Fredericton council sets up working group to get more women into municipal politics

Fredericton council sets up working group to get more women into municipal politics

Fredericton city council is taking steps to improve gender diversity on city committees and create a more inviting space for women in municipal politics. 

Coun. Kathy Rogers, frustrated after an all-male committee was chosen to study development of the Fredericton Exhibition Grounds, will be part of a new working group on gender diversity.

The group's goal will be better gender representation on council committees and on committees that include people appointed by council. 

Coun. Greg Ericson, a city staff member and two community experts on diversity will also be part of the working group. The city is now trying to identify the experts.   

The move comes after Rogers called out city staff at a council meeting this summer for proposing five men to the exhibition committee, which also includes people appointed by the Fredericton Exhibition.

"My hope is that we create a more inviting space for people to participate in local government, whether it be through the committees or putting their name forward [for] council," Rogers said after a council meeting Monday.

Rogers has been on council seven years, including two as deputy mayor. Gender diversity is something she's been pushing since she was first elected.

Maria Jose Burgos/CBC

But some councillors, she said, have been increasingly disrespectful over the past couple of years, making city hall uninviting to women.  

"We can't continue as we've been continuing," said Rogers, the only woman on council.

Mayor Mike O'Brien told CBC News he appreciates Rogers's coming forward and will try to get better at recognizing gender discrimination.

"This is 2019 … and we can all do better on that."

Committee to look at other jurisdictions   

Rogers said the working group will look at best practices elsewhere.

"Things that have happened in other jurisdictions, other municipal jurisdictions, provincial jurisdictions. In other countries in some cases," she said. 

"We will be advising council on borrowing some of these practices and implementing them within our city."

Rogers said this is a chance to seize an opportunity, although she worries council will get caught up in "other things" and they'll interfere with making progress.

"Sometimes we allow past judgments to interfere with moving forward," she said. 

"And there's a fear that by moving forward and by making change that we're somehow acknowledging that we've done something wrong in the past."

Hopes more women will run

Rogers hopes the committee will start work this fall and have recommendations for council by the end of the year. That way more women might be enticed to run in next year's municipal election.

Rogers said there are many qualified women in Fredericton and the city needs them on council.  

"We can't force what happens at election time and who puts their name forward," she said.

"But I think if we indicate leading into an election that we're being sensitive and mindful to this. And we're making change … more women will see an opportunity to put their names forward, and share their qualifications."