Letter: Are You at the Table or on the Menu?
An editorial which appeared in the March 23, 2022 edition of the Fort Frances Times made a number of statements about efforts to improve the diversity of our municipal council. While I welcome this contribution to the public debate, I felt it was missing some perspective. The editorial appears to be response to media coverage of the March 14 meeting of Council and my March 16 letter, published here. Below is the response that I submitted to the newspaper, which was published on March 30, 2022.
I am responding to the March 23 editorial by Jim Cumming about the lack of diversity and working-age representation on council. I appreciate Mr. Cumming’s insights on this topic, but I respectfully believe that he – like others – has missed the mark.
Calls for increasing diversity on council are not calls to replace and repudiate an entire generation of our community. What has been called for is the removal of barriers which prevent the average citizen from running for office.
There is not a single person on council whose home reflects the demographics of the average household in our community. No one on council has raised young children in the 21st century, and only one member of the current council is in the workforce.
Diversity isn’t an insult to anyone’s legacy. The fact is that we continually receive evidence that our community doesn’t have enough to offer young families, yet council has declined to make room for this generation in the leadership of the municipality.
Diversity isn’t a threat either – it’s a call to better reflect the community we serve now – today. By interpreting diversity as an indictment of the establishment, the editorial validates my concern that older generations are afraid of change and losing control. That should trouble everyone who is anxious about our community’s future.
Mr. Cumming suggests that councillors can represent the views of younger people through surveys. But that’s not enough if council won’t accept the results. There are numerous examples of council members ignoring public input they don’t agree with or declining to seek public feedback altogether. In fact, the matter on which council launched its most robust consultation created a months-long platform for racism. The reality is that if you are not at the table, with an actual role in the decision-making process, you’re probably on the menu. That has been shown over and over.
We live in a democracy, so voters will ultimately decide if they want to be represented by a more diverse, younger council. But before voters can even make that choice, people have to put their names forward on the ballot. No employed person can do this without immediately jeopardizing their career, because it automatically means that they will need significant time off due to council’s scheduling. Council could address this, but has refused to act. While council suggests it can make changes after the election, that is unlikely, as they refused to do so this term, and most young people can’t run in these circumstances.
We need to have a council that reflects more than the oldest 25 percent of our community. If we are committed to moving Fort Frances forward – for everyone – removing these simple barriers would be a strong start.
Douglas W. Judson