“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”

i Feb 15th No Comments by

Four years ago, I had a vision for how women could take up greater political space in this community. I knew that if women came together and reached out to other women to support and amplify the under-heard voices of our community, we could make a difference. And so I convened a conversation of politically active women and asked the question: what can we do to better support each other, include more women, and together drive political change in our community? From that conversation, a group of women took up the challenge and together we created Women & Politics.

Over the years, there have been many incredible women who have been a part of W&P, some at the board table and many others throughout the community. They have all done the hard work to amplify the voices of women and push for political and social change. I have been one voice, one person and one part of Women & Politics. I have contributed to an organization and community that I absolutely believe in and have received so much more in return. I have been lucky to love what I do, the people I do it with and the vision we’ve co-created together. I also know that part of loving something deeply is knowing when to let go, step back and recognize that others have it well in hand.

I am formally stepping down as Chair of Women & Politics. I am doing so for several reasons: to create space and opportunity for different leaders; because there is work to be done in other places; and, because my heart is calling me to new opportunities. As the founder, I will always be an enthusiastic champion of the work, the women, and the mission of W&P, but I will no longer have a formal role in the organization. My role will be as one of the many women who will benefit from the work the team of W&P does on behalf of our community. I will be working on some political campaigns this election year, supporting women and others to solve the big issues of our city, and continuing with my consulting, teaching and other community work. My love of politics and the potential it has to drive change and create better realities for everyone will continue.

Anne-Marie Sanchez was at that very first conversation 4 years ago. Since that beginning, she has been a core part of the leadership of W&P and a driving force behind so much of what we’ve accomplished. I am very pleased to welcome her as the new Chair (former Vice-Chair) of Women & Politics. Anne-Marie’s deep understanding of organizational change, her commitment to every aspect of equity, her ability to work across difference and her purpose-driven style of leadership is exactly what W&P needs at this time. Alongside Anne-Marie, Marci Easton will be taking on the role of Vice-Chair. Marci has been on the Board for over 3 years and her extensive community organizing and political experience, her strong leadership skills, her deep connection to social issues and her ability to genuinely connect with anyone and everyone means that W&P is going to thrive. Alongside Anne-Marie and Marci are an incredible team made up of Sue Hillis, Sarah Emms, Maria-Fernandez Medina, Najia Mahmoud, and Louise Pitre.

Over the last four years together, we have led campaign schools (and are in the process of organizing another one for March 24th – save the date!), run all-candidates debates, addressed how to get more diverse women into local government, educated young women on politics, successfully advocated for a gender lens in municipal policy, helped tell the stories of diverse women leaders in our community, and much, much more. We have accomplished a lot and yet I know the best is yet to come. I look forward to being part of the community of women that W&P continues to support, amplify and drive towards change.

See you in the community – the social media one and the real life one.

Shawna Lewkowitz

Title quote is by A.A. Milne.

“We need an old girls’ network”

i Jun 29th No Comments by

Strong family-friendly policies and an “old girls’ network” are needed to encourage and support potential women candidates for politics, says a London sociologist who specializes in gender issues in the workplace.

“We need an old girls’ network. We need women supporting women and men supporting women as well,” said Brescia University College professor Helene Cummins, who recently received a Status of Women Award of Distinction for her work in advancing women in the workplace.

“More women are going into male-dominated fields like medicine and business, but women still tend to avoid the political spectrum. There are those multiple reasons, but they avoid conflict and aggressive social situations,” said Cummins.

She said “bully cultures” thrive in political settings and women are more likely to avoid those types of environments. There are female bullies . . . but typically, women are more communal. They typically seek to share power.”

The problem is, power isn’t being shared with women. While it’s been more than a year since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau famously quipped “Because it’s 2016,” when asked why he had appointed women to half of his cabinet positions, women continue to be greatly underrepresented at all levels of government in Canada.

As Cummins said, there are a multitude of potential barriers more likely to affect female candidates, many of them systemic. At city council level, those could include late-afternoon and evening meetings and absence of child care. In London, some politicians are pushing to have city council identify and address barriers to women candidates before the 2018 election.

Cummins has an instant suggestion.

“There should be daycare available,” she said, noting that statistically women continue to do the bulk of household work, which includes caring for children. “We have to have policies in place to support women in these vital roles.”

