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Federation of Canadian Municipalities bringing campaign workshop to Squamish

Two-day course aims to draw more women into politics



Patricia Heintzman is considering a run for mayor of Squamish.

"I'm definitely thinking about it," Heintzman said. "I have that 10 per cent in my brain, (now) I have to get my brain around and accept how I see my life in the next three years, and I will announce either way in the next week."

If she decides to run, she'll join a minority of women who have run for office in the Sea to Sky region in the past few elections. The 2008 vote saw two women voted to Squamish council out of seven positions. Two women were elected to five positions in Pemberton.

And in the Resort Municipality of Whistler not a single woman ran for council, leaving seven males to make decisions on behalf of the community for the next three years.

It's out of concern that not enough women are running for politics across Canada that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), a national association of municipal governments, is holding a Municipal Campaign Training Workshop, to be co-chaired by Heintzman and Squamish Councillor Corrine Lonsdale.

Taking place September 24 and 25 at the Squamish Seniors Centre, the workshop aims to encourage more women to run for office and play a role making decisions on behalf of taxpayers.

"I think people of different genders and different age demographics bring a different quality and experience and ideas to the table," Heintzman said. "It's hard to have really balanced decision-making when you don't have a balanced position on those decisions."

Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, a former longtime councillor with the Resort Municipality of Whistler, agrees.

"We're more than 50 per cent of the population and we ought to be reflected in the leadership of the town," she said. "I think the style of decision-making would change, I would like to think that with more women there would be more of a collaborative approach to making decisions at the local level."

Pam McConnell, a Toronto City Councillor and chair of the FCM's Standing Committee on Increasing Women's Participation in Municipal Government, said the first day will teach participants how to put together a campaign team, fundraising and take care of other details to get elected. The second day will teach participants how to message.

"For women who are running for the first time or who've been unsuccessful in the past, they need to have these things as second nature," she said. "What we're trying to do is give them those experiences that women right across Canada have had who have been successful on the ballot."

The workshop comes as women represent a clear minority in municipal governments across Canada. The Federation estimates that women represent 16 per cent of mayors and 25 per cent of councilors in Canada.

The trend isn't just at the local level. There are 76 female Members of Parliament. That puts Canada 40 th in the world... behind Iraq and Afghanistan.

With a place in government, there's a chance for women to push issues and perspectives that men might not otherwise promote. For example, Heintzman said that women are more concerned with social issues.

"You could easily say that women generally are more concerned with social issues, with the softer side of the policy development stuff," she said. "Corinne and I generally are more vocal and more concerned about some of those social issues, whether it's childcare or homelessness, than men.

"Not to say that's a blanket statement, obviously men are concerned. (But) there definitely are some issues that seem to be more female-oriented, they tend to be the more socially-prevalent issues."

The workshop follows a Sea to Sky Campaign School held in late May that drew 50 women from throughout the corridor and elsewhere. It gave an opportunity for politicians such as mayors and councillors to offer their advice on politics, and at least two people out of the school have since expressed interest in running for office.

Susie Gimse, a councillor with the Village of Pemberton, director of Area C for the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and a member of FCM's B.C. board, said the workshop will be more about the "nuts and bolts" of politics than the Sea to Sky Campaign School.

"It's more specific in terms of how to run a campaign," she said. "It's a little bit more in depth in terms of what someone needs to know. It also gets into a little bit more information in terms of what's required once you are elected."

Gimse added that women ought to be involved in politics because it's "important to have balance."

Asked whether she feels, like Heintzman, that women are more concerned with social issues, she disagreed.

"I think men and women are equally concerned about all issues," she said. "I don't necessarily think that women are more engaged in social issues over men. You know, every individual brings something different to the table... Again, it's about balance."