“Remember who put you in office: it wasn’t you, it was the people.”
— Debbie Zimmerman, former Niagara Regional Chair (1997-2003)
We live in a time and place where racism and misogyny are rampant and unchecked. Just ask Mohamad AlJumaily, who was accosted by another resident at Regional Council in December and accused of being a terrorist – simply for being a man of colour. What kind of values do we project to the rest of Canada, and the world, when we have a regional council who stands by while our Charter Rights are trampled on? From Andy Petrowski’s antics to the Press Freedom Fiasco, Niagara politics have become a national joke.
I recently attended a workshop at the St Catharines Library entitled How You Can Build A Better Niagara: Running for Municipal Office. The event was put on by A Better Niagara, a local non-partisan grassroots organization dedicated to bringing Accountability, Integrity, and Transparency, to politics throughout Niagara. I was tasked with reporting on this event for you, the good readers of The Sound, but as I wrote I realized I took more away from this workshop than political campaign knowhow: I left excited and truly believing we may be at the cusp of a great change in Niagara.
When asked what advice she’d have for candidates, former Niagara Regional Councillor Eleanor Lancaster was quick to state, “If you are not at the table, you are probably on the menu.”
That idea has stuck in my head; for far too long Niagara politics have not adequately reflected the community which it serves. Current Niagara Regional council features four women (one in eight councillors); of the six regional councillors who represent St Catharines, Debbie MacGregor is the only woman. At city council, St Catharines is represented by twelve councillors, two of who are women. Meanwhile, not a single person of colour represents the people. Not one. Anywhere.
How do we propose to attract, and retain, businesses and workers if they do not see themselves represented at the table?
There is hope; two thirds of the Running for Municipal Office event attendees were women and one out of every five attendees were people of colour. Local activist, and workshop attendee, Haley Bateman had this to say: The number of people ranging in ages and stages of their career was remarkable. It is inspiring to see so many people invested in making a better Niagara.
It is heartening to stand in solidarity with so many varied and diverse people as we try to shine a light on the darkness within our community. To witness the past, present, and the hopeful future, of Niagara politics working together regardless of sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, socioeconomic background, or even party politics, left me in awe. I awoke optimistic that a better Niagara is not only possible, it is feasible. Women and people of colour are no longer the minority; we are empowering ourselves, and each other, to get off the menu and take our seats at the table.
The Running For Municipal Office series will continue in the months ahead- if you would like more information please reach out to A Better Niagara on your favourite social media platform or abetterniagara.com. While I am a member of A Better Niagara’s Communications Committee, the opinions featured herein are my own.
— Emily Spanton , @FEW_Niagara