With ten months remaining before Edmontonians go to the polls in the 2021 municipal election, the field has already begun to form with a makeup very different from three years ago.
It's no secret that Edmonton City Council looks very male and very white. A mere look at the very visible demographics of council is enough to lift that shroud of secrecy. However, with seventeen candidates declared according to daveberta's election tracker, the status quo has taken a surprising shift:
- eleven (65%) of the candidates declared so far are women
- eight (47%) are visible people of colour
At the end of February 2017, a couple months later in the process from where we are now and with most of the incumbents declared, Daveberta tracked 31 candidates
- nine (29%) of the candidates declared were women
- nine (29%) of the candidates declared were visible people of colour
According to Rhiannon Hoyle who is running in Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi, an area roughly similar to the ward in which Michael Walters announced he wouldn't be running for re-election, this change represents a community that was always working, but decided now to step up and make their runs visible.
I’m only one person so I can only speak for myself, but I believe many of us from underrepresented groups are continuously working to improve representation on council that, at a minimum, reflects the population demographic of Edmonton. I hope letting Edmontonians know early that there are more of us stepping up to run will not only give us more exposure, but will also encourage others to get organized.
Shamair Turner, a candidate in Karhiio, the new ward that roughly encompasses Mill Woods, Summerside and Ellerslie, points to this summer as the point where pent-up tensions in the Black, Indigenous and People of Colour communities culminated into a rallying call for meangingful action from the people historically most marginalized.
People have become much more aware that a lot of spaces exist that have traditionally not been as welcoming or accessible to women and Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) and have realized that representation is more important than ever before.
She speaks to that in her own experience on deciding to declare this early
I used to feel that politics was something that goes on separately from regular people’s lives. I would hear about and discuss political events and once every few years participate through elections but it really is much closer to our lives than that. Politics influences how our neighborhoods look, who gets access to resources and power, and what gets prioritized.
Over the last few years I've come to realize much more than ever before that if we only ever have the same kinds of people from the same backgrounds with the same political career ambitions getting elected, we’re going to keep getting the same circles of influence and control over our communities. If we want to innovate, and improve accountability, we need new voices in leadership. Coming to this realization made me want to seek opportunities where I could get involved and have a greater impact on the community I live in.
But for the candidates just stepping up to run, especially first time candidates, they can expect a challenging, uphill climb. Incumbency advantage is strong in Edmonton, in the past 20 years, there have only been two examples of a sitting incumbent running and losing: Mike Nickel lost to Don Iveson in 2007 and Dave Loken lost to Jon Dziadyk in 2017.
We might not be due for another upset for another four years.
Where less than a third of Edmontonians show up to the polls to vote in their municipal elections, name recognition becomes worth its weight in electoral gold. Incumbency is one of the best forms of name recognition, but if one is a candidate long enough and puts in the effort, one might be able to earn some of that name recognition.
At least that's the hope.
Rhiannon Hoyle says "running in a ward with no incumbent typically leads to a larger number of candidates that step up to run."
Certainly that appears to be true so far in this race — the wards with the greatest number of candidates declared are the wards that are expected to be empty.
In Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi, Michael Walters has announced that he does not plan to seek re-election. In Karhiio, Mike Nickel is predicted to run for mayor. Even though the new ward of Metis has substantially different boundaries than Tony Caterina's Ward 7, he's not predicted to run in 2021, leaving signals of a third open ward.
I also think the reason for an early announcement, at least for me, is because I am not a household name. In order to break through we need time to get our name out there and connect with the community. We need the time to learn how to do this right in a way that we will be successful and that means finding volunteers, people with campaign experience and most importantly time to raise donations. The candidate is the top of a pyramid of team members and building that foundation takes time.
As far as incumbents go, the most towering among them won't be making an appearance in 2021. Don Iveson, the runaway victor of the 2017 election with over 70% of the vote has declared that he won't be seeking another term, opening the gates for others to declare for the top chair in the city.
For Cheryll Watson, one of the first candidates to declare in the race, a success would mean she would be the first woman to sit in the Mayor's chair since Jan Reimer was defeated 25 years ago, and the second woman ever.
She's excited at the prospect of a shakeup
Diverse representation allows us to make better decisions as we build our city. I've wondered if we would need groups like WAVE (Women's Advocacy Voice of Edmonton) if we had gender parity on council? An anti-racism task force if we had more diversity? While I commend Council and Administration for setting these things up to fill a void, I'd like Edmontonians to ask these questions of themselves and then show up to vote. Not only do I want to see the makeup of council change, I want more than 31% (speaking on past averages) of our population to care about this.
And with just two women and only two BIPOC councillors on a council of thirteen, there certainly is a lot of room to shake.
Coming from a background of tech sector leadership, most recently the VP of Innovate Edmonton, Watson is no stranger to working in rooms filled with men — the STEM fields notoriously are plagued with few women. Leaning on her past experience of engagement, hard work, and drive, a win certainly doesn't seem impossible. If she's already found her way into one room where it happens, why not another?
I'm not naive to think throwing out a bold statement like "vote for me" doesn't take work. I need all the time I can get interacting and connecting with voters. And lastly, I wanted Edmontonians to help build my policy platform. This takes time, it takes many conversations, it's learning and listening and providing a platform for tangible feedback. We're in the early stages of that and it's been great so far but I have a lot more people to talk to!
For the candidates, and all Edmontonians, it's still early. With another ten months to go until the election, policy and divisive issues still have plenty of time to take shape and find their homes with candidates.
But if early candidate declarations are anything to go on, this coming election will not look like any we've had in a long time.
Edmontonians go to the polls Monday, October 18th, 2021.