Progress is slow but sure for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' (FCM) Standing Committee for Increasing Women's Participation in Politics, as the number of female representatives in local governments increased by one per cent in 2008, from 22 per cent to 23 per cent.
The goal of the organization is to reach a plateau of 30 per cent - consistent with a United Nations directive on women in democracy that determined that 30 per cent was the minimum number, or "tipping point" required for women to have an effective voice.
While politics may be gender-neutral, the issues are not. For example, female politicians tend to be more effective when it comes to representing women's issues like childcare, playgrounds, facilities for nursing mothers, etc.
At the committee's presentation in Whistler on Saturday, standing committee chair Pam McConnell, listed the committee's main achievements the past year - including, notably, the promotion of the group as a full standing committee within the FCM framework.
As well, the committee launched a Regional Champions campaign where women in or formerly in politics would agree to mentor other women in their region to take the plunge, volunteering for committees and groups to gain experience, and then throwing their hats into the ring come election time. They also developed a national election toolkit to help women who decide to run with the particulars of their campaign. In some jurisdictions they even put on courses for women that cover everything from public speaking to social networking websites.
"The past year was a watershed for us," said McConnell. "We stepped up advisory efforts, we met with more MPs to teach them about the deficit of women in municipal politics. Our toolkit went international, and we launched our Regional Champion program. No question, it was a big, big effort."
Although Whistler itself did not come up at the discussion - only one female candidate for mayor in 2008, and no candidates for council out of 23 total candidates - McConnell reiterated that the goal is 30 per cent on every council as opposed to 30 per cent across the board.
While women make up slightly more than half of the population, the standing committee is also committed to removing any barriers that exist that might keep women out of politics while acknowledging that the burden of raising families still keeps many women out of the workforce.
One barrier is the fact that many women do not consider politics as a career option at an early age compared to boys, and she said the Regional Champion program would include presentations to women at the elementary and high school level. The fact that there are more male politicians in office also has an impact in influencing career choices, which is why the committee is also working to make female politicians more noticeable.
In April, McConnell and other members of her group met with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who confirmed his intention to run more female candidates in the next election. While he stopped short of setting a quota, he called it a priority for his party.
"I reminded him that it's not the number of candidates, but the number that get elected," said McConnell.