How to get more women into politics

An Edmonton, Alberta, Canada case study

September 2017

TL;DR: This is an explanation of how a group of volunteers encouraged more women to run in Edmonton’s 2017 municipal election. Throughout, there are references to resources we used. You can download them all here. If these resources are useful, be sure to let us know at This post is cross-posted at 


Act I

In the spring of 2015, the board of the Alberta North chapter of Equal Voice, a Canadian, multipartisan organization dedicated to electing more women to all levels of government across the country, formed a goal, which read like this: 50 per cent of candidates in Edmonton’s 2017 mayoral race, all council races and school board races will be women.

The next municipal election was more than two years away at that point, scheduled for October 2017. We were in the middle of a historic provincial election in Alberta: not only was the 44 year Progressive Conservative government ultimately toppled by the Alberta NDP, but the new Premier, Rachel Notley, had a slate of candidates that was 52 per cent women, which resulted in a caucus that was 50 per cent women. She named a gender balanced cabinet, too, a move that was later echoed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and polled well with Canadians.    

After the 2015 provincial election in Alberta, gender parity in politics somehow seemed possible. Within reach. Tangible. Real. So we set our goal and started talking about how to achieve it. That’s where this story comes in. Since nomination day has just passed for the October 16, 2017 Edmonton municipal elections, the numbers are in. That means we can tell our story and share what we did to contribute to today.

We elected a new chapter board in March 2015, and by June, 2015, we had committed to the 50 per cent goal. Our board included a chair and five vice chairs with portfolios of governance, finance, communications, events and membership.

We spent two strategy sessions that June with an excellent facilitator. Here’s the agenda for those two sessions. You’ll see that on the first day, we spent a good amount of time figuring out the exact wording and definition of our goal, brainstorming piles of tactical ideas, then grouping and prioritizing them. These are our notes from the first day. And here is exactly how we worded our goal:

50 per cent of candidates in Edmonton’s 2017 mayoral race, all council races, and school board races will be women.

The second day, we continued brainstorming and organizing tactics, which ultimately resulted in a tactical plan for that year. These are our notes from the second day.

We came away from those strategy sessions with lots of ideas, and one really big, important, central tactic: ask her.


We concluded that practically, the reason why women run for office is because they are asked. Not once, not twice, but three times at least. We thought, if what it takes to get women to run is to ask a bunch of women to run, how were we going to do that? How would we recruit women to run for Edmonton’s municipal elections?

The three big things we did in year one of two of this strategy were build a website (, throw a campaign launch event and host a Speakers Series.

The website allowed us to build a base of links to resources, and gave us a central hub around which to organize our events, communications and candidate tracking. We also wanted the website to reflect the narrative of asking women to run, and asking everyone to nominate a woman to run. To that end, we made those sections the features of the page. We built this site on a platform and used a wordpress template. We have expertise in copywriting and web design on the team, which helped.

The YEGParity launch event allowed us to ignite and engage a community of people in Edmonton who care about stuff like this. This included a few other groups with similar goals to ours, in particular, the City of Edmonton Women’s Initiative. The launch event was also useful to announce to the women of Edmonton that we were coming to ask them to run, and we were encouraging their friends and family and colleagues to do the same thing. It also gave us a chance to start to tell this story to the Edmonton media. We hosted the event at a pub in downtown Edmonton called Mercer Tavern–they have allowed us to use a part of their space many times for our events. We spread the word about the event through social media and through the email newsletters of several community groups, plus our own.

The #YEGParity Speakers Series allowed us to start engaging directly with women who would potentially run for office. The series was intended to offer them a resource that was actually helpful, in content and in network. It was also meant to draw attention to the issue. And finally, it was meant as a first step, a way in, for women to think of themselves as potential candidates in a real way. We struggled with a consistent venue for this series of six sessions, but managed to find venues at no cost for all but one of the sessions. Political leaders volunteered their time to host the sessions. We had an average of 30 attendees at each session. We spread the word about the event through social media and through the email newsletters of several community groups, plus our own.


