We Need More Diversity at Town Council
Councillor Douglas W. Judson delivered the following remarks during his report at the meeting of Committee of the Whole of Council on February 14, 2022. Check against delivery.
As members of Council may know, the 2021 Census data will be released in stages over the year ahead.
The first release was unveiled last week, with some bad news for Fort Frances, which has the dubious distinction of having the 25th worst population loss among Canadian cities of 5,000 or greater. This is because we lost 3.5% of our population since the previous Census in 2016. That puts us at near the bottom of approximately 3,500 municipalities across Canada.
This data reminds us that we have work to do to continue to build a community that provides an attractive home for new citizens and new investments, or a worthwhile place for others to stay or come home to. We are competing with municipalities across the region and across Canada to keep young people and attract new families.
Our community is at a turning point, and the decisions which are made in the years ahead will be critical in determining what direction we go.
One way we can address some of these challenges is to make sure that our decision-making processes, as a municipality, are more inclusive of the demographics we want to support to put down roots here. Numerous studies have recognized that diverse governing bodies make better decisions.
While we are on the theme of the Census, the 2016 data drives home the point:
While our community is evenly split between men and women, only 2 Council seats are held by women;
While roughly three-quarters of our community is under the age of 60, 71% of Council is age 60 plus;
25% of our community is Indigenous, compared to 0% of our Council;
People not in the workforce hold 86% of the seats on Council; and
34% of the households in our community have children in them, but none of the people around the Council table live in those homes.
These figures are not purely coincidental. I know from speaking to people who are interested in being part of Council that there are very real systemic barriers to their ability to run, or to serve if elected. Some of these are as simple as scheduling or technology. Others are more complicated.
We need to address these issues in order to send a clear message that we want the full diversity of our community to have opportunities to be part of this Council and civic debate in our community. Being age-friendly, in particular, needs to mean that our municipality is friendly to all ages.
In the weeks ahead, I will be bringing forward some straight-forward proposals to Council, through the Administration & Finance Executive Committee, to address some of these challenges.
If Council is serious about renewal – and doing more to foster diversity and have a representative Council – then I am hopeful that these will find support. We cannot afford to wait for our community to fall further down the list of population-losing cities before we take our young families and their needs seriously.
I encourage members of Council – or members of the public – that have specific ideas or suggestions that will support young people, people from equity-seeking groups, or other under-represented cohorts to participate in the work of Council to reach out and share their thoughts.