Keith Gerein: Diversity on Edmonton Council should no longer be seen as nice to have, but a must

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As we approach election day in Edmonton, I have given a lot of thought to a somewhat slippery question as to what the ideal qualities are for someone who wants to be a city councilor.

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Serving in Town Hall is hard work – much harder, I would say, than the work of an average MP or MP.

To be effective, board members must be deeply rooted in their community.

An ability to listen and navigate through complexity.

Ideas and the ability to articulate them.

Endless patience.

These kinds of qualities essential to good governance tend not to change. Others may move up and down the priority list depending on the time and circumstances.

This year, for example, with increased concern about the economic recovery, many voters suggested to me that business experience, an efficiency-oriented mindset, and the ability to squeeze into a budget are a must for any candidate. to the board.

And I will add another quality which is also gaining ground. The diversity.

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This is, of course, more of a group characteristic than an individual characteristic, which can make it a difficult concept for voters to navigate when considering how to vote.

Nonetheless, I have a feeling that more and more voters are coming to appreciate the idea that increasingly complex issues are best addressed by officials who better reflect a city where four in 10 residents identify with each other. now as a visible minority.

However, I also feel like there are still many voters, even those who support diversity, who may struggle to understand its importance or see it only as an amorphous social justice goal.

But defending diversity is not a signal of virtue. This is an ideal supported by research and evidence, which has repeatedly shown that decision-making bodies are most effective when they include people of various backgrounds, backgrounds and community connections.

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“This is advice that can be directed to a wider range of voters … and can anticipate some of the potential criticisms of decisions,” Erin Tolley, political scientist at Carleton University, told me in a more interview. early this year.

This is found in a number of municipal files that affect people in a very personal way.

For example, as women’s careers have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, a board with greater female representation might better ensure that economic recovery policies are not simply focused on the resource sector.

The design of parks may change to ensure the inclusion of bins and toilets that caregivers need most.

Keren Tang knocks on her constituency door as she runs for municipal councilor in Karhiio Ward (11), south Edmonton on October 14, 2021. Ed Kaiser / Postmedia
Keren Tang knocks on her constituency door as she runs for municipal councilor in Karhiio Ward (11), south Edmonton on October 14, 2021. Ed Kaiser / Postmedia Photo by Ed Kaiser /20094316A

Keren Tang, a council candidate in the southeastern district of Karhiio, also noted his dismay at the recent resignation from the city’s bus network, especially from low-income workers facing longer journeys and elderly Muslims who no longer have easy access to a mosque in the region.

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Perhaps a more diverse board would have been in a better position to avoid some of these issues before they arise, she said.

“If you mix more diverse individuals, we will have a board that is more inclined towards innovation and creativity towards different ways of solving complex problems,” said Rhiannon Hoyle, candidate in the southwestern neighborhood of Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi.

“These are important ingredients for success. And diversity goes hand in hand with productivity.

In a previous column, I explored various obstacles that women and BIPOC candidates (black, indigenous and people of color) face in trying to get elected.

Obvious acts of racism and misogyny can be the most dehumanizing.

However, more often than not, racism and sexism are subtle, expressed through microaggressions, stereotypes and assumptions. Even among those who are supposed to support diversity, they can end up placing this ideal in false conflict with other attributes they value in elected officials. And in this campaign, that tension has often arisen when it comes to a desire for business savvy and economically oriented candidates.

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As an example, Ahmed Knowmadic Ali, who presents himself in the northern neighborhood of Tastawiyiniwak, says that sometimes people only see him through his roles as a social activist and poet.

“These are mainly people who assume that I only belong to one box, whether it’s my skin color or that I’m a poet. But I’m much more than that, ”he said, noting that he ran his own equity consulting firm and had helped manage finances as a board member of several organizations. . Additionally, he said his childhood experience as a refugee who lived in shelters and ate at food banks gave him a unique perspective on economic issues.

As for Tang, a public health leader and community organizer, she is sometimes plagued by stereotypes of Asian women, according to which they are gentle and submissive, and therefore find it difficult to take strong positions or become good leaders.

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“I’m always going to be seen as less believable… that’s why knocking on the door is so essential to me as an opportunity to reframe and educate,” she said.

Fortunately, Edmonton has a substantial number of women and BIPOC candidates this year who have endured all of these obstacles to campaign and, in several cases, have become real contenders.

The point is, just being in conflict no longer seems enough. We have to see a decisive victory or two or three this year. And not just to achieve this coveted diversity, but also to send a message to our marginalized communities and our future candidates that inclusiveness is not only touted, but actually lived out in the highest echelons of public service.

How this impacts individual decisions at the ballot box can be difficult.

As I said in the previous columns, my view is that voters should vote for the most qualified candidates who best match their values.

My only hope is that by doing these quality calculations, voters are using the prism of evaluation instead of hypothesis.

[email protected]

twitter.com/keithgerein ;

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