Catrin Berghoff and Natalie Crawford Cox present during EVAN’s Speakers Series.


Act II  

In late spring of 2016, we went back to our facilitator and asked him to run another day-long strategy session for us. We had a good first year, but we knew the second year would be crucial. We also realized we only had so many resources–we had six eager, dedicated women volunteering for the board–but little money. We had a budget of about $1000. We all had full time jobs and families. We needed to refine our tactics and create an even more focused strategic plan we knew was as efficient as possible. Here is the agenda for that strategic planning retreat.

We also got real at this particular retreat: I asked each board member to anonymously submit answers to two questions:

  1. Would you run if asked? Why or why not?
  2. What barriers are stopping you specifically from launching a campaign?

In that moment, we reflected. We were a group of six capable and qualified women with an interest in politics and a dedication to their city, and for some reason, not one of us was planning on running. I thought that reflecting on this would be a good way to ground our discussion. It would help us understand what other women might be thinking. This moment would help shape our plans and how we would approach others to put their names forward.

Here are the notes from that strategic planning day. Here is the detailed and specific tactical plan we ended up with, which we checked in on regularly as we executed. I am happy to report that we did all this great stuff.

And here’s the summary of answers our board gave to those two questions above.

What follows is a summary of what we did during the year leading up to Edmonton’s 2017 municipal elections to reach our goal.

Key events: We had finished off our YEGParity Speakers Series in September 2016. We held a Municipal Campaign School for Women in February 2017, City Hall and School Board 101 in April 2017, and a FundraiseHER event in June 2017.


Participants listen at the Municipal Campaign School for Women in February 2017.

Outreach: We presented at more than a dozen events and meetings about Equal Voice, and participated in panels and events in partnership with many other groups in Edmonton working towards similar goals. Here’s a quick list:

Here’s the slide deck we used at a few presentations.


Participants listen at the Municipal Campaign School for Women in February 2017.

Public and Media Relations: We made a point of executing a robust media and public relations strategy over the two years of this goal. To that end, we garnered dozens of unique news stories, allowing us to share the message of equal political representation with a regional reach in the millions. Here’s a quick list of stories:

April 2015 – Alberta provincial election

January – February 2016 – YEG Parity campaign launch event

October 2016 – One year out from election

November 2016 – American election

February 2017 – Equal Voice Alberta North Campaign school

April – June 2017 – Notice of intent

September 2017 – Nomination day

Asking: Most importantly, we were a team dedicated to working hard, together, to connect with women. This meant one-on-one engagements and meetings to ask women to consider running for office. All of our board members had many meetings, conversations, and phone calls. At latest count, we estimate that we directly asked around 100 women to run.



Now we find ourselves at the numbers. If you like data, you will love this. If you don’t, stick around anyway! We compiled these numbers because we wanted a clear answer to our question: had we reached our goal? Were 50 per cent of candidates in Edmonton’s 2017 mayoral race, all council races, and school board races women?

The short answer is yes, kind of. And the long answer is, there’s so much more to it, and so much more to do. And the good news is, there are more women running in this Edmonton municipal election than ever before.

First, a summary, below that, detailed charts and graphs painting the picture of parity in Edmonton’s 2013 and 2017 municipal election candidates.

Table 1: Edmonton’s 2013 Municipal Election Gender Balance Summary

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 10.01.01 PM

Table 2: Edmonton’s 2017 Municipal Election Gender Balance Summary

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 10.01.12 PM

The number of women running increased: the number of women running for city council nearly doubled, and the number of men running for council is slightly lower.

Let’s take a look at some visuals that may help us understand if we met our goal:

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 10.03.19 PM


Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 10.03.31 PM
We moved from less than half the races having more than half women candidates, to more than half the races having more than half women candidates.

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 1.40.44 PM.png

This chart shows us that in 2013, the only races that had a majority of women candidates were school board races. Of the seven races where no women ran, five of them were council races. The highest percentage of women candidates in a council race was in ward 2–the only ward currently represented by a woman councillor.

