'Diversity is important, so put your name on that ballot': Durrell bows out of UpTown

Melissa Durrell, the youngest woman ever elected to Waterloo city council, will not be seeking a third term representing Uptown Waterloo this fall. But she's been encouraging other women to step up in her place.
Uptown Waterloo councillor Melissa Durrell during a speed mentoring session held by the Waterloo Region Women's Municipal Campaign School in 2014. One-on-one support is key to getting more women in politics, said Durrell. (Waterloo Region Women's Municipal Campaign School/Facebook)

Melissa Durrell, one of just three female councillors in the City of Waterloo, will not be seeking a third term representing Uptown Waterloo this fall.

But she's keen to see who will take her place, and has been encouraging other women — and especially, women of colour — to step up. 

"I'm still the youngest — if you can believe it, because I don't feel very young — woman elected to Waterloo council. That's pretty crazy. I was 36 when I got elected, that's not young.

"We need that diversity of ages and we need the diversity of culture and I think that's really important and we're just not seeing that at this time," Durrell told The Morning Edition's host Craig Norris on Tuesday.

Melissa Durrell has been the Waterloo Ward 7 councillor since 2010. (Melissa Durrell)

None of the city councils in Kitchener, Waterloo or Cambridge have reached gender parity. Of the 28 elected representatives in those three cities, nine are women. The ratios are even lower in Waterloo Region's surrounding townships, said Durrell. 

"There are some townships who have never had a woman on their council. Those voices need to be heard in our townships, and at the Region and at the municipal level."

Municipal politics a 'natural' first step

Durrell, who also helps run a campaign school for women looking to enter politics at the municipal level in Waterloo region, said in theory city council is the perfect first step for women interested in entering the political arena. 

"It is accessible, there's no travel involved — that's what attracted me to the position," said Durrell. "So many women, when you look around at the neighbourhood associations, those are pretty much run by women. So to me, this is the natural step in."

'You just need to be organized'

But it comes with its own challenges. All councillors positions in the Region of Waterloo are part time jobs with full-time demands. That's part of why Durrell is stepping back from politics: to focus more fully on the business she started in 2011, shortly after she was elected to her first term in Ward 7.

"It's a four year job. You can't quit in the middle of it. And so to look down the barrel and say 'four more years' — that's a long time. And I don't know if I've got enough fire in my belly to last four more years.But I know someone else does."

And for women worried about a healthy work-life balance, Durrell says it is possible. 

"You can actually sleep, work out and have a life, you just need to be organized."