New initiative aims to improve racial and gender diversity on Wellington County councils

·3 min read

WELLINGTON COUNTY – A group of residents are creating an initiative that aims to lift up and support diverse candidates who have systemic barriers to being involved in municipal governance.

Elora resident Curt Hammond said there’s a group who are frustrated with a lack of diverse voices among municipal councils and how it has impacted the ability to “solve the problems in the 21st Century.”

“We have a lot of the same type of people around decision making tables, who do not have the benefit and the gift of a diverse range of thinking,” Hammond said.

Hammond is referring to the reality that older white men make-up the majority of council members at the county level and the seven member municipalities.

This appears historically to have been the case as well. A look at archive photos of previous Wellington County councils do not reveal any visibly racialized councilors, mayors or wardens.

Archivists at the Wellington County Museum and Archives could not definitively say if there has ever been a councilor who is a visible person of colour.

Women are still under-represented as well.

Luella Logan was the first female councilor in Wellington County, elected to Palmerston council in 1966. Doreen Hostrawser was the first woman warden in 1990.

Across the seven municipalities and the upper-tier council, there are 48 mayors and councillors in total with 10 of those being women. Erin and Centre Wellington currently have no women sitting on council at the local level although Mary Lloyd and Diane Ballantyne represent Centre Wellington at the county-level.

This is why Hammond is working with a group including some elected officials, to help address systemic barriers that prevent people from marginalized communities from running in elections or working on campaigns.

Hammond said the first step is to ask and encourage people to run and the second is to help them find success.

“What are some practical tools that we can give people that want to explore what it means to run for office and here are the things you need to think about,” Hammond said.

“Especially as a women or someone from a marginalized community because those barriers are going to be far bigger and harder to cross than they will be for white middle class candidates.”

Although the initiative is in the early stages, in the fall there are three zoom webinars planned for those “election curious” to hear from government leaders and their experiences.

This will be followed by a hands-on, and Hammond hopes in-person, campaign schools to teach how to raise money, get your message out and build a campaign team.

Hammond said these are intended for young people, women and people from racialized communities—people who don’t have the same privileges he does.

“I know that doors open for me naturally just because of the way I look...and those same doors close for other people,” Hammond said.

“The harm there is, we are not making good decisions. We do not have good governance because we get a bunch of people who have similar life experiences and worldview that aren’t fully embracing all the needs and opportunities of our communities.”

Hammond stressed this isn’t about excluding voices but adding more voices from those who haven’t been empowered to guide better decision making.

“When we talk about empowering women or empowering racialized communities, it’s better for everybody,” Hammond said.

For those interested in learning more, Hammond said to email campaignschoolcw@gmail.com to be added to the mailing list.

Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com