Gauging women's presence on Newfoundland & Labrador municipal councils

About the Project:

The recent electoral history of Canada’s easternmost province brings into question Bashevkin’s (1993) two “rules” of women in politics:  first, the higher, the fewer; second, the more competitive, the fewer.  Her path-breaking research focused on the upper echelons of politics and the dearth of women present.  The implication of Bashevkin’s research, however, is that there should be many more women office holders at the local level, which include school boards and municipal councils, as these positions are often less lucrative—usually unpaid volunteer positions, especially in smaller communities—less competitive, and less prominent.  And yet, surprisingly, the city council in St. John’s, NL, has had until recently only a handful of women representatives.  On October 10th, 2017, the City of St. John’s swore in the largest group of women council members (5 of the 11 member council) in the history of its municipal politics (Eaton, 2017).  This historic moment raises several important questions, particularly with regard to the timing, location, and the challenges that confront women who enter into local politics.

 

Our research seeks to develop answers to these very important questions by cataloguing women’s presence in municipal councils around Newfoundland and Labrador over time; and, by assessing the patterns of presence, in order to better understand women’s representation in local politics in the province.

 

Results:

At a glance, our results focus on patterns of women’s representation over time across sex, age and incumbency. This research provides descriptive statistics for the three most recent election cycles in Newfoundland and Labrador and establishes a baseline of women candidates in Newfoundland municipal elections. Our results do not identify a municipal advantage for women. Over time, women are represented at similar proportions as candidates and winners in municipal elections; and women both running and winning in electoral races has remained relatively static since 2009. Our findings follow a pattern similar to Bashevkin’s rules however; we do indeed find that fewer women are running (and winning) at higher levels of municipal council and the bulk of women run as councillors. 

Interestingly, we also find a gap that widens between male and female candidates for council as the council size increases. Our findings indicate that women participate and win most often in municipalities with populations under 1000. Patterns suggest that women run most often in small towns and win most often in small towns; perhaps due to the nature of smaller councils. We expect these councils to be part-time positions or unpaid work, thus increasing the number of women participating as candidates and winning these elections. Further investigation of the relationship among our variables and improvement upon our data set would help to better understand women’s representation in local politics in the province.

Data: 

We collected and compiled electoral data from municipal elections in the province from the last three electoral cycles (2009, 2013, 2017). Unfortunately finding data from municipal elections across the province prior to 2009 is not feasible, due to data storage, management, and loss by official bodies. 

Our current dataset can be downloaded here. Please see our "Read Me" file for information about data collection and coding.

NL Municipal Elections 2009-2017 Dataset

Read Me File (collection and coding information)