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All-female town council takes over in Spanish, Ontario

Historic first puts small town in Algoma District on the map
From left to right: Deputy mayor Karen Von Pickartz, councillor Debra Joncas, mayor Jocelyne Bishop, councillor Mary-Louise Zarichney and councillor Sandra Trudel. James Hopkin/SooToday

The Town of Spanish has a new look to its council this year - it’s entirely comprised of women, marking an historic first for the small town of 700 people situated along Lake Huron’s north shore in the Algoma District.

Mayor Jocelyne Bishop - a former councillor who beat out incumbent Ted Clague in the Oct. 22 municipal election - now has the distinction of being the town’s first ever female mayor.

“I have 12 years experience, and I think it’s time it’s step up to the plate,” Bishop told SooToday.

She’s joined by Karen Von Pickartz, Debra Joncas, Mary-Louise Zarichney and Sandra Trudel on town council.

“I’m proud of it, because people have elected us,” said Bishop. “All the ones that didn’t make were males.”

Bishop said there was buzz surrounding the possibility of an all-female town council in Spanish, but she wasn’t about to jump to conclusions.

“People were telling us, ‘it’s going to be an all-female council,’ and I said, ‘how can you be sure?’ - like I mean, you can never be sure until the day of the election,” she said.

Bishop says it’s hard to say exactly how the decision-making dynamic will change, given the fact that it just held its inaugural council meeting Dec. 5.  

“Well council just started, so it’s going to be hard to say how it’s going to be to work with all females, because I’ve always been in a mixture on council of male and female,” she said.

The Town of Spanish joins Algonquin Highlands in Haliburton County as rural areas in Ontario with all-female councils.  

But Bishop says the difference between Spanish and Algonquin Highlands is that the latter’s council wasn’t elected.

“There was three acclaimed, and two elected,” she said. “That’s a different story when you’re not all elected.”

The all-female council in Spanish was acknowledged nationally in The Globe and Mail, CBC News and Chatelaine following the municipal election, and even got an audience - via teleconference - with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just before Christmas.

Bishop says Trudeau asked the council about their goals and priorities for the upcoming year.

“It was pretty neat, but he wouldn’t let us tape the call,” she chuckled. “He said there was no recording, we couldn’t record it.”

Bishop told SooToday that the 15-minute teleconference was arranged Maryam Monsef, minister for women and gender equality.

“She organized it and contacted the town, because we’re all female, and he [Trudeau] asked us for a biography,” Bishop said.

Now, the council will go to work with three new councillors in tow - who have never sat on council or a town committee before - which Bishop says will provide a bit of a learning curve for the political rookies.

“You’re always on duty - they don’t realize that,” she said.

This year, Bishop hopes to address infrastructure concerns in Spanish, namely roads.

“We’re the hoping the government’s going to give us funding, because we have no industry here,” Bishop said. “So our tax base is very low.”

But Bishop is hopeful the all-female town council can address those concerns.

“I find the females are more vocal when I was on the other council as well - they’re more outspoken and want their voice to be heard,” she said.


James Hopkin

About the Author: James Hopkin

James Hopkin is a reporter for SooToday based in Sault Ste. Marie
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