Those policies could include stricter code-of-conduct rules. Across the country, when asked why more women don’t enter politics about 30% of Canadians surveyed blame the negative environment, which includes hostility and aggressive campaigning, debating and public scrutiny.

Sheri Doxtator, former Chief of Oneida Nation of the Thames said she has experienced “sexism, racism and ageism,” while representing her community. “It’s in First Nation politics, in mainstream politics as well. People are slinging the mud, and so aggressive, and the name calling . . . it could’ve buried me,” said Doxtator, who was a facilitator at the 2016 Southwestern Ontario Women’s Political Summit and is organizing a similar event in Toronto for Indigenous women leaders.

“But it has always been my belief that the Creator has made women with such strength, honour and respect and such gifts that we will persevere. Women can deal with these things in a good way. Change the tone. I say, ‘I’m here to listen.’ For me, being a leader is not about telling people what to do, it’s about helping people become leaders themselves.”

London’s Ward 5 Coun. Maureen Cassidy didn’t mince words. “It can get ugly. I’ve had a lot of experience with ugliness over the last year. But I was elected to do this job and I love my job,” she said. “We have to rally around women, support them and show them this is something women are good at. It’s also important to mentor young women.”

Support would help with the “imposter syndrome,” often suffered by women politicians, including Ward 10 Coun. Virginia Ridley, who recalled feeling like “the biggest faker out there,” for the first six months of her term.

Baechler too said she used to be “filled with dread,” every time she pulled into the city hall parking lot during her rookie year in 1993.

“As soon as I got there, my heart would start to pound,” she told WP. “It was an environment I wasn’t comfortable in. People would be skewered. If you went against someone who was aggressive and bullying, you’d suffer a backlash.”

Baechler believes a more gender-balanced government would be a less aggressive one and has long advocated for strong networks of support around women political candidates. She – along with London’s four women city councillors — is a mentor with King’s University College’s Head Start program, which is a Federation of Canadian Municipalities initiative that aims to increase participation of women on elected council.

“Men tend to have a more confrontational and aggressive style and approach to issues. Women look in and see this yelling back and forth and say ‘I don’t want to play that game,’” she said. “The more we see women appointed to those positions, the more women say ‘ok there’s a place for me.’ Those are all important pieces to changing the system,” she said.

Initiatives such as Women and Politics “Ask Her” campaign — which encourages Londoners to suggest a city council run to women who they think would make good city leaders – could be the push some excellent potential candidates need.

“Often times, women lack political self efficacy and are less likely to seek the recognition to run for politics,” said Brescia’s Cummins. “We need to highlight those unique skills they have and nurture them to be the best they can be.”

Jennifer O’Brien is a journalist in London, Ontario.

Diverse Voices for Change Workshop Reflection

i Jun 13th No Comments by

I signed up for the event:  “Diverse Voices for Change Workshop – Engaging Women in Municipal Government” with a simple goal: to meet people and hear their diverse stories. This goal was not only well achieved but also vastly exceeded after the two-day extensive and intensive workshop.

The workshop was compact in design and rich in content. There were activities for participants to talk deeply with each other; carefully-chosen municipal issues to discuss, and role play scenarios to experience door-to-door campaigning. There was also hands-on advice on how to run a campaign step by step. What’s more, we were very fortunate to have the opportunity to talk with three female city councillors discussing some challenges specifically facing women, such as how to balance between career and family and how to express oneself in a male-dominated political arena.

I learned so much from the workshop, but what was more rewarding was getting to know so many outstanding women participants. We have an entrepreneur who owns a consulting business and runs a NGO website as a single mother/grandmother; a strong woman who had suffered so much hardship in the past but strived hard to shape a better future, never thinking of giving up; and a 20 year-old young college student who has already been active in NGOs for years and has designed a detailed 10-year working plan toward her dream.

I always know that people, especially women are all incredible individuals, and as the Ancient Chinese Saint Confucius once said, “Three people walking together, there must be a teacher of mine among them”. That is why I’m always keen to talk to people. But this two-day interaction let me feel more convinced that everyone is each other’s teacher and what I learned from them will be beneficial for a lifetime.

Frankly speaking, I was not really in to politics. I’ve always been fascinated by culture and the humanities, which seemed warm and robust, and on the contrary, politics seemed cold and pretentious. But the talk with the three female councillors changed my view completely. Sitting in front of us were ordinary women just like us – mothers, wives – who never thought about entering politics. It was a love for community and a passion to improve the status quo that brought them to the seat of city council, where they are able to transfer that love and passion to real policies helping ordinary people like me. 

