Why is She Only Profiling the Women?

I was going to start this introduction to my interviews with all 10 women running in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality elections this fall by asking the rhetorical question: “Why do we need women on council?”

Anne Godwin, the first woman elected to municipal council in Cape Breton.

Anne Godwin, the first woman elected to municipal council in Cape Breton.

I was then going to answer (I know, I know, you’re not supposed to answer rhetorical questions, but I can never resist):

“Because it’s 2016.”

But I think we all know who took that line.


Yay, Dominion!

So I will just jump right in and start explaining why I’ve chosen to profile only the women running for council this fall.

In part, it’s because I am one person and I cannot profile all 44 people who have thrown their hats in the ring.

But it’s also because the province of Nova Scotia – and the island of Cape Breton is no exception – has a dismal record of electing females to municipal office (and yes, I understand, part of the problem is that women don’t run for municipal office in sufficient numbers, that’s dismal too).

A 2005 report by the Women in Local Government Project (called, “Untapped Resources,” which kind of tells you all you need to know) said women accounted for over 50% of the province’s population, but made up only 21.7% of municipal councilors (the third-lowest in Canada), 7% of wardens and mayors and only 14.5% of chief administrators (the lowest in Canada)

Newer numbers, from 2013, show some improvement, but not much: women made up 24% of municipal councilors in Nova Scotia and 20% of wardens and mayors.

And yet, according to Elections Canada, there is evidence of women voting in municipal elections in Nova Scotia well before Confederation:

Two recorded incidents in Nova Scotia make it clear that women voted there. The first involved a disputed election in Amherst Township and the second an 1840 election in Annapolis County, where the Tories made great efforts to use women’s votes to save the riding from a Reform landslide and the Reformers countered by transporting their own female supporters to the polls…

Alas, in 1851, Nova Scotian women were disenfranchised by law and would not regain the right to vote until 1918.

And it wouldn’t be until the 1950s that the first woman would be elected to municipal office on Cape Breton Island. Her name was Anne Godwin (1900-1985) and she was elected by acclamation to the Dominion town council in 1953. She served two, two-year terms, during which time she was actually joined by a second woman councilor, Donna McMullin. (Yay, Dominion!).



I had ambitions (which I may yet realize) of compiling a list of all the women to serve on the various industrial Cape Breton municipal councils prior to amalgamation, but it’s going to involve moving into the microfilm room at the McConnell Library for a month or two, and I’ll have to clear the decks first.

In the meantime, I can tell you that since amalgamation in 1995, the CBRM has gone to the polls six times and elected a total of 102 councilors (they started electing 21, reduced that to 16 in 2000, then cut it to 12 in 2012). Among those 102 elected councilors (obviously, I’m not talking about 102 different people, many have been re-elected, some repeatedly) there have been four women: Claire Detheridge, Mae Rowe, Kim Desveaux and Lee McNeil.

And to those who say the dearth of women on council is just the tip of the lack-of-diversity iceberg here, I say, you’re right. But women make up 51% of the population of Nova Scotia. If we can’t elect a council that represents the majority of people in this community, how ever will we elect one that reflects us in all our fine diversity?

For that reason, I have chosen to profile the 10 women running for CBRM Council this fall. I’m not saying you have to vote for them, I’m just saying, read their stories, consider the issues they raise and ask yourself if perhaps they represent something that’s been missing from our local government for a long time.


This article has been corrected: it originally stated there had only ever been three women on CBRM council. Apologies to Lee McNeil.