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 1.39.58 PM.png

The 2017 chart looks different. Three council wards, as opposed to zero in 2013, have 50 per cent or more women candidates: 5, 2, and 10. There are only three races this time where no women are running, two of which are council races: ward 1 and ward 6.

If you’re curious about the full data picture, you can check out our spreadsheet here.

And finally, here’s a picture looking back to 1960 in Edmonton’s municipal election history. At the current rate of change, which has accelerated this year, it will take until 2030 to reach gender parity among Edmonton’s municipal election candidates, but only if we continue to work together as a community to actively recruit women to run.

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 1.41.31 PM.png

Act IV

We have some survey results to help fill in the story around why women chose to run.

We sent a survey on August 14, 2017, to all the women who had registered their intent to run for Edmonton’s 2017 municipal elections at that point: 39 women. We asked for responses by Monday, August 28, 2017 and received 18. You can check out the survey here.

In general, a few themes emerged.

First, it seems awareness about the lack of women on Edmonton City Council after the 2013 election motivated women to run in the 2017 election:

“Learning that there were no women candidates in 6 of the Wards during the last municipal election impacted my decision to run.”

Resources provided to support women in running helped. In addition to Equal Voice Alberta North’s strategy, resources were provided by the City of Edmonton’s Women’s Initiative, particularly their Opening the Potential program, and by the Alberta government Status of Women ministry under their Ready for Her program, among other initiatives:

“Attending Equal Voice sessions and “Opening the Potential” made me realize I was a lot more prepared than I thought. It helped me shift my thinking about my readiness. It also forced me to think about it on a regular basis (after which I would talk myself out of it and be really down for a week or two).”

We asked women whether these programs, workshops and events meant to help women run for office impacted their decision to run. The chart below shows a range from 0 to 5, where 0 means the women didn’t participate in programs, and 5 means these programs were essential to their decision to run. About 75 per cent agreed that programs like these helped them at least to some extent. About 25 per cent said they were absolutely essential and they wouldn’t have run without them. 

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 10.08.50 PM

Respondents mentioned recent elections as a motivation in a few cases. Seeing the Alberta NDP elect women at equal numbers to men in 2015 inspired women to run, and the results and dialogue around the American election in November 2016 motivated women as well.

“The 2015 provincial election was emboldening. Knowing that there is a cohort of women in public office makes it feel less isolated. Seeing the crap that they get because they are women also made me realize that as awful as it is, the only way to change it is to normalize diverse women in public life.”

We asked women how many times they were asked to run. A network of ‘askers’ was something we strived to create. About 65 per cent of women who responded were asked at least once–and a third of those women were asked five times or more before they decided to run.

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 10.09.54 PM

“A close personal friend who is politically involved asked me whether I’d considered running. Her advice and support was critical in the decision to run.”

May women mentioned that volunteering on past campaigns and in leadership roles in their communities was important in exposing them to politics and ultimately helping them decide to run.

“Volunteering for other campaigns, working with community groups, advocating and meeting with elected officials [encouraged me to run].”

As we expected, a number of factors go into a woman’s decision to run for office. And barriers still exist. We asked women what barriers they continue to face, and many mentioned childcare, fundraising and the negativity that can exist in politics. We asked what more an organization like Equal Voice could do to help. They had some great feedback and ideas, like formal mentorship and encouragement, detailed resources and help building a network of supporters. Needless to say, there’s lots of work left to do.

Act V

I wanted to tell this story for a few reasons.

I hope others out there working for gender equality can use this as a resource. If you’re reading this and feeling inspired to act, we are always looking for help and volunteers, including new board members. Email us at If you’re not in Edmonton, or in Alberta, Equal Voice has many chapters across Canada. Check out how you can get involved here. If you’re outside of Canada, some Googling will get you going. There are organizations like ours in many countries around the world.

Documenting the work it takes to move the needle, even slightly, emphasizes that change won’t just happen on its own. At least, it will take way too long.

