How Financial Considerations Continue to Remain A Barrier For Women’s Participation in Politics
By Melissa McGlashan
Posted January 27th, 2021 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario – In November of 2020 the City of Welland held public consultations on revising its future electoral mapping. One option discussed was changing from the current six ward system to an at-large system for electing city councillors.
The Waterloo Region Women’s Municipal Campaign School in spring of 2018 mentioned that women are more likely than men to fund their campaigns themselves, while men are more likely to ask for donations.
As a result, financial considerations are more of a barrier to women’s participation in politics than men’s. In an at-large system, all municipal candidates need to campaign throughout the city. This is an endeavour far more costly than a ward campaign. If an at-large electoral system is a possibility, barriers to participation need to be considered.
Since candidates’ campaign financial filings are publicly available, it is possible to compare at-large campaigns with ward campaigns, and to compare the campaign finances of men and women candidates. By using data from candidates who reported having spent money on their campaigns*, we can see if this theory is supported locally.
In Welland in 2018, with six municipal wards, the average campaign for a municipal council seat cost $2,737.44. At-large campaigns for regional councillor or mayor were more than four times as expensive at $11,480.45.
This correlates with a difference in gender between candidates. In the ward campaigns 37% of candidates were women, while in the at-large campaigns only 17% of candidates were women (Table 1). In fact, of the six at-large candidates who reported campaign spending; only one was a woman.
Table 1. Average campaign cost and percentage of women candidates in the 2018 municipal election.
|Ward Campaigns||At-Large Campaigns|
|% Women Candidates||37%||17%|
Immediately to the north of Welland is the City of Thorold which does not have a ward system. Its city councillors are elected at-large, just like its regional councillor and mayor. Here we can see a significant difference in participation by women.
In Welland, with a ward system, 33% of all candidates in the 2018 municipal election were women; however, in Thorold only 14% of candidates were women. These numbers show that there is a significant difference in electoral participation by women in a ward system compared to an at-large system.
There is supporting evidence that finances are a factor contributing to this difference. Of the men who reported campaign spending in Welland in 2018 75% accepted donations while only 58% of women candidates did the same.
For candidates who were men, the average amount of the campaign funded by donations was almost half at 48%. This differed significantly from women candidates who averaged only 28% of their campaigns funded by donations (Table 2). Across Welland and Thorold, there were a total of 5 candidates whose campaigns were 100% funded by donations. All five of these candidates were men.
Table 2. Campaign donations accepted by men and women candidates in the 2018 municipal election.
|% of candidates who accepted donations||Average % of campaign funded by donations|
There may be some who would argue that a candidate being well-funded is a sign that the candidate is greatly supported by the community; however, the 2018 campaign data from Welland and Thorold shows that this conclusion is not necessarily correct.
Donations to municipal campaigns can be accepted from anywhere in Ontario; therefore the candidate who receives the greatest amount of campaign donations is not necessarily the candidate most supported by the city in question. Campaign financial filings must include all donations, and for any donation over $100 the donor’s name and address must be documented. For several candidates more than 50% of their campaign donations over $100 came from addresses outside the city which they were running to represent.
For example, one male candidate’s campaign was 96.6% funded by donations over $100 from cities other than the one in which he was seeking office.
These statistics support the Waterloo Region Women’s Municipal Campaign School’s statement that women are less likely than men to fund their campaigns with donations.
In addition these findings show that men candidates fund a greater percentage of their campaigns with donations than do women candidates, and that financially well-connected candidates are not necessarily candidates with community support. We also see that more women run where campaigns cost less; therefore, financial considerations can be considered a barrier to women’s participation.
When considering a change to our electoral process, we must question the objective. If we want our city councils to resemble our communities we need to reduce gender barriers to electoral participation.
Ward systems are one way of accomplishing this as they offer a smaller campaign less impacted by financial considerations. It is time to ask ourselves whether we consider a better council to be one consisting of the most financially well-connected candidates, or whether we want councils that are representative of the population.
* ‘Total expenses subject to the general spending limit’ was used as the amount of campaign spending. This excludes expenses incurred after Election Day. Only candidates who reported campaign spending were considered in the statistics included in this article.
Campaign finance records are available on city websites at:
Melissa McGlashan is a Niagara, Ontario resident, and community activist and volunteer serving on local boards and committees. She was a candidate for Welland City Council in the 2018 municipal election, and is passionate about women’s participation in electoral politics at all levels of government. She holds an Honours, BSc from the University of Toronto.
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