The Village of Marwayne council, from left, Morgan Wood, Karen Boyarchuk, Cheryle Eikeland, Deputy Mayor Roger Parkyn and Mayor Jenelle Saskiw. - Photo Supplied
By Thomas Miller
Last week, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities announced a new program that aims to get more young women interested in becoming municipal politicians.
At the municipal level, only 22 per cent of elected officials in Alberta are women.
One pilot program for the Protégé Program is being run in Edmonton, where City Councillor Karen Leibovici is a mentor.
“A lot of programs are basically, in the past, have been more, here’s a campaign manual, there’s a session or two and good luck,” she said. “What this program is, is a much more intensive program.
“Providing the information as to how do you get elected, what kind of skills do you need and what the job entails.”
Leibovici said that there can be barriers for young women getting into politics, such as accessing funds for election campaigns, but it can be as simple as not seeing themselves in that leadership role.
“We address what some of those issues are and what some of the approaches can be to deal with them,” she said, adding that having more women involved in the decision-making process would provide a different perspective. “A little bit more than half of the population is female, yet less than a quarter are represented around the decision-making table. So those voices are not heard.”
Glenda Elkow, who sits on council in the County of Vermilion River, wasn’t overly concerned about the low percentage of women involved in municipal politics.
She said, above all, whether male or female, the person should be qualified and have life experiences that would add different perspectives to the council.
“I think that anyone who has some experience in (business, agriculture or other ventures) and has a desire to serve and wants to make a difference in their community, all those things, should be encouraged to run, whether you’re a female or male,” she said. ”To me it’s not a gender thing, do you have the ability or don’t you and do your constituents support you?”
The Village of Marwayne is an outlier when it comes to women in politics.
In Alberta, only 17 per cent of mayors are women, one of those is Jenelle Saskiw, the mayor of Marwayne.
Joining her on council are Karen Boyarchuk and Cheryle Eikeland, giving women the majority on the council, which has two men.
“One family had a consultant come into our village and he actually referred to our council as not being male, pale or stale,” she said with a laugh. “That’s kind of been a joke with us.”
Saskiw, who has four kids, said it can be a juggling act at times being a politician and a mom, but she enjoys the flexibility the career offers and doesn’t see the barriers mentioned by Leibovici.
In fact, through her work with the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, she is seeing more and more young women getting involved.
Saskiw was first elected onto the village council at the age of 28.
At that time she was pregnant and she would have two of her children as a member of council.
She credits her husband for making sacrifices to give her the opportunity to serve on council and as mayor.
“I’ve had to hold meetings in my home because I couldn’t find a baby sitter,” she said. “My kids have grown up going into the office with me. We’ve had meeting dates to accommodate me having the baby.
“I think that everybody just came to realize that I was here, I was serious, I was doing this because I love our community, because I love our province and I’ve never seen any barriers.”
Saskiw said that she meets women who say they have thought about getting into politics, but don’t think they can juggle that job along with raising a young family.
“They can do it,” she said emphatically. “I don’t think that there’s any set age that you need to be. If you’re passionate and you believe in it and you want to dedicate the time, because it is a huge time commitment, then just go for it.”