Letter: Council Blocks Removal of Barriers to Participation of Working-Age People
On Monday, I brought forward proposals to improve diversity on Council in Fort Frances and remove barriers which prevent working-age people, low-income people, and Indigenous citizens from participating on Council. This is important in the lead-up to the municipal election.
These proposals were rejected by all 6 other members of Council, in a move that I can only describe as self-serving and callous. Their statements during the meeting should call into serious question their understanding of the social issues facing our community, the exodus of youth from Fort Frances, the challenges facing young families, and the barriers that prevent various groups from participating in municipal government.
The initiatives I proposed were simple and straightforward: that we take a look at meeting scheduling for the next term and that we make permanent our ability to meet virtually, as we have been doing for the past 2 years during the pandemic. These initiatives should be written into a bylaw. This would send the message that anyone can participate in Council, and that your day job is not a barrier to serving our community.
There is a diversity crisis in municipal politics across the province, but it is extremely pronounced in communities like Fort Frances, where councils tend to consist of individuals who are financially stable, retired, and self-employed. They also tend to be overwhelmingly white and male. I am the only member of the current Council who is not retired, and none of our current Council members have children in their homes. Participating on Council this term has been extremely costly to my business.
The research is clear that diverse boards and decision-making bodies make better decisions – and when we talk about diversity, in this way, we mean both professional and social diversity, both of which are lacking in the current Council. Fort Frances is at a turning point and it needs to do a better job engaging its community and making decisions that are reflective of the population it serves.
Unfortunately, no one else on Council is willing to relinquish the retiree stranglehold on local government. During Monday’s meeting, they refused to even forward my proposals to committee for discussion. They claimed that this should happen after the next election (presumably, after some of them, or their friends, have been re-elected). They claimed that Council can accommodate working people after the election.
All of this is untrue. Efforts to make Council more accessible have been obstructed by the Mayor throughout this term. While some councillors referred to the upcoming governance review as the appropriate time to discuss these matters, none of the proposals that I brought forward are mutually-exclusive or inconsistent with anything that might emerge from that review. In fact, we just made amendments to the procedural by-law at the last Council meeting, based on a last-minute request from the Clerk. This is no different.
The reality is this: a majority of Council doesn’t want to remove obvious barriers which prevent working-age families from having a voice in local government. They do not want to run against a broader array of candidates – or perhaps a broader range of ideas. Some of them even made comments suggesting that removing barriers to diversity was undemocratic. This is all false. Diversity is not a threat.
These Council members claim that they support diversity, but the record is clear that that support stops when they are asked to do anything meaningful to promote it or remove barriers for other citizens in the community.
There have been many times this term when I have disagreed with Council. This is the first time I was ashamed of this Council.
Douglas W. Judson
The next Ontario municipal election will take place in October 2022, with nominations closing in August 2022. Community members who are interested in running in the upcoming election are encouraged to reach out if they would like to have a candid and confidential discussion about the work of Council.