Significant number of women, people of colour elected in Alberta municipal elections

Calgary mayoral candidate Jyoti Gondek is shown an undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

The next mayor of Calgary says the diversity of the city's incoming council will bring “strength to decision-making” at a time when a significant number of women and people of colour were elected to municipal offices across Alberta.

Jyoti Gondek, the first woman to hold the city's top job in its history, will lead a council filled with rookies after only three incumbents held on to their seats during Monday's municipal elections.

The unofficial results show one-third of the city's 15 seats will be held by women and up to six will be held by people of colour.

"We have finally demonstrated that women and people of colour can be in leadership positions. I hope we have normalized this now," said Gondek. "I hope people will see that Calgary truly is a city that is inclusive and that, if you prepare yourself well, you can take on leadership roles."

Calgary wasn't the only Alberta city to make history Monday. Grande Prairie and Medicine Hat will also swear in their first female mayors after Jackie Clayton and Linnsie Clark won their respective seats.

Edmonton is also celebrating its first person of colour to become mayor.

Former federal cabinet minister Amarjeet Sohi, a Sikh immigrant from India, will lead the capital's most diverse council with eight of 13 seats to be held by women and four by people of colour.

"For too long, diverse voices have not been on the table," Sohi said during a Tuesday interview on the Real Talk online show with host Ryan Jespersen.

"Diversity means people bringing their real, lived experience and that perspective - and then clashing of those ideas in a constructive way - allows us to be more innovative and more creative."

He said Edmontonians are facing "daunting" challenges, such as economic recovery and the COVID-19 pandemic, and having varied perspectives on city council will help to address those in worthwhile ways.

D.A. Dirks, a professor at Calgary's Mount Royal University who specializes in gender and sexuality studies, said more visibly diverse city councils are a hopeful sign but only if they result in meaningful change for the communities they represent.

"Visibility is important but it's not the end (in terms of) encouraging folks who are not the usual suspects in politics to think of themselves as being potentially able to run," said Dirks.

"You have to change the structures that have been in place to impede more diverse representation in politics."

There are still far too few Indigenous, Black and sexually-diverse people in elected city roles, Dirks added, and that can inhibit meaningful work toward decolonization and inclusivity.

Voting results will be official on Friday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 19, 2021.