Whoever wins the municipal Ward 7 byelection should be willing to call out fellow councillors for culturally insensitive remarks like Matthew Green just did to Lloyd Ferguson.
That was the take from Evelyn Myrie, a Hamilton diversity consultant, during an all-candidates event on Monday.
Myrie told 17 of the 22 candidates that it takes guts to speak up at the council table when another councillor says something inappropriate.
But if Hamilton is going to thrive, she said, then it has to be diverse.
'It's a key piece I want to leave with you. Everyone wants to feel they belong.' - Evelyn Myrie, diversity consultant
That means "making sure (everyone) feels a sense of belonging," Myrie said. "It's a key piece I want to leave with you. Everyone wants to feel they belong."
Myrie was referencing comments Ferguson, an Ancaster city councillor, made about Colombia in February.
During a city hall committee meeting, Ferguson described Colombia as a "backwards" country where the wealthy people were drug lords and chickens rode buses.
Green, a Ward 3 councillor, spoke up later in the meeting. "If you want to make jokes about stereotypes, don't," he said.
The incident grew to include Gil Penalosa, chair of World Urban Parks and Bogota mayor Enrique Penalosa's brother.
"Great People of Hamilton Ontario deserve an apology for ignorant remarks by Councillor @clrFerguson," Penalosa tweeted. "Not funny; sad."
'There are times when you have to step out of your comfort zone and challenge comments by your colleagues.' - Evelyn Myrie
Myrie hopes that the next Ward 7 councillor will be willing to speak up in such cases, even if it's politically difficult. City councillors often rally votes amongst their peers.
But "there are times when you have to step out of your comfort zone and challenge comments by your colleagues," she said.
"I want to challenge the new councillor, when he or she gets elected, to take that kind of position. Diversity is one of the fundamental characteristics of places that will thrive."
Myrie added afterward that she was pleased with the diversity among the slate of Ward 7 candidates.
None of the candidates addressed diversity in their four-minute speeches on Monday. Many talked about affordable housing, poverty and the lack of transit on the Mountain.
'Byelections are kind of weird in the sense that they're almost isolated in terms of their political discourse.' - Tom Cooper, director, Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction
The Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, Hamilton Community Legal Clinic and Social Planning and Research Council organized the event at the Ukrainian Hall. More than 200 people attended.
Tom Cooper, director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, said he was pleased the turnout. He was also pleased with the caliber and experience of the candidates.
"Byelections are kind of weird in the sense that they're almost isolated in terms of their political discourse," he said.
"But I think people in Ward 7 are very engaged in the political process. I think they would come away tonight feeling very confident that on March 21, they will elect someone who will represent their interests."
Tim Gordon, Luc Hetu, Paul Nagy, Mohammad Shahrouri and Robert Young are also running in Ward 7 but did not attend the meeting.