Women could make their mark in this race

Record number of female candidates put names forward for territorial election

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The major territorial issues facing the next legislative assembly will be largely the same the last group of lawmakers faced.

Poverty, food insecurity, addictions, mental health, infrastructure, and climate change were whittled away at by Premier Bob McLeod and his cabinet – being watched closely by the regular MLAs, our unofficial opposition – but they still loom large over the lives of people in the 32 communities outside of Yellowknife.

However, with a number of incumbents stepping aside, including Premier Bob McLeod, there will be some fresh faces and new approaches in the committee rooms and assembly chamber after the Oct. 1 vote.

And an emerging storyline that was underscored once the nomination papers were filed and the campaign signs started popping up is that in this election, electors will have more women candidates to choose from than in any election to date in the NWT. The 20 women who have put their names forward is twice the number who ran in 2015.

This turnout had its genesis after the last election, when the assembly listed one of its mandates supporting initiatives designed to increase the participation of women in politics. After that year’s election the NWT had the smallest percentage of women MLAs of any legislature in the country.

That resulted in the Campaign School for Women, which toured the territory offering resources and guidance for women looking to run for political office.

During the 2018 municipal elections, Hay River, Fort Smith, Inuvik and Yellowknife all elected female mayors.

The 18th assembly had only two women MLAs, with one of them chosen to sit in cabinet. Ideally a governing body should reflect the population it serves, and that would include gender. And with the number of women candidates on various ballots across the territory, it would not be a stretch to believe there could be a half-dozen or more female MLAs elected next month.

That would top targets for increasing the number of women to 20 per cent by 2023 and 30 per cent by 2027.

It would also negate the imposition of measures discussed such as imposing a male/female quota system for the assembly, which would be undemocratic while creating a credibility imbalance with those MLAs – including female MLAs – who won their seats outright in a popular election.

Regardless of the number of women candidates running in this election, they still have to convince voters they are the right choice for them.

That means effective campaigns must have been developed and are now being deployed. Doors must be knocked on and media – both social and traditional – must be appealed to and responded to smartly and without any gaffes.

But above all, candidates of any gender must be able to provide plans and answers to those major issues listed above. They have all been identified and studied, with policies developed and tax dollars spent.

However, those problems still remain a burden on people’s lives. Would more women in policymaking roles help make a difference? That’s what the common wisdom holds. Women will have different priorities and approach issues from angles that wouldn’t occur to men.

The problem is, there is only so much money to go around – unless our economy starts to heat up or the federal government decides to make the North a higher funding priority. There is also a huge bureaucracy to battle, as mandarins are known to be stuck in their ways and that ship takes a while to turn.

It will also take some time for rookie MLAs to get their bearings and it would be difficult for any of them – male or female – to get into cabinet in their first year.

But it is exciting to see so many women taking the leap and placing their names on a ballot. Women traditionally do have more hurdles to overcome than men to enter politics. We congratulate all candidates and wish everyone the best in the campaign.

We at NNSL will be doing our level best to inform the public on what they need to know. Look for our coverage in our print editions and our online elections page at nnsl.com.

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