So I ask myself, and I’m sure many are thinking the same question, if they can achieve this, why can’t I? Maybe not entering politics at this moment, but there are so many things that I can do right now using my skills. I’ll certainly continue to do what I’ve always liked – networking, communicating with people, and participating in all kinds of grass root activities. And besides that, I’ll try to contribute by volunteering, with the first step as volunteering for Women & Politics, for immigrant employment, an issue facing most newcomers like me, or just writing this blog post. 

Small steps matter too. Small steps, when gathered together, pave a long way.

Yihan Li came to London from China in July 2016 with her husband. Before that, she also lived in Japan for seven years. She worked as an online sales & marketing manager in the tourism Industry for six years. Her interest areas include digital marketing, E-commerce, travel, and yoga. It is also one of her greatest passions to embrace new cultures and interact with people of different backgrounds.  

On Ranked Ballots: A One-on-One with Minneapolis councillor Linea Palmisano

i Apr 17th No Comments by

Councillor Linea Palmisano

In 2006, the U.S. city of Minneapolis, MN., voted to move away from traditional voting to use Ranked Choice Voting in municipal elections.  The city has held two elections using ranked choice.

Coun. Linea Palmisano is now running as an incumbent, four years after being elected through a ranked ballot vote. She spoke with Women and Politics about the impact ranked ballots had on her decision to enter politics.

W&P: You have said you wouldn’t have run for council in a traditional first-past-the-post voting system.

LP: Yes. I believe that to be true. I grew up in the Chicago area and saw how people get ripped down in politics. It can be kind of a nasty environment. I had a full-time job and a one-and-a-half year old at the time. I wasn’t ready to get into a ring and fight, but I wanted to do good. . . the more respectable, more civilized world of ranked choice lends itself to more people getting involved.

W&P: What makes it more respectable, more civilized?

LP:  In a more traditional campaign landscape, (campaign managers) quickly define who you are, get the people who they know will vote for you. . . .and then you attack (your opponent), push them into a corner.

The whole premise of ranked choice is that by nature, by strategy you’d have to be more friendly, because you are asking people to consider you as their second choice. You are speaking to to a wider audience  . . . You are getting their feedback, you are learning what they want, you aren’t trying to talk about such a polarizing campaign.

W&P: Some say ranked choice voting would lead to more women candidates and more women being engaged. What do you think?

LP: Definitely. I think it allows us to be thoughtful, to be who we are, to engage more people.The other woman who got into my race would do events at the park explaining ranked choice voting with favourite flavours of ice cream. You get to cast a wider net that way. It’s a way to increase participation, which is attractive to women who have informal networks, being on the block, their work networks, other moms at school, at the park. For some reason running around to different events is still mostly a women’s domain.

W&P: What is your political background?

LP: I didn’t grow up wanting to be a politician, but I want to do good and I feel like public service is a way I can do good in the world and govern well. The kind of environment ranked choice voting allows for enables you to do that, to be yourself. There’s a lot more space to be in the grey area.

W&P: What were your platforms in 2013?

LP: The big buckets were about building a more prosperous, sustainable and connected city.  By prosperous I do mean equity. Making everybody successful. Sustainable . . . I’m a bit of an environmental nerd. I could differentiate myself from my opponent with that.  Connected was about mass transit

W&P: So ranked choice is the way to go?

LP: An advantage of ranked choice is you get to define the conversation more. Define the issues, the talking points…You get to have more of a conversation.

Jennifer O’Brien is a journalist in London, Ontario.

Ranked Ballot Public Participation Meeting

Saturday, April 22
11:00 a.m.
City Hall

Ranked Ballots: The Case for Greater Diversity

i Apr 14th No Comments by

As London prepares for a public discussion on whether to become Canada’s first city to move to “ranked ballots” — a voting method that would change the way we elect local government — it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of an overhaul.

For Women and Politics, that includes looking at if and how ranked ballots can lead to more women on city council.

Are women underrepresented at the municipal level in London?

Only four of London’s 14 city councillors are women. So, yes. Yes, we are.

Can a new way of voting – one in which voters rank their choice of candidates – change that? Supporters say yes.

