Is This The Year of Women for Vancouver Politics?

With seven female mayoral candidates and 62 women running for council, park board, and school trustees, the outcome of this municipal election could launch Vancouver’s Year of the Women.

Beyond setting a record for candidates this year—158 people vying for 27 spots—Vancouverites may make history if they elect the city’s first female mayor.

SFU public practice professor and mayoral candidate, Shauna Sylvester.

“I’ve been told by so many people that this is not a time for firsts,” mayoral candidate Shauna Sylvester tells me after a morning spent door-to-door canvassing. When it comes to financial support and name recognition, this part of her campaign is a crucial tool she uses to chip away at the barriers facing her both as a female and independent candidate.

“After 132 years we need a strong voice for women in city council…But that doesn’t mean I should win because I’m a woman. I should win because I’m the most qualified candidate.”

The SFU public practice professor has received many awards during her 30 years working on major urban issues in Vancouver. Having lived in the region for decades, it’s a city she feels she has deep expertise in. But mayoral candidate Wai Young, who’s lived here just as long, thinks otherwise.

Former MP for Vancouver South and Coalition Vancouver candidate for mayor, Wai Young.

“Shauna doesn’t have the governance or government experience that I’ve had,” says Young. The former MP for Vancouver South launched her campaign back in January by creating her own party, Coalition Vancouver. “Being in an academic environment and setting is very different than passing legislation.”

The two women are political polars in many ways—Conservative Young promises Coalition Vancouver will end “the ideological war on transportation” with no new bike lanes. Progressive Sylvester is committed to updating the Transportation 2040 with increases to cycling targets. While Sylvester believes a mayor backed by a party can’t truly govern with the city’s best interests in mind, Young says Coalition is the only party who are 100 percent for the people, having no union or business backers.

But they both agree that Vancouver’s been run by men for far too long, with Sylvester calling the city’s political history “The Male Machine” while Young opts for “The Backroom Boys.” They’re also the only two candidates truly hoping to be elected Vancouver’s first female mayor.

To run for office, one needs to be at least 18 years old on general voting day, a Canadian citizen, a resident of B.C. for at least six months prior to filing nomination papers, and not be disqualified by law from being nominated, elected, or holding office.

Those were easy boxes for Satie Shottha (Independent) to tick, as was the requirement to collect 25 signatures for her nomination. But even after paying the $100 application fee, which she believes she’ll be reimbursed for later, she was still shocked to see her name on the finalized list of candidates.

“I’m not a politician, I’m not even actively seeking people to vote for me. I just needed a platform,” says Shottha, a former employee with the City of Vancouver, who is three-years deep into a workplace harassment allegation. Her hope is to shed light on how the city has wasted taxpayer’s money on investigating her claim.

“It would be nice to see Vancouver elect a woman for mayor, but at the same time I was harassed by a female director,” Shottha says, adding that her place on the ballot isn’t meant to undermine the other people running for mayor with more credentials.

Impartial as journalists are expected to be in their reporting, there is no denying that several candidates do not have the credentials to be mayor. Rollergirl has nothing but lovely, idealistic goals outlined in her platform. However, she has previously been convicted of manslaughter and served roughly a decade in prison.

Sophia Kaur ran for mayor in 2014, only winning 0.27 per cent of the votes despite her qualification of being able to breathe 5 million breaths from her nipples in a second. Katy Le Rougetel ran in 1982 to be Montreal’s mayor, but the self-described communist and contributor to The Militant lacks a strong following.

IDEA candidate Connie Fogal has all of the political credentials. The widow of COPE’s recurring mayoral candidate, Harry Rankin, Fogal is a retired lawyer who’s worked on Vancouver’s Park Board and Canadian Action Party, to name a few.

“Getting elected isn’t really the point,” the 78-year-old says. She entered the race on September 15, but says that her late start, coupled with her parties lacking financial backing, are near impossible weaknesses to surmount.

“There’s nothing more than I can do other than get to the organized meetings, have some conversations with media and have my voice heard,” says Fogal, adding that she doesn’t recognize Vancouver anymore.

“I don’t care if it’s a man or a woman. I want them to care about things that are humanly manners that make social living constructively possible.”

The political temperature that triggered a Year of the Women in the United States in 1992— and its reincarnation in 2018— is exactly why Sylvester is running for mayor. “I started hearing ‘fake news,’ Canada-first, racist narratives emerge in the work I was doing. I felt really strongly that it was my time to stand up, get people to turn back and see government and serving their needs,” Sylvester says. “If we continue on the path of polarization we can expect to go the direction of Ford or Trump.

Newer parties in this municipal race—ProVancouver, Vancouver 1st—do have a somewhat MAGA-like sentiment. Additionally, Young says City Hall is starting to be treated like a business, another homage to the right wing leadership styles of Trump and Ford.

Maybe it will take a female mayor bridge the gap between civic government and civilians. It could come down to the first independent mayor being elected since 1972, or maybe a combination of both. But if Vancouverites don’t use their vote to break patterns and habits, is it fair for us to expect a more affordable and healthy city?