Fredericton group aims to get more women running in municipal elections this spring

·3 min read

A new group in Fredericton is helping women and people of diverse genders get involved in municipal politics.

For nearly five years, only one woman has sat on Fredericton council. On the previous council, there were two, and just three women ran in the 2016 municipal election.

That's what Women + in Politics: Fredericton is trying to change, with municipal elections only about 5½ months away.

"It's important that there are a variety of voices that can make decisions, that come to decisions about a city," said Kathi Zwicker, co-chair of the group. "And right now with only one female councillor, that feminine voice is not — it's not prevalent."

Kate Rogers, representing downtown Ward 10, is the lone woman on Fredericton council.

"Women at the table change the conversation in both content and tenor, and I think it's becoming very obvious in the city right now that that voice is missing," said Zwicker.

In 2019, Rogers said gender diversity had become a point of contention on council and that the culture had become toxic. Many councillors have since gone through diversity training.

The group is working with women and gender diverse candidates, helping them learn how to get funding, how to set up a campaign team and use social media in politics.

"We're setting up action groups," said Zwicker, "where one group will give candidates support. … Another of our action groups will be looking at public relations, and a third will be looking to coordinate our volunteers."

Cassandra Blackmore, who plans to run in downtown Ward 10 in the election May 10, welcomed the efforts of the new group.

"It's just really nice to have a place to turn when we have questions or concerns or just trying to band together on different issues," she said.

Knowing where to start can often be a barrier for women getting into politics, said Blackmore.

"There's so many elements to running a campaign, from fundraising to finding volunteers to actually facilitating your campaign. So it can be a lot, especially when you're handling a lot of different things in your life, from full-time jobs to kids."

Joanne Wright, a professor of political science at the University of New Brunswick, said groups such as this can improve diversity in politics.

"They help raise awareness and draw attention to some of the problems that we're facing. So I think they can have a big impact and get some sort of media attention and hopefully drive some political change."

Some change has already been seen in New Brunswick. In the last provincial election, more female MLAs were elected to the legislature than ever before.

Norma Dubé is a founding member of Women for 50%, which has campaigned for more female representation in provincial politics.

"I wouldn't say Women for 50% can take 100 per cent of the credit. That's just not possible, " she said. "But I do think being out there, speaking about the need and the importance for more women in public life, in elected positions, does make a difference, and it does make a difference in numbers at the other end."