Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Diversity 101 (HInt-This is Not What it Looks Like)

Small town councils talk a lot about honesty, openness, integrity and diversity.  I'll try not to address the first three words and only discuss the last one.  How do you find diversity in an all white town?  It's challenging, but it can be done.

Let's begin with women.   We hear a whole lot about women in politics these days.  We do need more women in politics and the reason has nothing to do with a gentler way of doing business.  That is gag worthy rhetoric.  Spend a day on a school playground and you will learn all about sugar and spice and all things nice.  What women have to offer is simply a different perspective.  They look at the world from their needs. And if the deer whistle I got for Mother's Day is any indication, men are not experts on the needs of women.

Age - A thirty year old and a sixty year old also have different needs from a municipality.  The thirty year old might be starting a family and thinking about affordability of housing, schools and playgrounds and a sixty year old might be thinking of retirement, quiet neighbourhoods and bingo.

Income - A decision that might seem inconsequential for someone who is financially secure, might be devastating to a low income person.  Think of a library closure.  If you can't afford to buy a book, have no internet access and can't pay for after school activities or day camp your relationship to your local library will differ from someone who can easily afford all these goods and services.

Your Occupation - Blue collar workers, white collar workers, people in service industries and artists all have very different experiences. Someone working from home and someone who needs to commute everyday will be considering different issues.

All this  leads me to Municipal government.  The fact that our councils pretty much look like the above photo is bad, but the fact that the committees that are appointed by council also look like this, is really, really bad.
Lunenburg's Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) was down a person or two and a young mother who is also a home based business owner filled out an application to serve on this committee.  The PAC is super important.  The members help decide what our town looks like, what we value, what can go where and  how we want our town to grow.  They help create the policy of the town.   These decisions should be made by a diverse group of citizens.  Seeing as how  the PAC  was made up of older white men, with mostly old Lunenburg names, council  should have jumped at the opportunity to bring this woman/mother/homebased business owner and newer resident on board.  That would have been an honest attempt at cultivating diversity.  But surprise, surprise, they brought in two older white men who represent the financial elite of Lunenburg. No offense to older white men.  In fact, some of my best friends are older white men.

The fact that there is little to no diversity on council might have been out of council's control, but who gets appointed to these committees is entirely in their control and they took the opportunity to throw away a wonderful opportunity.  How about if councils put their money where their mouths are.  They could create a policy that committees need to represent the diverse values in town.  Each committee should be equally represented by gender, age, income, occupation and race, if we get so lucky. If councils want to talk about the importance of diversity, then they need to lead by example.

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