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Women underrepresented in Belleville municipal election, candidates say

By Alisa Howlett [1]

BELLEVILLE – There are 37 people vying for a seat on Belleville city council. Of those candidates, only six are women.

Underrepresentation of women in politics is not just prevalent in Belleville; it’s Canada-wide. Women make up 16 per cent of mayors and 26 per cent of councillors, according to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities [2] website.

“To have below 30 per cent representation (of women) is not an effective representation of the community or the population. Therefore, democracy is not at its best and the communities aren’t best served with a council that is lopsided,” Sylvie Goneau, chair of the federation’s women’s committee, said.

By 2026, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities aims to increase the participation of women in politics by nine per cent.

The federation runs mentorship programs, training for potential candidates and candidate recruitment across Canada, Goneau said. One of the barriers to women in politics is inadequate information about how to get involved, she said: “You can’t be interested in something you don’t know about.”

Another organization that promotes women in politics is Equal Voice [3]. There are nine divisions across the country that host events, networking sessions and mini-campaigns to encourage women to become involved at any level of government.

“Political institutions are better when there is a more equal number of women and men. No one woman can represent the realities of all women. Women are very diverse – in their experiences, in their professions, and in their priorities,” Nancy Peckford, executive director of Equal Voice, said.

Historically, women have had to work hard to prove they’re capable and confident and that their skills are valuable, Peckford said. In the past, a lot of women didn’t have the same legal background or professional background that men did, but Peckford said that is changing now.

Jill Raycroft [4], one of the two female candidates for mayor of Belleville [5], said she wasn’t aware of the lack of women in politics until she joined the race herself. She said she would like to see more women at the council table.

“The reality of it is, women make most of the household decisions – they make a lot of the purchasing decisions … women are kind of the central force, and in order for their needs to be represented effectively in every level of politics they need to be at the table,” Raycroft said.

One of the female councillor candidates, Kelly McCaw [6], said she is used to a male-dominated profession, noting her career in real-estate. She said she has already been in situations where attitudes toward the achievements of men and women differ. If a man takes charge he’s seen as a leader; if a woman does the same, she’s seen as a power tripper, McCaw said, adding that this has plagued women for years.

A longtime Belleville councillor, Pat Culhane [7], is now on the ballot for mayor. Over the course of her two terms she has been largely surrounded by men.

“I would have liked to have more women (on council), but that’s not the way it shook out,” she said.

Culhane represented the Belleville ward and the other woman on council, Jackie Denyes [8], represented the Thurlow ward. They didn’t get to interact that much, Culhane said.

After two terms on a predominantly male council, Culhane said, “You don’t always get your own way, let’s put it that way – but neither do some of the men.”

Each of the candidates said that generally speaking, they have a great support system at home and their dependents are looked after, which encouraged them to enter the municipal election. They also all agreed that they would like to see a more gender-balanced council table.