We need more women in politics because a diverse range of voices at our democratic decision making tables makes a positive difference, not only for women and girls, who see women in politics on the news or on their class field trips to City Hall and feel inspired to be like them one day, but for our whole population.

The business of achieving gender balance in politics is complex. The barriers run deep. We had to try something. We decided to focus on recruiting women, on getting more women to run in the first place. We know that getting more women’s names on the ballot isn’t the whole story, but it is a big part of the story. By changing the narrative on that front, we can change the narrative in other ways. Having just a few more women’s voices heard at candidate forums and around the council tables means that they can also be the advocates for the change we need. They can help promote systemic change efforts focused on making city halls, legislatures and parliaments more diverse and inclusive places to be, therefore speeding up the feedback loop that makes politics more appealing for women and other diverse groups and ultimately, bettering our democracy and our society.


Act V


Here’s a link to download all the resources mentioned in this post.


All of this was possible due in large part to an awesome community of leaders in Edmonton who donated their time to give workshops and presentations. We also received support from a number of groups who donated space for these events, including the City of Edmonton Women’s Initiative and ATB Financial.

We received sponsorship from the City of Edmonton Women’s Initiative for the campaign school, which allowed us to return each attendee’s $20 registration fee back to her at the door as her first campaign donation. The Alberta Real Estate Association sponsored our FundraiseHER event, which allowed us to host a fundraiser for declared female candidates and potential donors. Calder Bateman donated their space and the time of one of their best strategic planners to help us plan all this. Display Design donated our stand up banner. It takes a village–or rather, a truly great city.

Here’s a brief, and I am certain incomplete, list of the many people who contributed to this goal:

Equal Voice Alberta North current board members:

  • Lana Cuthbertson (Chair)
  • Amanda Dunlop (Vice Chair Finance)
  • Marion Fyshe (Vice Chair Events)
  • Ann Gordon (Vice Chair Governance)
  • Kasey Machin (Vice Chair Membership)
  • Dorothy Reike (Vice Chair Communications)
  • Amanda Nielsen (Past Chair)

Equal Voice Alberta North former board members:

  • Janet Buckmaster
  • Kelin Flanagan
  • Carlynn McAneeley
  • Brittany Petruniak
  • Bethany Tynes

Volunteers and people who have helped:

  • Gillian Brown
  • Glinis Buffalo
  • Jennifer Burgess
  • Jacquie Comer
  • Dave Cournoyer
  • Chris Henderson
  • Rebecca Isbister
  • Sarah Jackson
  • Grace Lore
  • Karen Mackenzie
  • Kory Mathewson
  • Shayla Stein
  • Monika Viktorova

Presenters, speakers, facilitators from our various events over the past few years:

  • Leela Aheer
  • Kim Armstrong
  • Catrin Berghoff
  • Laurie Blakeman
  • Erica Bullwinkle
  • Julianna Charchun
  • Natalie Crawford-Cox
  • Leila Daoud
  • Michelle Draper
  • Deborah Drever
  • Bev Esslinger
  • Hedy Fry
  • Ryan Hastman
  • Chris Henderson
  • Amanda Henry
  • Lisa Holmes
  • Sue Huff
  • Janis Irwin
  • Debbie Jabbour
  • Michael Janz
  • Segun Kaffo
  • Janet Keeping
  • Catherine Keill
  • Gail Kelly
  • Andrew Knack
  • Kim Krushell
  • Matthew Kupfer
  • Karen Leibovici
  • Karen Lynch
  • Heather MacKenzie
  • Stephanie MacLean
  • Mary Martin
  • Susan May
  • William McBeath
  • Diana McQueen
  • Janelle Morin
  • Rabia Naseer
  • Katherine O’Neill
  • Cathy Palmer
  • Linda Sahli
  • Brad Tennant
  • Linda Trimble
  • Theresa Wade


Nomination Day…Just One Day in the Life of Your Campaign


On January 25, 2016. I filed my nomination papers with the City of Edmonton to become an official candidate on the ballot for the February 22nd by-election. The day was a culmination of the months of hard work to earn votes in Ward 12 for election-day. While nomination day is only a month prior to the actual election, the hard work starts way before that. For me, nomination day was an important day in the process, but certainly not the start of it. Nomination day reinforced my love for this city.

