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She's first, but only the seventh

DEVI Sharma is the first female Speaker in the City of Winnipeg's 140-year history, but the role of Speaker at the municipal level only goes back 24 years.

Deputy clerk Marc Lemoine said the position of speaker was created in 1987 with amendments to the City of Winnipeg Act -- before that, mayors chaired council meetings, which Lemoine said remains the typical model of civic governance.

ken gigliotti / winnipeg free press
Coun. Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan) is the city�s first woman Speaker, but in the city�s 140-year history, the post has only existed for 24.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

ken gigliotti / winnipeg free press Coun. Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan) is the city�s first woman Speaker, but in the city�s 140-year history, the post has only existed for 24. Photo Store

Sharma (Old Kildonan) said her job could affect the decisions taken by other women to enter politics, but added she doesn't believe she was chosen by councillors because she is a woman.

"I'm honoured to serve as the first female Speaker (but) I don't believe my colleagues elected me because I am a woman," Sharma said Wednesday. "However, if that inspires other women and young girls to participate in the democratic process, that's a very good thing."

Mayor Sam Katz said the city made history when councillors elected Sharma as speaker.

"Coun. Sharma is a very competent individual and there is no doubt in my mind she will handle the speaker's role with the same capacity she handles everything else," Katz said. "I think it's nice to have a woman Speaker -- I can't figure out why it's taken 140 years."

The first Speaker, Jae Eadie, was appointed in 1989.

There have only been seven Speakers (including Sharma) since the position was created: Eadie, John Angus, Bill Clement, Mike O'Shaugnessy, Harry Lazarenko and Grant Nordman.

Former St. Boniface councillor Evelyne Reese was deputy speaker in 1993.

Parliament has only had one woman speaker since 1867: Jeanne Sauve, from April 1980 to January 1984.

At the Manitoba legislature, there have been three women Speakers; the first, Thelma Forbes, held the post from February 1963 to December 1966. The others were Myrna Phillips (May 1986-March 1988), and Louise Dacquay (May 1995-August 1999).

-- Aldo Santin

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 7, 2013 B1

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