Council needs more Diverse Voices

https://www.barrietoday.com/letters-to-the-editor/letter-reader-says-barrie-has-significant-work-to-do-when-it-comes-to-local-democracy-4702046


The link above is a letter I wrote in response to a recent story about Barrie's results in the Municipal Democracy Index commissioned by Unlock Democracy. (Text follows below)

The original story in BarrieToday is available at

https://www.barrietoday.com/local-news/barrie-ranks-low-in-democratic-health-report-but-mayor-questions-findings-4542409


It was great to see local media attention to the democracy index, but the hard work remains. We need to encourage people of diverse identities to run as candidates, and then work to elect them -- but they also need to be individuals who believe that engaged citizens are an asset to the city, and who work towards making Council meetings more accessible and transparent.

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Text of Letter to the Editor:

Reading the article on the Ontario 2021 Municipal Democracy Index and Mayor Lehman’s response to it, I was pleased to see that he acknowledged that there is room for improvement in enhancing democracy in Barrie. As someone who tries to keep informed, I agree with the assessment that Barrie has a significant way to go to improve local democracy.


One of the identified measures mentioned is gender balance on council. Barrie council is not at all representative of the population of Barrie in terms of gender and ethnicity/race. Some people would say that it doesn’t matter, but I believe it affects the handling of important issues, because there may be blind spots when leaders do not have lived experience.


For one example, women that I have spoken with were particularly concerned by the lack of transparency and power dynamics during the handling of a harassment case by an unnamed councillor toward a city employee, with numerous women telling me they were appalled that all councillors were allowed to make decisions on the case.


Having a more equal gender balance might have changed the way that council dealt with the issue, since, in my experience, more women experience workplace sexual harassment.


With the municipal election next fall, I hope that we will see more women step forward as candidates. I understand the concerns about having the most qualified people as leaders, and I’m not advocating for quotas or a similar system. I believe that we have many qualified female leaders, and the leadership of large local institutions, such as the college and hospital, demonstrates this fact.


Experts have documented effective methods to get more women in politics. I encourage the city government, as well as community and business leaders, to work together to use proven strategies to encourage diverse candidates including more women.


For example, I support the idea of leaders asking three women to run, and asking multiple times. I’ve been very pleased to hear Coun. Kungl discussing these types of approaches on several occasions.


Further, a 30 per cent voter turnout leaves a lot of room for improvement. Barrie does have understandable reasons for that measure, with very rapid growth, since I would guess that the influx of new residents might be less likely to vote.


With the election less than a year away, I hope that Mayor Lehman and the current councillors will embrace the results of the Democracy Index as an opportunity for growth. I’d love to see the city run a comprehensive campaign to encourage citizens of diverse identities to vote, and also consider serving on council.


As decisions are made to shape our city, we should have leaders who understand the lived experiences of our diverse residents.


Eleanor Alexander Barrie




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