For the first time in nearly a quarter century, Yellowknife will have a woman as mayor.
Rebecca Alty, the only woman of the four candidates for mayor, won by a wide margin, beating fellow front-runner Adrian Bell by 728 votes.
Women swept municipal races across the territory on Monday, with all four women mayoral candidates winning in their respective communities.
In addition to Alty in Yellowknife, Natasha Kulikowski won the mayor’s race in Inuvik, incumbent Lynn Napier-Buckley was re-elected in Fort Smith and Kandis Jameson was acclaimed in Hay River.
In Yellowknife, all three women who ran for a spot on the eight-seat city council were elected, out of a total of 16 candidates.
Incumbent Shauna Morgan scored the most votes of all council candidates with 3,398 ballots cast in her favour (none of the vote counts in this story include numbers from advance polls).
Newcomers and business owners Stacie Smith and Cynthia Mufandaeza are two of the three newly elected council members.
Both Alty and Bell were coming off two consecutive terms on council, and both had previously served as deputy mayor, yet Alty earned 2,938 votes to Bell’s 2,210.
In an interview Tuesday, outgoing mayor Mark Heyck said there has been major push over the last several years, by organizations such as the Native Women’s Association of the NWT and the Status of Women Council, to address the deficit in representation by women in municipal and territorial politics.
“We’re starting to see the fruit borne of those efforts,” he said.
Heyck did not endorse any candidate during the election, and was evasive when asked whether he was pleased with Monday night’s outcome.
“I’m pleased that we served democracy,” he said.
Candidate-elect Smith believes Alty was victorious, in large part, because she is a woman.
“There is a really strong support right now in having women in politics and I think that was definitely a really big drive and something that’s also helped myself,” she said.
“A lot of people want to see more women in politics, we are really great multi-taskers,” Smith said with a chuckle.
“We are absolutely thrilled to see a female mayor,” Louise Elder, executive director of the Status of Women Council, said on Tuesday.
“We’re just very pleased with the results.”
Yellowknife has not had a woman mayor since Pat McMahon, who held office from 1988 to 1994.
“For young girls in the city, it’s fantastic,” said David Wasylciw, a political observer and developer of open data website OpenNWT.
“It’s great for my daughter to be able to see that, and I think that’s a real boost and something that’s a real positive.”
Not the whole story
Wasylciw believes Alty being a woman factored into her win but that it wasn’t the whole story.
“Adrian was talking more about the concerns of the future and some of the problems that were coming, and Rebecca really didn’t get too focused on that. Her talk was more about community consultation, involving residents in decision-making, that side of things, and that clearly had quite a lot of appeal to a lot of people,” he said.
“Maybe people appreciated that consultation approach and that consensus building, because that’s the way decisions are going to get made (on city council).”
Beyond this, Wasylciw said, Alty and Bell are similar, politically: both are fairly centrist, and both want “balanced development” in the city.
Considering their commonalities, Wasylciw said it was “interesting” that Alty came out so far ahead, with 28 per cent more votes than Bell.
“The result was a bit of a surprise,” he said. “I certainly thought it was going to be a much closer election.”
Wasylciw suspects that promotion through lawn signs and social media posts played a lesser role than expected by many close followers of the campaign.
“Look at even the council race, Shauna was out by quite a wide margin, and it’s not as if Shauna had the most signs,” he said.
“(It) is really a good thing to see … That it’s not just about money and promotion.”
Wasylciw said the last city council was divided on a number of issues, with members falling predictably into one of two camps.
He hopes this council can more easily reach consensus.
But more than anything, Wasylciw wants the new mayor and council work to make it easier for residents to live and start businesses in Yellowknife.
“One of the regrettable parts about all this is Rebecca and Adrian both had strong voices on council,” he said.
“It’s too bad when you see an election like this, with two people who were both really involved and passionate about a variety of issues, that one of them loses and then you don’t even have them around the council table.”