Not only is ranked ballot voting more democratic than first-past-the-post elections – through which you can win with only 30% of the vote (meaning 70% of voters didn’t choose you) if that’s more than each of the other candidates got – advocates say it encourages women women to enter municipal politics, and leads to gender equity, multiculturalism and diversity on city council.

“It’s not like women aren’t getting elected under a first-past-the-post system, but the number of women elected is desperately under-representative of the population,” explains Katherine Skene of Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto. “Just electing a women to the position of mayor doesn’t say we’ve solved our gender problem. A council with a few racialized candidates, it’s not good enough. We aren’t getting there fast enough. If we know the system is a barrier, we need to change the system.

“Ranked choice is a way to a better more representative government that is more diverse, that is gender balanced.”

 How ranked ballots work:

On voting day, citizens are asked to rank their choices for mayoral and ward candidates. Instead of putting an X beside one name, you’d put a 1, 2 or 3. It’s kind of how we make other decisions, such as what type of ice cream we want. (Gold Medal Ribbon, obviously, but if they don’t have it — and why doesn’t anybody carry that? It’s delicious! — chocolate will do the trick.)

 **It’s important to note, voters don’t have to rank candidates. You can still vote the traditional way – choose your top candidate and leave the rest empty.

 Once polls close, if a candidate receives at least 50% of the votes, he or she wins that race. If nobody gets half, the person with the least votes is dropped and “second choice” votes from that candidate’s ballots are redistributed. The cycle continues until someone ends up with half the votes and wins.

 Why are we talking about change now?

The province made changes to the Municipal Elections Act, giving municipalities the option of using ranked ballots. So far, no cities have taken the province up on its offer and cities have until May 1, 2017 to decide. Other cities have turned it down, saying it’s too costly. In London, staff has recommended against ranked ballots for the next election due to uncertainties about whether the city will have a working system in place by then.

Why ranked ballots could encourage more women and diverse candidates, including people of colour and people with different abilities, gender identities, ages and more

What happens in political races is this: People who want an incumbent out throw their support behind the candidate they want who is most likely to beat that incumbent. Candidates are already being groomed for London’s 2018 election. And often, a candidate that is seen as strong enough to get capture a good portion of the vote, but not a guaranteed winner is asked to step out of the race in effort to ensure the preferred candidate gets the maximum amount of votes.

“The candidates that tend to get asked not to run are often women and people of colour,” said Skene. “They are seen as candidates that can’t win, but can siphon of enough of the vote so the other (unwanted) candidate could win.”

“Non-establishment people tend to be women, people of colour, new Canadians, people from an economically disadvantaged background. They will say two years before, “I can’t run, because so-and-so is running and I don’t want to split the vote.’

“With ranked ballots, suddenly you have a race where you can’t split the vote.”

Critics, including Fair Vote Canada, say there’s no statistical evidence to back up the theory ranked ballots lead to greater diversity among candidates.

But ranked ballot supporters say the lack of evidence is linked to the lack of cities using ranked ballots. While provincial and federal parties use the method to elect leaders, and a few U.S. cities have gone that way, no Canadian cities use ranked choice.

So, they defer to common sense:

“Say you’ve got an unpopular city councillor and a whole bunch of people who want to defeat that councillor. The councillor still has a good chance of winning because the others will split the vote,” explains Dave Meslin, also of RaBIT.

“And the incumbent is often a white man, because white men still hold positions of power.”

Positive Campaigns?

Ranked ballots discourage mudslinging and negative campaigning, say supporters.

With ranked votes, candidates do better when they run positive campaigns, get fresh ideas out there and reach out to community members, including their opponents, so people see them as a viable second choice, according to Jeanne Massey of Fair Vote Minnesota.

“It favours candidates who are more consensus building and collaborative in nature, and . . . In general, women are more more apt to run that way. They’ll win more often,” says Massey.

But . . .

Critics say the method is complicated and confusing to voters and can lead to spoiled ballots.

They say the confusion will lower voter turnout.

However, in recent months, city staff have held demonstrations with members of the public, using fruit as election candidates and asking people to rank their fruit of choice.

City Clerk Cathy Saunders tells Women and Politics the sessions were effective in simplifying the concept of ranked ballots for voters: “What we did at each session was manually did a count. We had people coming to sit down and do a count so they could clearly understand how it works. It’s complicated to explain, but once you do the count, it’s easy.”

