“But I do still think that we need to have a few more just to have a more balanced approach,” Galloway-Sealock said.

Women who are interested in politics need to get involved in the community before they decide to run in order to raise their profile, she said.

Galloway-Sealock also suggests increased women’s municipal campaign school programming could help encourage women to run.

“We only run it once every four years. Maybe we need to start running that a little more.”

Beyond supporting women in running for office, Galloway-Sealock said there could be a benefit in getting youth of both sexes involved in the community at a younger age, “so that they can see the difference that they can make in the community.”

Fernandes said females currently in politics could help get more women involved by lending their time to mentor them.

“I see a lot of women doing more mentoring and I myself have taken on mentoring of a young girl who is here as an international student. I think that [mentorship] will definitely help more women consider a political career as an option.”

“We had an amazing number of female candidates. Recognizing that a number of them were under 40 tells me that women are trying to balance even more in their lives,” Fernandes said.

“Hopefully that means they have extremely supportive partners, because you have to have a very supportive partner to be able to be out in the public all the time and balance family.”

Last term, Waterloo city council was comprised of five women, including mayor Brenda Halloran, and three men. That split was reversed with the 2014 election. Angela Veith, Diane Freeman and Melissa Durrell were re-elected, while Halloran didn’t run and Karen Scian ran for a regional council position.

In Cambridge, Jan Liggett was elected in Ward 4, which was vacated by Ben Tucci. Donna Reid and Pam Wolf were re-elected, improving the balance from two to three women of nine city representatives.

Regional council retains the composition of five women and eleven men. Mayors-elect Sandy Shantz and Sue Foxton, from Woolwich and North Dumfries respectively, join the horseshoe. Jane Mitchell, and regional councillors-elect Helen Jowett in Cambridge and Karen Redman in Kitchener round out the bunch.