More women elected than ever before 

FCM makes the push for 30 per cent women, Whistler and Pemberton vote in majority

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAVID BUZZARD/WWW.MEDIA-CENTRE.CA - team Whistler Councillors-elect John Grills, Jen Ford, Steve Anderson, Andree Janyk, Jack Crompton and Sue Maxwell, along with Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden
  • Photo BY David Buzzard/
  • team Whistler Councillors-elect John Grills, Jen Ford, Steve Anderson, Andree Janyk, Jack Crompton and Sue Maxwell, along with Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden

From one end of the Sea to Sky corridor to the other, Saturday's election marks the changing face of politics, as this corner of B.C. blazes the trail for women in office.

Whistler elected its first female majority council, led by Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, the first in four decades since the resort municipality was incorporated in 1975.

Pemberton elected its first female majority council, too, (three of the five-member team), and Squamish elected long-time politician Patricia Heintzman to mayor along with two female councillors, just shy of another female majority.

"This is something that I've actually worked towards," said Wilhelm-Morden.

"I think people should be elected on their merit... but there are certain realities. It's gratifying to see more women on council."

In that respect, however, there is even more riding on the next four years, and how this council is going to work together after the halcyon days of last term.

Incumbents Jack Crompton (1,888 votes), Andrée Janyk (1,746) and John Grills (1,685) cruised to victory, as expected, joined by Sue Maxwell (1,569), Steve Anderson (1,146) and Jen Ford (1,121).

And while things may have gotten off to a shaky start in the first hour during the celebration at the Cinnamon Bear Saturday night (see story on opposite page), Wilhelm-Morden is determined to set the stage for respectful discourse and behaviour — something she had to worry little about as mayor... until now.

"For me, personally, this is now uncharted territory," she said, noting that while this is her sixth term in office it's her first back-to-back term.

The key, she added, is "ensuring I don't become consumed by the hall."

Serving the community on council is old hat to Wilhelm-Morden; she's been on and off Whistler council since 1984. In that way, she has paved the way for other women to follow. This term too she led the charge to develop a family-friendly council policy allowing councillors up to six months paid maternity or paternity leave.

That came after a Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) meeting focused on encouraging more women in politics.

FCM wants the numbers increased from the current 21.4 per cent of municipal council (as of 2012) to 30 per cent by 2026.

The United Nations defines 30 per cent as the minimal percentage of women required for government to reflect women's concerns.

For the first female mayor of Pemberton, Shirley Henry, the move to vote in more women is a good thing.

"When I became mayor it was very rare," said Henry who was mayor from 1979-1993.

"It's hard to be away from family. My kids don't let me forget that I was on (council). They were young, quite young, actually."

But, she added, the gender mix makes a difference.

"I don't like to see all male or all female," said Henry. "We look at things differently... and I think a mix is good. I think it's good for the community and I think it makes for a stronger council."

But newcomer Jen Ford, who secured the sixth council seat and whose campaign at the end was nearly overshadowed by a social media conversation that questioned if her being a young mother would impact the time she could devote to council, doesn't believe gender played a role at the voting booth.

"I think the people who were elected were elected for the qualities they put out there, and I don't think it has anything to do with them being women," she said.

In Canada, according to an FCM report, women represent 12.9 per cent of mayors and 22.9 per cent of councillors.

So what does it say about Whistler and the corridor to elect more women to office than ever before? Is this a big deal?

"The big deal part of it for me is that it does not seem to be a big deal for the electorate," said Wilhelm-Morden. "It's not as though a lot of women put their names forward, so of course, as a percentage of candidates, more of them got elected. It seems to me that gender is not a factor, or at least not a deciding one, for the voting public in making choices. And that, is a big deal."

The Party

The scene at Saturday's election party (Nov. 15) was a far cry from the nail-biting drama of three years ago when the community waited on edge to learn that Whistler had cleaned house.

This time around, the focus was just on the last three council seats — who would make up the team? Would it be the top choices of the incumbents who, in the dying days of the campaign, were seen out and about with Pete Crutchfield and Michael d'Artois?

It wasn't.

All three incumbents waited at the Cinnamon Bear for the results, as well as Sue Maxwell, who was publicly supported by the incumbents. All were shoo-ins.

"We couldn't judge how the community would look at this group," admitted Councillor John Grills, of the nine people running for council seat as opposed to 24 last time around.

Grills said the community has sent a message again — albeit much more subtle — with this election, in particular the support for long-time local Steve Anderson, who shoots from the hip.

"Obviously the community wants to see maybe a different opinion, adding more conversation to our council meetings and he's going to bring that," said Grills.

Voter turnout was low at 27.3 per cent, or 2,303 votes.

"I think that this time people felt that everything was going well and that there really wasn't anything at stake. But there were three seats at stake and four years of people needing to get along and do the right work for the future of Whistler," said Janyk.

She said this was an important election.

"I think the work before was actually easy work. I think the work now will be tough," she said. "The solutions seemed easy in the last election. I'm not so sure the solutions are as obvious this time."

- with files from Brandon Barrett


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