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New Report Finds Women and Gender Minorities Face Harassment, Bullying and Exclusion Serving on City Councils in BC and Alberta

Report urges action to remove barriers women and gender minorities face to holding office in local government. 

New Westminster, BC (September 12, 2023) – You could call it BC’s municipal government #MeToo moment. A first of its kind report unearths the shocking discrimination experienced by women and gender minorities holding municipal office in BC and Alberta. The Barriers Project: Retention of Women and Gender Minorities in Municipal Elected Offices in British Columbia and Alberta was released today ahead of the Union of BC Municipalities Convention in Vancouver.

“The accounts we heard over and over again about bullying and harassment were both  heartbreaking and shocking in their consistency” says Nadine Nakagawa, head researcher for the project and a New Westminster City Councillor. “City council tables need to reflect the diversity of the communities they represent, but right now people are being excluded and pushed out. This research has concrete steps we can immediately take to address these issues.”

When women and people of gender minorities are elected to local (municipal) government in BC and Alberta, they often only serve one or two terms and then leave their roles. For this project, The Feminist Campaign School connected with over 100 women and gender minorities elected to local office through surveys, interviews and focus groups to understand why they choose to leave their jobs as elected officials, and what can change to make it possible for them to stay in office. The participants shared the challenges they faced while sitting as councilors and mayors, and discussed solutions to change systemic problems. 

“The lack of cultural and structural supports for women in local government make the role very isolating,” adds Jessica McIlroy, a North Vancouver City Councillor and Deputy Executive Director at Climate Caucus. “Some of my experiences are very similar to other male-dominated workplaces I’ve been in where women are more likely to be dismissed and delegitimized, but as an elected official, there is no recourse or anyone to turn to for support or resolution. I work full-time in another job, am the primary caregiver to children and have aging parents—and the job of a municipal elected official is not designed to recognize these challenges.”

The study provides four explicit calls to action and details the current crisis in local politics for women and gender minorities in BC and Alberta:

  1. Remove institutional barriers to ensure equitable representation on councils that better reflect the needs of local communities. This includes better access to childcare, pensions and benefits to recruit and retain diverse members on council, better pay, and training on roles and responsibilities. 
  2. Stop the abuse and harassment of women and gender minorities in local elected roles through the establishment of a dedicated Provincial Integrity Commissioner for Local Government (BC and Alberta) to enforce legally mandated codes of conduct, develop clear accountability processes and impose legal sanctions in the case of misconduct and abuse, including the removal of councilors or mayors and the implementation of financial penalties. 
  3. Stop the normalization of abuse with ‘whistleblower’ protections and formal support options for systemically oppressed groups occupying public office.
  4. Address the gap in representation, including the prioritization of the collection of intersectional and disaggregated data and anti-oppression training for councilors, CAOs and city managers.

While women make up over 50% percent of the Canadian population, according to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, they occupy only 18% of mayoral positions and 28% percent of councillor seats. Statistics are less well known for Non-Binary councilors, who make up 0.14% of the Canadian population according to the 2021 Canadian census. 

The full report can be found at localrepresentationa.ca. The study is led by The Feminist Campaign School in partnership with Climate Caucus and with funding from Women and Gender Equality Canada. The research team includes Nadine Nakagawa, Trudi Goels, Dr. Karen-Marie Elah Perry, and Manjot Bains.

Interviews with former and current city councilors and research team members are available.

Media Contact:

For media inquiries and interview requests with past city councilors and members of the research team, please contact us at The Feminist Campaign School:

trudi@ablazeservices.ca