When Algonquin Highlands, Ont., elected its new town council Monday, Mayor Carol Moffatt received an e-mail jokingly congratulating them on the coven.
Their five-person council along with another one in the Town of Spanish, near Sudbury, are now made up exclusively of women – believed to be firsts in Ontario.
To the 2,500 or so people who call the township of Algonquin Highlands home, it should come as little surprise.
Their chief administrative officer and treasurer are women. The staff sergeant of their local OPP detachment is a woman. So is the president of nearby Fleming College.
“I think even the director of the radio station, of community services and the hospital are all women,” Councillor Lisa Barry, 41, said.
Ms. Moffatt, 54, who was acclaimed for her third term as mayor, said they can chuckle about the “girl power” jokes they’ve received – but even if they are just “five people sitting around a table in pumpkin-patch Ontario,” she sees it as a significant milestone for women in politics.
“I think you have to frame it in terms of the world in change,” she said. “Certainly the #MeToo movement and others have steadily increased the voices and life stories of women who we would all agree have been long held at bay. I think it has also galvanized the rightful and legitimate participation of women in historically male-dominated forums.”
As former president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) and the new mayor-elect of the Town of Innisfil, Lynn Dollin called the news “encouraging.”
“Women make up half the population; it’s vital that our voices are included in local decision-making. This only happens when more women run for office."
In the 2014 municipal elections, the AMO said, 24 per cent of candidates were women. This year, it rose to 27 per cent.
Jocelyne Bishop, the mayor-elect of the Town of Spanish, is the first woman to hold that role.
“To be joined by four elected women makes this even more special,” she said, adding that the results “really underline our town’s slogan of being a ‘progressive community.’”
In Algonquin Highlands, Ms. Moffatt acknowledges that voter turnout is “crappy.” It has a small population to begin with, with the bulk of its residents being seasonal cottage owners. With spotty internet presenting a chronic challenge – one of the issues, she notes, for the new council to tackle – it does not have electronic voting. Instead, ballots are sent in by mail and counted by hand.
In addition to Ms. Moffatt, councillors Lisa Barry and Liz Danielson (who acts as deputy mayor) were also acclaimed. Julia Shortreed and Jennifer Dailloux were elected (over two male candidates).
Ms. Danielson, 69, pointed out that, for the past eight years, their five-person council has had four women on it. And while she recognizes the achievement of an all-female council, she acknowledges that diversity is a good thing.
“While we are all perfectly capable of doing the job, a mix of men and women on council can bring a better balance of perspectives,” she said. “There is little doubt that we approach things differently and that a balance of men and women, as well as varying ages on council, better represents the needs and desires of all of our constituents.”
Ms. Dailloux, 44, a self-described women’s suffrage history buff, said she has been thinking about what the Famous Five, who fought in the late 1920s for women to be legally recognized as persons, would think about this latest quintet.
“I think they would be delighted by it,” Ms. Dailloux said. “It means they have played a part in normalizing women’s participation in government. And that’s a beautiful thing.”