For all first time candidates out there who think they know what to expect, nervousness is expected. I woke up that morning nervous. I had a slight jolt wondering if I was doing the right thing. And that this might be my chance to back out and go back to my normal life. Don’t get me wrong, I spent almost a year debating if this was the right move for myself, my family and my community. I can safely say, after the fact, that I have no regrets and am proud to have been part of the process. But to formalize a major life decision will always make you edgy (for all those married candidates, I’m sure it’s a similar feeling to your wedding day).

“…When I think back to this day, it was a combination of pride in putting myself out there, and slight intimidation in being in a space that might provoke competitiveness.”

What differentiates this day from the happiest day of your life (presumably), is knowing you’ll be in the same room, for the first time, with other candidates running in the same ward as you. It’s especially difficult when there are over 30 of them in the same space. Hopefully, you won’t encounter this particular discomfort since it’s a general election. Nonetheless, when I think back to this day, it was a combination of pride in putting myself out there, and slight intimidation in being in a space that might provoke competitiveness. For any first time candidates out there, I strongly suggest bringing a few close friends or family members who can calm your nerves and support you throughout the day.

The nomination process itself took less than one hour. You attend City Hall, meet and congratulate other candidates on their decision to represent your community, complete your paperwork and ensure you have all the required signatures to support your candidacy, and pay your fees with the nice City of Edmonton employees, and walk out of the room to a number of journalists with note pads and/or mics, and TV cameras in your face (see picture to the right). Don’t fret – everybody there is very nice. Reporters just want to get to know you and why you’ve decided to run. A tip: come prepared with your 30 second elevator pitch on why you’re running. Also, if you speak French fluently, come prepared with your pitch in French – because CBC-Radio Canada will also be there and will look for the candidates that are bilingual. Answer their questions, despite the fact that you will be itching to get back to the crux of campaigning – door-knocking and meeting voters.

You have months until nomination day. Don’t wait until this day passes to door-knock, learn about the issues, meet voters in your ward, recruit volunteers and fundraise. This is work that starts now, not after nomination day. Use nomination day as the day you put everything else aside and ramp up on these efforts, but don’t use it as a time to start your campaign.

Nomination Day was just one day in a four month campaign, but it is a special day that you will never forget. Take the time you’re given that day and treasure it. It’s an experience that not many others get – and so take the most of it – be proud of yourself for getting this far, hold onto the support of your family and friends who are with you on this journey, and use this day as an opportunity to re-motivate yourself about why you’re doing this in the first place.

And regardless of the outcome of the election, know that you will grow and change as a person. You will realize your strengths and resiliency in the face of hardship and struggles. And that learning will take you far in your journey forward.

Danisha Bhaloo, Ward 12 By-Election Candidate 2016

Read more from Danisha by following her blog , Twitter (@danishabhaloo) or Facebook.


The Day Misogyny Won

Last week, American women, LGBTQ Americans, African Americans, Muslim Americans, differently-abled Americans, and anyone who does not look like the gleeful white men celebrating at Trump’s Campaign Head Quarters woke up to the unthinkable.

Despite winning the popular vote, Hillary Clinton, the first woman Democratic candidate for President of the United States, lost to a grandstanding, mendacious “anti-establishment ” multimillionaire who has a long history of racist, sexist, homophobic and bigoted remarks and actions.

There’s been much virtual ink spilled over the course of this election. There have been think pieces and think pieces on think pieces. A significant chunk of election coverage meta-focused on how election coverage was done–was it fair? Was it biased? Did it give Donald Trump a free ride from the primaries to the White House? And in the weeks and months to come, more will be written on an election outcome that has shocked the world, upset markets, and left a great many of us struggling for words.

