Sunday, October 21, 2018

Welcome to The Boys Club on Third Avenue West ... no Girls Allowed!

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced his first cabinet three years ago, he famously noted that the inclusion of fifty percent female participation in his cabinet was best stated with what became a catch phrase for the year of Because it's 2015.

When Mayor Lee Brain convenes the first City Council meeting for the new class of 2018 in November, he may have to turn to a different century for any bold declarations; as for the first time in decades, the new Prince Rupert council will not feature an elected female voice in the Chamber.

That shift in the composition of Council coming after the thirty percent who cast a ballot on Saturday sent an all male cast to the stage for what will now be a four year run of City Hall: Boys Club.

The verdict of the voters in this 2018 campaign was rather decisive, with the final council position eluding candidates Sarah Dantzer and Charmayne Carlson by 165  and 531 votes respectively.

Part of the shift might be attributed to such a low turnout at the voting booth, with roughly 70 percent of the eligible voters choosing to sit this one out; being able to make sure that your core group of supporters made it to the ballot box probably made for the difference between positions six, to seven or eight.

The change in the council dynamic makes for a startling turn of events however, for through the decades, electors in Prince Rupert have sent many strong female voices to civic office, as was seen most recently ten years ago.

To put the numbers into perspective, we need only travel back to the 2008 election which had a 41 percent voter turnout.

The voters of the day sending five women candidates to the Council chamber, with Joy Thorkelson, Shiela Gordon-Payne, Kathy Bedard, Anna Ashely and Gina Garon to join Nelson Kinney and Mayor Jack Mussalem to elected office.

The 2018 election has delivered a 180 degree turn from
the results from just ten years ago

(click to enlarge)

Ten years later, those results and the political advances that they represented have been reversed.

The list of the names of the past feature some of the legendary figures of Prince Rupert municipal politics, times that delivered strong willed advocates for any number of social causes.

Among just a few of the many notables:

Nora Arnold elected as Prince Rupert's first Mayor in 1947 and named Canada's woman of the year

Iona Campagnola a council member who went on to Federal success in the era of Trudeaumania taking a seat for the Liberals in the House of Commons in 1974, achieving a cabinet position in 1976.

Evelyn Basso a popular city council member who first was elected in 1974 and helped steer the city through a number of crisis situations and remains one of the longest serving council members in the city's history.

More recently there has been Joy Thorkelson who brought a passion for the North Coast fishery to her position, as well as to be an advocate for those who have been marginalized in the community.

And that's just a glimpse of the roster of many names that served on Council with distinction and had a significant impact on municipal government

In a bit of a historical twist, the first female elected to City Council was Mrs. Elizabeth Kirkpatrick elected to office in 1918, as RG Large observes in the first of his two encyclopedias of Prince Rupert  such was her dedication to elected office, that Mrs. Kirkpatrick also served on the School District Board at the same time as well. ...

Today, 100 years after Mrs. Kirkpatrick took office,  the next four years will return the Chamber to a Boys only membership.  With the history books for now recording that as her term expires on Monday, October 22nd, 2018,  Joy Thorkelson will have served as the last female member to sit in Council chambers.

You might have to check a calendar a few times over the next four years to see if we haven't somehow been transported back 101 years and to a return to a different era for politics when it comes to a gender balance in the City Council chamber.

Once the fall out from the 2018 campaign settles in, one imagines that more than a few residents will be waking up on Sunday and after reviewing the vote count of Saturday, may begin to think that the next election campaign can't arrive soon enough ...

For more notes of interest on Prince Rupert City Council see our archive page here.

Note: Some of our research notes have been culled from the works of RG Large: Gateway to Alaska Volumes 1 and 2, to get a full picture of the rich history of Prince Rupert, they are well worth a read and are available at the Prince Rupert Library.

More fascinating background on the history of the city can be found through the large volume of work of Phyllis Bowan and Dr. WBM Hick, who delivered a two volume set on the rise of the Port of Prince Rupert, Hay's Orphan and Canada's Pacific Gateway, both of which include some observations on the politics and atmosphere of the city over the decades.

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