COMMENTARY: Yukon municipal politics are not exempt from having gender-specific issues

‘The lack of action on holding taxi companies accountable is abominable’

Sarah Frey

When we think about women who have put their name forward for political office, we tend to think big.

We talk about the influence that Hilary Clinton’s electoral campaign had on the major parties, and how Prime Minister Trudeau’s historic gender parity cabinet set the bar for provincial and territorial governments to follow.

What we don’t often think about is the importance of female and gender non-binary politicians on a smaller scale, especially within municipal government.

Municipal politics has a habit of being a dry arena. Issues are unique to the community and limited budgets mean limited resources to address them.

It’s rare for city council news to be shared outside its jurisdiction. But when you look at the scope of what a city council covers, it is the government that we are truly the most intimate with. What happens in municipal politics matters in our daily lives, and the impact of policy changes is felt almost immediately.

The voices in our municipal government are the difference on issues ranging from the recreational services that impact our quality of life to the ability to safely travel between our homes and workplaces. For a government that deals with such community-specific issues, it must be representative of that community in order to be effective.

For women and people on the gender spectrum, this is the arena where our lived experience and professional diversity holds great value. We need mothers who have chosen to not work to speak on issues related to families, we need nurses to speak on issues relating to health care and we need women of colour to speak on the issues that impact the inequality that still exists in our community.

Women are community knowledge holders. They run our non-profits, our boards, and comprise the vast population of our volunteer community. Women have been lifting our community on their shoulders forever, and the value of that experience should not go untapped.

Yukon municipal politics is not exempt from having gender-specific issues at its core. The affordable housing crisis is felt widely across our community but is arguably felt the deepest by single-parent families. The rising costs of rent, and child care not only mean that women are struggling to provide for their families, but costs are creating opportunity barriers. When single mothers are forced to pay high rents, they’re unable to invest in their professional development or health.

How many Yukon-born professionals, or new small business owners have we prevented due to the lack of adequate policy around affordable housing?

Additionally, what can be argued to be the most pressing municipal gender issue is transportation safety. This year, after being asked what the City of Whitehorse plans to do to address the rising rates of sexualized violence across private taxi companies, the city’s official stance was the antiquated “buddy system.”

With news of Whitehorse’s accessible Handy Bus services potentially being cut, women with disabilities could be forced to rely on unsafe taxis more frequently, increasing their risk of experiencing sexualized violence.

For a city that is snow-covered eight months of the year, and requires a vehicle to reach end-to-end, the lack of action on holding taxi companies accountable is abominable. The safety of Whitehorse’s women and gender non-binary citizens will depend on what voices are raised on Oct. 18.

Since confederacy, representative government has consistently been a significant and meaningful topic. When George Brown campaigned for representation by population in 1841, he could not have any idea about how fundamental that concept could have become to the Canadian landscape.

As this diverse country grew by land and by population, the need for diverse voices in government grew alongside it. On one hand, a gender parity government means achieving deeper democracy, as the community it serves is equally represented. But the result of lifting diverse voices means diverse solutions.

A city council that holds diversity, holds deeper knowledge of its community. Policies become better and more inclusive. New perspectives on issues mean new and smarter was of addressing them. Our community flourishes when the table we govern by is inclusive.

As voters, we can keep this in mind when casting our ballot. But voters do not have the option to elect an equal government if candidates do not run. A gendered experience is part of the value you bring to the table. You possess unique knowledge of your community, you are a voice that finds solutions to some of the most pressing issues impacting Whitehorse women today. You will contribute to creating a stronger government that passes better legislation. Whether you’re a professional, a business owner, a senior, or a student, you have a valuable and equal voice.

Sarah Frey is co-founder and chair of Equal Voice Yukon, the first northern chapter of the national multi-partisan organization that advocates for gender parity in all levels of government

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