Candidates and voters waited 15 days for the results of municipal elections all over New Brunswick, and when they finally arrived, it was in a wave of change with a lot of firsts.
In all, 45 women ran for mayor and 26 had been declared elected by the end of counting Tuesday night.
People were ready for change, say some of the winners.
“New Brunswickers demonstrated that they see women as equals, and they’ll be willing to vote for them and give them a chance at council,” said Donna Reardon, who was elected mayor of Saint John.
“It’s very impressive. I think it’s a change.”
This will be the first time New Brunswick’s three biggest cities will be led by women. In Fredericton, Coun. Kate Rogers was elected mayor, and in Moncton, Mayor Dawn Arnold won a second term.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s so exciting,” said Rogers, who will be the first woman to hold the job in the city.
In Bathurst, Kim Chamberlain won the mayoral race, and in Grand-Anse, Thérèse Haché was elected mayor of an all- woman council.
“To me it means that the citizens of Grand-Anse decided to open a political road for ladies. I’m very grateful to the citizens of Grand-Anse for having faith in women as a council,” said Haché.
Bonnie Morse will be mayor of a council in Grand Manan that, with four women and five men, will now have parity.
With 17 people running for council positions, Morse, a councillor for nearly a decade, said she couldn’t remember a time when there was that much interest in municipal positions. She attributes at least some of it to the pandemic.
“People being home and not traveling, being more focused, I think, on things that were happening locally. I think that there was a real interest in seeing some change clearly, which is what we saw around the table.”
Louise Landry will take the job of mayor in Beaubassin-est, where she defeated incumbent Ronnie Duguay, and in Doaktown, Caroline St. Pierre Taylor was elected mayor.
Rhonda Connell is a co-founder of Women+ in Politics Fredericton. For more than a year, the group has worked to get more women involved in the municipal election, helping them learn how to run a campaign, deal with the news media and gather support.
Similar groups operated in other cities, including See Jane Run in Saint John and Femmocracy in Moncton.
“We’ve made history, women have made history,” Connell said.
For five years, Rogers was the only woman on Fredericton council, but now she’ll be presiding over a council that includes four other women: Cassandra Blackmore, Margo Sheppard, Ruth Breen and Jocelyn Pike.
Rogers spoke out about a culture at city hall in 2019, saying it could be toxic for the lone woman on council.
“I had a sense that the Fredericton public would see the issue with that,” Rogers said after her win. “And they did. And they really amplified my voice and they were very supportive. And in this election, I think has shown that, you know, Frederictonians appreciate that — the need for diverse perspectives and voices.”
New councillors in Fredericton make up almost half of the council (five of 12). Cassandra Blackmore, elected in Ward 10, said she’s looking forward to getting to work at Fredericton’s city council.
“I’m excited to bring a young female perspective to council,” she said. “I think it’s something that hasn’t been at the table before.”
Connell said it’s clear voters wanted to see that representation.
“Values are changing and I think people do want to shift,” she said. “And one of the ways to create this shift in politics is to vote in more women. I think that brings a different voice to the table, a different perspective.”
In Moncton, Arnold said she is looking forward to working with her counterparts in Fredericton and Saint John over the next four years.
“I enjoyed my work immensely with Don Darling [mayor of Saint John] and Mike O’Brien [mayor of Fredericton]. I think we collaborated like never before and worked really well together. And I look forward to just growing that with the two new mayors.”
In Moncton Susan Edgett and Paulette Theriault were re-elected to council, and will be joined by newcomer councillor Monique Leblanc.
Reardon thought about how the success of so many women on Tuesday night will influence generations coming up.
“You always tell your daughters you can do whatever you want to do,” Reardon said. “And so we want to remove some of those barriers as they go forward. But, you know, for this job right now, it doesn’t seem like that is there for us. So it is encouraging as we move forward.”
Saint John also elected Paula Radwan and Joanna Killen to council.
And as the new mayors and councils prepare for being sworn in over the next couple of weeks, Connell said the work of Women+ in Politics has only just started.
“We will remain active and not only in municipal politics. I think there are possibilities for us to remain active on the other levels of government as well . … We will be strong going forward.”