Election coverage was reported to be a significant source of stress for the majority of Americans, and I suspect it was the same for us at home and across the world . Anecdotally, most people in my social circle took social media and election news ‘breaks’, to keep their own sanity. For the women I know, the relentless onslaught of ugly, crass , terrifying and violence-inciting sexism that Trump spouted over the protracted campaign period was intolerable. Many hoped that the election would finally bring this often overwhelming barrage of vitriol to a close. Today, most of us are struggling with the knowledge that the election of a man who called for “second-amendment folks” to “do something” about his female opponent has legitimized this hateful discourse. America’s great shame lies in allowing a caricature of bigotry to assume the highest office in the country, with the added padding of having a Republican-controlled House and Senate.

“A woman’s record is scrutinized twice as hard for her to get half as far”

Perhaps most shocking is that  43% of white women voted for Trump, in addition to 63% of white men. In election-bible/false prophet FiveThirtyEight’s analysis of the 4 to 5 percent difference between poll predictions and the results of the election lies a clue: women who supported Donald Trump were less likely to feel comfortable talking to a pollster about their vote.

This election was a blow to those of us hopeful that, just under a century after (white) women gained the right to vote in the United States, the country would elect its first female president and shatter the highest glass ceiling. Instead, 43% of women voted to elect a candidate who has, on record, sexually objectified his daughter, called his opponent a “nasty woman” during one of the presidential debates, and has called for women to be “punished” who exercise the right to choose. These results leave open and urgent questions about both accurately predicting voter intentions and engaging a voting block that is far from monolithic. How do female candidates, especially vocally pro-women ones, fight sexism and inspire their female voter base?

We are also left with questions about how far women still have to go to close the gap for equal treatment. Hillary Clinton’s shortfallings as a candidate were thrust into the spotlight every time she dipped in the polls, evidence that a woman’s record is scrutinized twice as hard for her to get half as far. Even next to a man who is accused of sexually assaulting multiple women, who is embroiled in multiple lawsuits, including a class-action lawsuit for fraud for which he is due in court weeks before his inauguration.

As we look to the next two years, and the next four, and then the next eight, I hope we remember Hillary Clinton’s words from her concession speech:  “Please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”

Or, as Hari Nef, transgender supermodel, activist and all-around superhero said,When you’re done mourning you’ll fight. If you’re not a white straight christian cisgender male citizen of the USA, you’ll probably have to”.

Monika Viktorova, Equal Voice Alberta North Volunteer

Monika Viktorova is a feminist, an activist, and an MSc in Biochemistry. She likes to balance her media intake with articles about inspiring women and thinkpieces about how millennials are supposedly ruining everything. She can usually be found in cafes that have wifi and gluten-free snacks.



Edmonton Sun Headline: “Redford Mum on School Fees Promise”

Redford is Notley to Edmonton Sun

To the Edmonton Sun Editor and Postmedia headline writers,

Let us ask you this: when you picture former Alberta Premier Jim Prentice as you’re writing your headline, are you translating that image into the name “Stelmach”?

Didn’t think so.

And yet, female premiers and politicians are, according to your recent headline, interchangeable. 

Is it Clark or Wynn? Redford or Notley? Ambrose or Campbell? In our minds, it’s harder to distinguish them.

Female politicians are still rare enough for us to see them as women first. So we have a harder time distinguishing them as individuals. With male politicians, the fact that they’re male is a given, a norm. So we focus instead on their policies, politics and track records to help us distinguish them. This disadvantages women in politics, who have to fight harder for their distinct voices to be heard, against other female and male politicians.

In addition, the reputation of one female politician is subtly applied to another. We think, “Oh, Notley is a woman, like Redford? They must behave the same way.” Good or bad, it’s not fair. 

The Edmonton Sun headline from March 17, 2016, “Redford Mum on School Fees Promise,” whether or not it was a mistake, is an unfortunate symptom of our imbalanced politics in Canada. Our assumptions about gender and politics are biased.This won’t change until we see more women in politics and listen, really listen, to what they have to say.