New Brunswick

Fredericton city council focuses on gender as it moves to address lack of diversity

Fredericton city council voted unanimously Monday night to adopt several resolutions that it hopes will help solve its gender problem. 

'I feel we've come a long way in a few months,' says Coun. Kate Rogers, who first raised issue in the summer

Kate Rogers, a Fredericton City Councillor, first raised the lack of gender diversity at city hall last summer. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

Fredericton city council voted unanimously Monday night to adopt several resolutions that it hopes will help create more gender diversity at council tables. 

Coun. Kate Rogers, the only woman on council, noted last night that several of the city's standing committees are made up entirely of men.

Rogers began raising the issue publicly last summer when a committee to look into development at the New Brunswick Exhibition grounds lacked any female representation from the city. 

"It was difficult to go and speak publicly about colleagues — very well intentioned, good people — and to have to speak publicly," she said.

"But it amplified the discussion and it brought it out into the public and that's what was required so that we could move forward. I feel we've come a long way in a few months."

The resolutions from the Ad Hoc Committee on Gender Diversity, which was struck after Rogers brought her concerns forward, include:

  • Adopt the Fredericton Council Code of Conduct by-law and policy

  • Provide on-going professional development for Councillors and Committee members

  • Require the completion of the GBA+ (Gender-based Analysis Plus) online training course for all chairs of committees. Other members of council have expressed interest in taking this course as well.

  • Amend the Administrative report to include GBA+ lens, among others

The committee was made up of Rogers and Coun. Greg Ericson, as well as city staff representative Michele Cronin, Joanne Wright, the dean of Arts and Professor of Political Science at the University of New Brunswick and Margot Cragg, the Executive Director of the Union of the Municipalities of New Brunswick.

There are no women on the finance committee, public safety committee or land development committee, Rogers said.

"If you have more diverse voices there … it just makes for a richer more meaningful discussion."

Committee members are appointed by the mayor and approved by council. The recently passed resolutions will not change that process.

'It's 2020'

Several people, mostly women, came to watch the council-in-committee meeting on Monday night. Committee meetings don't typically attract an audience. 

"We wanted to come here for solidarity," said Marg Milburn, who came to support the resolutions. "And also, I just can't believe we had to come to this meeting, like, I'm just — it's 2020." 

Councillors echoed their support for the resolutions, and some even asked why they didn't go further. 

"I think we should be appointing a commission to look into all of the various issues that are associated with gender equity and gender representation … in order to facilitate more women in government," said Coun. Stephen Chase. 

Coun. Eric Megarity suggested it was time the city had a representative from St. Mary's First Nation. 

"We both inhabit the same piece of territory, we're on their land and it goes back many many many years and it's time to work together and move our city forward," Megarity said. 

More work to be done

Increasing gender diversity is a first step, Rogers said in an interview with Information Morning Fredericton.

"We need to become more diverse in many ways around the council table and in our working committees. We identified gender and thought that we would start with gender ... and then we can address many of the other identities." 

Rogers said the positive discussion and unanimous vote is encouraging.

"That made me feel like we've come a very long way," she said.

But there's still work to be done, said Coun. Greg Ericson. Some details still need to be hammered out, like how the city could go about appointing voting community members to standing committees. 

A lot of talk

"It's in a bylaw already, but none of the specifics are worked out. Do they get a vote? What kind of speaking privileges do they have? What's the process for how we'd go about selecting these members from the community?"   

For now, Rogers expects the recommendations will make councillors and committee members more aware of sexist and misogynistic behaviour. 

"Part of this training will make people more aware that it exists and their part in it," Rogers said.

"I would say both at the staff and the council level we haven't talked about it and when we have talked about it, there's been denial that it's existed or that it's too overwhelming to address."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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