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Footnotes

Danielle Paradis explores what makes Edmonton a great city.

Edmonton city councillors still not on board with women's mentorship program

Hop inside my time machine. I'm taking you to a strange world, where the roads are scarred and pocked, pivoting steel giants dominate the sky and the people below worship feline iconography on glowing handheld objects from which they can't look away.

It's October 22, 2013 — Election Day. And of the 73 ward council candidates on the ballot, only 15 are women, the lowest this city's seen in a decade. It might be an anomaly, but the fact is the proportion of women on council has consistently been far lower than their percentage of the population.

It's one of the reasons Ward 1 Coun. Andrew Knack jumped at the chance to mentor a woman through Opening the Potential, a six-month program that pairs women aged 22 to 40 with a council member for about two days a month. He hasn't been in city hall long, but in six months he's recognized a culture that's still somewhat male-centric. "We still have work to do to make this a gender-neutral organization," he says. The fact that Knack, 29, is one of several young men on a council with a single woman suggests that age is less a barrier than gender.

It's the third year for Opening the Potential, born out of a Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ initiative to increase female participation in municipal politics from 25 to 30 per cent. Program director Lynne Turvey is preparing for the largest intake of mentees yet. Eight councillors and the mayor have all opted in, but Couns. Tony Caterina, Dave Loken, Bryan Anderson and Ed Gibbons haven't — not this year or any year before. Why?

Regardless of them touting Opening the Potential, the fact is these four councillors have never deemed it worthy of their time, even when three of them were rookies with less on their plates, like Knack.

Though Caterina couldn't be reached, Gibbons, through his executive assistant, praised the program but said he didn't have time with his other commitments. Anderson also pointed out the need for Opening the Potential, but said his current council initiatives, which include the annexation committee, and the focus on meeting individual constituents would be a less than excellent experience for a mentee.

But those mundanities are exactly what a fledgling public servant should experience. As well, the time constraints of being councillor—even an experienced one—didn't stop Couns. Ben Henderson and Amarjeet Sohi and Mayor Don Iveson from signing up. And the time commitments are flexible; the bulk of the program consists of additional workshops in such things as governance and media relations, which four qualified women will be denied because there aren't enough positions.

Regardless of them touting Opening the Potential, the fact is these four councillors have never deemed it worthy of their time, even when three of them were rookies with less on their plates, like Knack.

When asked what it would take to get him involved, Ward 3 Coun. Dave Loken responded: "I have enough on my plate and enough challenges out there, and taking another one on isn't possible at this point. So that's what I want you to say, and if it gets painted in any other light you're going to hear back from me."

Sounds like he could use a media relations workshop, too.

He also asked, "Why is this news?" That he would ask that answers itself, but instead I went to the Rt. Honourable Kim Campbell for an answer.

Here's what the first female prime minister of Canada told me when asked why the representation of women in politics is still important: "When we have a landscape that's absent of certain kinds of people we come to think that that's how the world works and that's what is natural or normal. So if we never see women on city council, if we never see women doing these things, not only do we not expect them to, but when they do show up there's a visceral reaction against it."

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