Gibbons: Strong group of female candidates could make some noise in municipal election

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Photo by Caroline Phillips / Ottawa Citizen


The following was published on Aug. 7 in the Ottawa Sun.

By Rick Gibbons

Women represent less than 20 per cent of the names on ballots for the fall election, but the counterweight to this gross gender imbalance is a small but mighty cadre of new and highly impressive female candidates spread across more than a dozen wards in the city.

Take a closer look. It might just be the best roster of female hopefuls on the municipal scene since amalgamation.

Play their cards right and women could even rule the roost once the dust settles on the October vote.

For that to occur, we need to start with the fairly safe assumption that the three returning female councillors — Diane Deans (River ward), Catherine McKenney (Somerset) and Jan Harder (Barrhaven) — will be re-elected. Then, it’s just a matter of counting on voters to do their homework on the candidates on offer with a particular view to improving the woeful gender imbalance that has been a feature of city council for years now.

That doesn’t mean casting a vote strictly on the basis of gender. But it can mean taking a little extra time to learn about what the female candidates have to offer compared with the usual army of male candidates. Whether it’s in attitude or in experience, chances are the women are offering something currently in short supply at city hall.

A quick scan of nominees shows many of the female candidates to be young, well-educated professionals who are leaping over traditional barriers that have kept far too many women from considering a political career in the past.

In the U.S., young women are becoming a powerful new force in politics. We need a little more of that here.

Here are six female candidates who, in particular, deserve close attention, all of them rookies to politics, any one of them more than capable of making a splash at city hall.

Mireille Brownhill, Orléans: She is looking to fill a seat vacated by the retiring veteran councillor Bob Monette. She is a progressive who might find greater alignment with downtown councillors than the cadre of more conservative reps who tend to spring from the ‘burbs. She’s big on getting more women on council. Alas, she’s having to battle several other female candidates to do so. With 17 nominees vying for Orléans, Brownhill’s biggest struggle will be getting noticed in a crowded field.

Emilie Coyle, College: An immigration lawyer and a longtime resident of the ward. She is up against two veteran politicos, including veteran councillor Rick Chiarelli. The other is Ryan Kennery, a young communications consultant and former press assistant to Jim Watson. Coyle sees street safety and greater transparency in city spending as big issues in her ward. Her adversaries have spent their careers in and around politics, so, as an outsider, Coyle brings an entirely different professional perspective.

Donna Leith-Gudbranson, Innes: She worked for a councillor and knows her way around the city, impressing many in the process, including former ward councillor Rainer Bloess. She is a former school board president and among the country’s more famous hockey moms, thanks to two hockey star sons, Erik and Alex. Nobody says no to a hockey mom, right?

Jenna Sudds, Kanata North: The former head of the Kanata-North BIA, Sudds is the young, hand-picked candidate of the departing veteran councillor, Marianne Wilkinson. This is Sudds’s first shot at politics and she’s up against stiff competition from four male candidates, including former baseball executive and Watson employee David Gourlay. She is less experienced in politics, but her business acumen and networking skills should carry her far. She has the chance to break from the pack as the only woman candidate in the race. She needs to outwork her better-known adversaries to do it.

Raylene Lang-Dion, Alta Vista: A public servant and community activist armed with some heavyweight endorsements. She is a community leader with extensive volunteer experience and has been an outspoken critic of the Heron Gate redevelopment. She is a first-class candidate who would be a leader at city hall.

Carol Anne Meehan, Gloucester-South Nepean: A surprise 11th-hour entrant to the race, Meehan enjoys a higher community profile than most of the incumbents on council. Her TV background and tireless community work over a successful career won her a devoted army of supporters. The trick will be getting them out to vote. What she lacks in political experience can be overcome through hard work and being prepared for crucial community debates. She is an excellent communicator and would bring a healthy dose of skepticism to city hall.

There are other female candidates equally deserving of voters’ attention, and none of the above constitutes an endorsement. But it does show there are great choices available for voters who care about improving gender balance at city hall.

All they have to do is pay attention.

Rick Gibbons is the former publisher and chief executive of the Ottawa Sun. He can be heard weekdays, 1-3 p.m. on 1310 NEWS