Women have made gains in municipal elections in Northern Ontario. Now the work begins

As newly elected mayors and councilors prepare to take office, women will hold key positions in communities across Northern Ontario.

Women have won municipal elections in Timmins, West Nipissing, Nipigon, Rainy River, Oliver Paipoonge, Shuniah and Red Rock.

In Thunder Bay, four of the 12 councilors will be women, including three of the five general positions responsible for citywide issues. Women will fill four of 12 council positions in Sudbury and three of 11 positions in Sault Ste. Marie.

These results, and even the number of women who did not pass, are a step in the right direction for politics in the region, said Anne Antenucci, president of Women in Politics Northwestern Ontario in Thunder Bay, which encourages women to enter politics through mentorship programs. .

« It’s not just that you should vote for a woman because she’s a woman, » Antenucci explained. “Our elected officials must look like the electorate they represent and 50% of us are women.

“That goes for all diversity – we need different voices, different faces, because that means different issues will be addressed,” Antenucci said.

This campaign saw women come forward for the first time, which is encouraging, Antenucci said.

« It was really exciting. It was also exciting to see the number of diverse women, women of color, women of aboriginal background, people of diverse genders, » she said. « The crowd of women under 50 stepping up and making their voices heard is always exciting to me. »

Yet there was a noticeable absence of female candidates for the top positions in Northwestern Ontario.

In the region’s 10 most populous municipalities, only two women ran for mayor this fall. The biggest four — Thunder Bay, Kenora, Dryden and Fort Frances — don’t have a single female candidate for mayor, according to a CBC News analysis of provincial candidate lists.

Although Thunder Bay is still a long way from achieving gender parity on the board, there is one more woman around the table than last term.

Of the three women in the last term, Rebecca Johnson decided not to run, Kristin Oliver defended her seat and Shelby Ch’ng moved from her seat in the Northward district to a position at large, winning more than 13,000 votes .

Shelby Ch’ng and Brian Hamilton watch the election results roll in Monday night at the Red Lion Smokehouse in Thunder Bay. Both were re-elected to new terms on council, Ch’ng at large and Hamilton in McKellar Ward. (Sara Kae/CBC)

Kasey Etreni and Rajni Agarwal were elected general councilors, which has traditionally been difficult for new candidates, Antenucci said.

« Usually you have to go through stages to get to this point, » she said. « Running for the first time, usually as a woman, who’s new and getting elected? That says a lot about your campaign and what you told people you were knocking on doors with. »

First-term advisors bring big plans

Etreni, a retired radiation therapist, and Agarwal, a real estate agent and developer, both say they are ready to go.

For Agarwal, lowering property taxes for homeowners, attracting new businesses, increasing housing stock and encouraging mining development are her top priorities once she takes office in November.

Regarding the city’s well-documented social problems, including homelessness, crime and the rising number of opioid-related deaths, Agarwal said the situation was a « crisis » and needed immediate action.

rajni agarwal thunder bay city councillor
Rajni Agarwal is one of five city councilors in Thunder Bay, responsible for issues that affect the entire city. It’s traditionally a tough race to win for a first-time contestant. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

« It’s an immediate need, it’s not a future need. It’s not a discussion we should be having in the future, a year from now. It needs to be resolved today. »

The recently canceled outreach services are essential, she said, and she is seeking more money from the provincial and federal governments for more drug treatment beds.

Etreni, meanwhile, wants a place on council committees such as the city’s social services board and the Thunder Bay economic development board.

« There’s some really good work that a lot of these committees have done, » Etreni said. « I don’t think people realize how hard our councilors have worked within our community. »

kasey etreni thunder bay city council
Kasey Etreni is one of five general councilors in Thunder Bay, winning her spot Monday as a candidate for the first time. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Over the past few years, the committees have drawn up good plans, but they have not been fully implemented, Etreni said, blaming the delay on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Etreni also hopes Thunder Bay can become a hub for workers on regional mining projects that are slated to start soon, a hope also shared by mayor-elect Ken Boshcoff.

“We are going to see guarantees of [those projects] », she said. « We’re going to need about 1,500 homes over the next five years because of this warranty and so there’s a lot of excitement about that.”

Etreni predicts that the Ontario government will soon act on addictions treatment in the city and hopes that Thunder Bay can have satellite service of a service already established elsewhere in Ontario.

« So you don’t have to focus on the infrastructure of an organization. You can actually tap into all the resources, and I think there’s an opportunity there for mental health and addictions, to help with that. »


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