Municipal Elections: Parity And Youthful Winds, Really?

Smiling women and young people populated the images of electoral victories on Sunday when the results of the municipal elections were announced. However, the official figures show a whole different picture.

The symbol behind the election of mayors in Montreal, Longueuil, Gatineau, Sherbrooke and Saguenay is twofold. First, half of the 10 largest cities in Quebec are now headed by women – this is “real” parity. But there is also age: with an average of less than 39 years, these five mayors embody a spectacular generational change. Laval elected the youngest mayor in its history, at 33. So these are certainly encouraging results – more women and “young people” in municipal politics, in cities that matter and where influence is greatest.

However, the issue of parity has not changed so much Sunday evening, show data from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. And in terms of age, the rejuvenation of municipal councils is minimal across Quebec. The picture is complex”, admitted Monday in interview Thérèse Mailloux, president of the Women, Politics and Democracy Group, one of the main organizations which campaign and work actively to improve the representativeness of municipal councils. “We are in the presence of two worlds,” she explains. In the big cities, the trend was already there and it accelerated: the number of candidates, and elected, jumped. But in the small municipalities – where you find the volume, with some 6,000 positions – there is very little turnover.

Thus, in the 22 cities of more than 50,000 inhabitants in Quebec, 10 women were elected mayors on Sunday evening (45%). But on the whole of the territory, it is rather 23% of the municipalities which will be headed by women. “It's from singles to doubles,” says Thérèse Mailloux to illustrate how the situation is different outside the big centers. 

The Ministry calculated Monday morning (with data for 1,038 municipalities out of 1,102) that there would be 38% of female councilors everywhere in Quebec, or 3.5 percentage points more than four years ago (compared to 2005, it is 50% more counselors, all the same). The percentage of mayors has increased by around four points since 2017. 

Result: after the elections this weekend, more than half (52%) of municipal councils will have less than 40% of women (minimum threshold of the parity zone). It's better than after 2017, when two-thirds were disproportionately male But it remains far from the goal. Conversely, men are below the parity zone in only 6.5% of councils.

The election of Catherine Fournier (29 years old, in Longueuil) and Evelyne Beaudin (33 years old, in Sherbrooke) represents the idea that not only the municipal landscape is feminized, but that it also rejuvenates. At 47, Valérie Plante will also be the eldest of the group of 5 mayors of the 10 largest cities in Quebec.

The symbol is strong… but a little misleading. Nothing in the Department's partial data thus allows us to conclude that there was any wave of youth in Quebec municipal councils, men and women alike. Thus, 8.2% of elected officials at the weekend are under 35 years of age … which is exactly the same proportion as in 2013 and 2017. The percentage of elected officials aged 35 to 44 (around 18%) is also identical to that of the three previous elections … 

Regarding the representation of women at the head of municipalities, we note that they constitute 43% of elected mayors under 35 years of age. But the more we advance in the age groups, the more an imbalance appears. Among mayors aged 35 to 44, a third are women. In the 45-54 age group, they make up a quarter. And the oldest mayors (65 and over) are men in more than 80% of cases.

But anyone who works to improve political representativeness knows that small steps still matter a lot. The ripple effect of electing women to key positions should not be underestimated. For her second, overwhelming victory, Valérie Plante did not need the wink of 2017, where she presented herself as “the man for the job”. The Montreal population applauded it on Sunday against a candidate who did not exactly embody political renewal. 

And by focusing on what happened in the big cities, Thérèse Mailloux therefore retains that a certain “wind of change” is beginning to be felt in municipal politics. “The fruit is ripe,” she said. We can see that it counted for women to take up these positions in highly visible places, such as in Montreal. More and more, party leaders are sensitive to the issue of parity: we can no longer really present a team made up mainly of men in the big cities… ”

Except that there are still several steps to be taken and as much effort to deploy, she recalls. In this sense, the example of 2021 may be useful. “The Ministry has been hard at work [to encourage the presence of women on the ballots]. The municipal unions carried out recruiting activities and conferences. We wrote [to the party leaders], we met several… The interest was there. The results may not have followed everywhere, but they are concrete nonetheless. 

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