New Brunswick

Only woman on Fredericton council sometimes feels 'run over by a truck'

Fredericton's only female councillor says the need for more gender representation has become a real struggle and point of contention on city council. 

Need for more women on council has become contentious issue, Kate Rogers says

Fredericton Coun. Kate Rogers says some members of council roll their eyes when she raises gender issues. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

Fredericton's only female councillor says the need for gender diversity on council has become a real struggle and point of contention. 

"There are times that it feels toxic," Coun. Kate Rogers said in an interview Wednesday. "There are times when I leave there that I feel sort of run over by a truck." 

At a Monday night council meeting, Rogers called out city staff for proposing five men for a committee to look into possible development at the New Brunswick Exhibition grounds in Fredericton. 

Council voted down the proposal after Rogers said there were several qualified female candidates who could have been nominated, herself included.

"Enough is enough, we have got to do better."

Council a 'foreign space'

Rogers has been on council for seven years, including two as deputy mayor.

She said gender diversity on council is something she's been pushing since she was first elected.

"One of my issues at council from the beginning was what a foreign space it felt [like], how foreign it felt to me," said Rogers, who represents Ward 11 in Fredericton. 

We just haven't moved the needle.- Coun. Kate Rogers

"I say this as a well-educated, middle-class, Fredericton-born white woman. And that space felt foreign to me when I first entered it." 

She said some councillors have been disrespectful, an attitude she believes has increased over the past couple of years.  

Fredericton's only female councillor says some of her all-male colleagues are disrespectful toward women and reluctant to bring more gender diversity. 1:02

"It's gotten to the point that some colleagues just roll their eyes," Rogers said. "I've had a few, 'Ugh, not again.'

"To me that's disrespectful. That should never happen around a council chamber." 

Although some councillors are empathetic about the lack of women on council, she said others "stare straight ahead and don't really respond" when the issue is brought up. 

Disrespect goes unseen 

Rogers has been a spearhead for many issues in her ward, including calling for more public consultation on the Officers' Square project, when 19 trees were to be cut down, and working to preserve heritage homes along Waterloo Row. 

But there have been times where her leadership has been questioned, particularly when she has managed committee meetings. 

Rogers, who has sat on many boards in Fredericton, including the Playhouse, said she often tries to generate discussion at council committee meetings but meets resistance. 

"I'm the one that gets called out if they don't quite like the way that I'm handling it."

Rogers, who has sat on many boards in Fredericton, said she often tries to generate discussion at council committee meetings but often meets resistance.  (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

She said this is something Mayor Mike O'Brien shouldn't let happen in the first place. 

While she has addressed her concerns to the mayor, she said the behaviour of some of her fellow councillors hasn't been addressed.

"We know that it goes unseen in society and it goes unseen around the council table as well," she said.

'This is 2019'

O'Brien said he has always tried to maintain decorum and respect on council and in committee meetings.

He hasn't noticed anything personally at council, but this could be part of the problem, he said.

"If I'm a member of council and Coun. Rogers does not feel comfortable or respected, then we're all in this together," he said. 

O'Brien said he appreciates Rogers coming forward and will try to get better at recognizing gender discrimination.

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

Alone at the table

"When you're not hearing other voices come to your defence, then those who are inclined to disagree with you feel a little bit more empowered to be more vocal in their dissent," she said.   

Rogers says it's time council and different committees receive gender-sensitivity training to generate gender parity. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

While she appreciates the work of the men on council and in various committees, she said women would bring a different perspective.

"Clearly, there's something that we're doing so that more women aren't coming to the table. … Why aren't women coming? We need to change our practices."

On Twitter earlier this week, Coun. Greg Ericson said the city should cut the number of wards in half and elect two councillors of different genders for each ward.

Rogers hasn't received a response from fellow councillors since she spoke out at Monday night's meeting. But she has received a lot of positive feedback from the public, including Fredericton's former police chief Leanne Fitch.

On Twitter, Fitch said she was proud of Rogers for speaking out.

"Accountability for misogyny at [the City of Fredericton] is long overdue. I've seen it, felt it, experienced it."

On Twitter, Fredericton's former police chief Leanne Fitch said she was proud of Rogers for speaking out. Fitch said accountability for misogyny is long overdue at city council. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

Rogers is grateful Fitch felt comfortable coming forward on this issue.

"To have other women within the organization feel that they are in a position, where they can speak forward to give credence to my work means so much," Rogers said.

O'Brien, who has worked alongside the police chief, said he was troubled by Fitch's tweet and said it's an issue that needs to be dealt with.

"Even if you don't notice if a particular councillor, especially a woman, or say the female police chief, feels that they're not being valued or being talked down to, and the rest of the group doesn't notice that, well then that is a problem," O'Brien said.

"And we have to address that."

Over the years, Rogers said professionals have come in to advise councillors on roads, bus routes and remuneration.

She said it's time, council and different committees receive gender-sensitivity training to generate gender parity at city hall. 

"We just haven't moved the needle." 

About the Author

Elizabeth Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip? elizabeth.fraser@cbc.ca

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