During the 20th century, Vancouver civic politics was mostly a boys’ club. Every mayor was male and most of the councillors were male, though there were some very influential women in the chamber from the 1970s through the 1990s.
By the early 2000s, two Coalition of Progressive Electors councillors, Anne Roberts and Ellen Woodsworth, believed the time had come to apply a gender lens to city policies, whether that be in planning, engineering, social policy, or other areas.
They teamed up on a motion creating a gender-equity strategy, the first in Canada, and it looked like things were going to improve for women.
However, according to Woodsworth, the incoming Non-Partisan Association (NPA)–controlled council didn’t do much to advance that after taking power in late 2005. So when she was back on council from 2008 to 2011, she helped create a women’s advisory committee to keep the pressure on.
Woodsworth also founded the nonprofit group Women Transforming Cities to bring about changes in other communities.
“We’ve been invited to speak on panels at UN Habitat and the World Urban Forum,” Woodsworth said in an interview at the Georgia Straight office. “We’ve worked nationally on cities issues—and we’ve put a gender-intersectional lens on city issues.”
Six days before the October 20 election, Women Transforming Cities released its “Hot Pink Paper Campaign 2018: Report Card”. It listed Vancouver political parties and two independent mayoral candidates' responses to 11 broad issues of concern to women.
Within those categories—such as affordable housing, childcare, and electoral reform—there are specific requests, for which each party is rated on the group’s website.
“This is really serious,” Woodsworth said. “We are 51 percent of the population.”
For example, under electoral reform it asks the parties if they will implement wards and proportional-voting systems, as well as ensure that at least 50 percent of candidates and elected officials are diverse women.
COPE and independent mayoral candidate Kennedy Stewart received full marks on the first point; they and the Greens, OneCity, Vision, and independent Shauna Sylvester fully met the second request.
The NPA, on the other hand, failed the voting-system question because it supports the status quo of councillors being elected on a citywide basis. The NPA scored partial marks on its commitment to have diverse women compose at least 50 percent of the slate.
This was the case even though it is running five women among its eight council nominees.
Women Transforming Cities also wants a "gendered intersectional framework" to apply to all policies, programs, budgets, and funding.
All of the respondents supported that concept.
On childcare, COPE, the Greens, OneCity, Vision, Stewart, and Sylvester received full marks for pledging to continue to improve upon the existing $10-per-day plan, which has yet to be implemented in B.C.
In fact, COPE candidate Anne Roberts told the Straight in an interview in a Commercial Drive coffee shop that her party would like Vancouver to become a pilot project.
“The province is moving ever so slowly,” she stated. “We could embrace it, fund it from our end. We have all the facilities that we could use.”
OneCity Vancouver council candidate Christine Boyle told the Straight by phone that her party is eager to provide city land to support the $10-per-day plan. She has also proposed allowing construction of temporary modular childcare facilities on school property to increase the number of spaces.
“Childcare is a huge source of anxiety for families in Vancouver,” Boyle said. “And a lot of that anxiety falls to mothers and women caregivers.”
On October 10, NPA council candidates Melissa De Genova and Rebecca Bligh released their party’s childcare plan, which includes eliminating a $42,600 “air-space-parcel” fee charged by the city to those who want to build childcare facilities.
The NPA also wants to give childcare providers the same types of incentives that developers of rental-only housing projects receive.
For its policies, the NPA received full marks for its willingness to partner with the province on expanding the number of childcare spaces and opportunities. But it received a negative review for not expressing a willingness to improve on the $10 per day childcare plan. The NPA received partial marks for policies around creating childcare spaces in all large developments.
Another concern raised by Women Transforming Cities is ending violence against women.
"With the me-too movement and the Kavanaugh situation, women are really angry and they're getting out to vote in the midterm election in the States," Woodsworth said. "And they're getting out to vote in this election. All the parties better take it seriously."
In fact, all the parties and independent mayoral candidates who responded to the questionnaire endorsed conducting a "full safety audit" of the city of Vancouver, funding organizations that do antiviolence work, and organizing a citywide antiviolence campaign coordinated by these organizations and the mayor’s office.
One independent candidate for council, actor and singer Elishia Perosa, said in an interview at the Straight office that she’s running to try to advance positive solutions to address this issue. She said that she’s a survivor of violent crime and abuse and is now heading up an organization called ResilianceiAm, which hopes to build a sanctuary for women.
“We’ve been focusing so much on the negativity, but what happens if we were to focus on the positivity—the uplifting, the rebuilding of women?” Perosa said. “You don’t elevate through negativity. You elevate through positivity.”
She stated that after enduring domestic abuse, she was placed on a one-year waiting list for counselling. If she were to be elected to council, Perosa said that she would want to draw attention to this issue.
OneCity's Boyle said that she knows women who've stayed in unhealthy relationships because of the shortage of rental accommodation. That's one reason why her party is so focused on increasing the supply of affordable housing through a land-value capture tax.
It would apply to increases in the value of property around rapid-transit stations and other public-infrastructure investments. The revenue would fund affordable housing.
Four of OneCity's five candidates for council and school board are women. The cochairs of its organizing committee proudly proclaim that OneCity is a "feminist party".
COPE's Roberts said that her party's support for a rent freeze is a recognition that the high cost of housing is hitting women especially hard because they tend to make less money than men. She added that the same is true of her party's proposal to extend the U-Pass to the working class with subsidized monthly transit passes.
"Women are going shopping; women are picking up kids, and doing all the things people do on buses," Roberts said. "Women, we know, do most of the varied use of transit, on and off all day."
Woodsworth pointed out that the city’s women's-equity strategy is not fully funded from 2018 to 2028. According to her there’s no gender lens applied to the city’s housing strategy.
“We’re going to keep pushing until we get commitments from all of them on a women-friendly city,” she said.