What now?

The city has also produced a video – sadly using stick people instead of fruit – posted to the city website along with information about ranked voting at www.london.ca. You can add your voice to a public survey on the site too.

The city is holding a public participation meeting on ranked ballots, April 22, 11 a.m. at City Hall. Women & Politics hopes to see you there.

Jennifer O’Brien is a journalist in London, Ontario.

Women’s March: A Call to Action

i Feb 23rd No Comments by

Remarks originally delivered at the London’s Women’s March on January 22, 2017 by Suze Morrison.

I want to talk to you today about why we need more women in politics.

The United Nations has a bench mark. It’s a threshold of women in power that is needed for our issues, our needs, to be properly addressed in policy and decision making. This minimum representation is 30 per cent. In Canada, on average, whether you are looking at municipal, provincial, or federal levels of government, women only make up 25 per cent of our elected officials. In Canada, we are not meeting a minimum requirement in our government to ensure women’s issues are adequately represented.

When policy and decisions are made without us, they can not be informed by the realities of womanhood. By the realities and the lived experiences of my sisters who are not just women, but Indigenous women, Black women, immigrant women, women with disabilities, Queer Women, Trans Women, and two-spirted. Our voices – your voices – are needed. They are required.

If we have learned anything from our southern neighbours, it is that we can not rest. We can not pause. We can not say that 25 percent is enough. Because if we don’t keep fighting to gain equitable ground, the very ground underneath us will slip away and we will find ourselves moving backwards.

Backwards towards policy that excludes us, that seeks to take away our rights, and that minimizes the intersectional struggle of so many of our sisters.

My first ask of  you today –  is to run.

And, while I hope this call to arms is one that the young girls in this crowd will hear, I also know we can not wait for the next generation to stand up and stand in their power. Our work starts now, and I want every woman in this crowd to know that your voice is needed. That you can and should run. That you have the qualifications. That your lived experience makes you a better, stronger, leader. And that we need you.

I want every woman here, to silence any voices you hear that give you any seed of doubt. Know that you are powerful, and that you have every tool you need within you. And, that your sisters – your community – will stand with you when the time comes for you to put your name forward and say “It’s my turn.”

My second ask of you all today – is to ask her.

We know, that a woman needs to be asked three times more than a man before she will put her name forward for a nomination. Think of all the brilliant, passionate, loving women in your lives, and think about how much better our city, our province or our country would be with her in a position of power and influence.

Ask her. Ask her often. Ask her sincerely. Ask her from your hearts. Remind her constantly that even though the world eats away at her confidence in little slices and micro aggressions, that even though the world will try to grab her by the pussy, and even though the she will be constantly reminded of her ‘place’, that she is enough, that she can be successful, and she has a place – and it’s at the top.

My third and final ask of you today – is to vote.

Vote for her. Volunteer on her campaign. Help amplify her voice so she can in turn, amplify yours.

And I’m not here asking you to vote for a woman just because she is a woman. But because she can represent you in ways that men like President Cheeto to the south can not. Even men with the best of intentions, who are our best allies do not know what it’s like to walk in our shoes, and live in our lives. To live in a world where 1 in 3 of our sisters will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. To struggle to access healthcare. To survive in a time where our bodies are considered public property. To live with the heartbreak  that 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous  women is not a priority of our government, because our government is not made up of women.

Today, I know many of us are in mourning. Many of us are triggered and hurting beyond words. And while I know we need space and time to honour that, I also know that as I look out at the crowd of women here today, and at marches of women across the globe, that we are powerful beyond measure.

Never, in my lifetime have I seen women unite on this scale. Carry this energy beyond today. Run. Ask her to run. And when the time comes, support her in every way you can.

Diverse Voices for Change Initiative

i Sep 12th No Comments by

Since the inception of Women & Politics, we have advocated that local government policies need to be more inclusive of all women and genders. Whether it be the London Plan, the Municipal Budget, or any policy/service that the City provides, the voices and experiences of  all women need to be included in a more meaningful and concrete way. In addition, this work  needs to go beyond gender  to centre racialized, Indigenous and newcomer women who are noticeably absent from many decision-making processes and leadership roles. While white women make gains (albeit incrementally) in many of these areas, women from diverse communities are left even further behind.

So, we are excited to share that London has been chosen as one of the communities for the Diverse Voices for Change Project through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. This initiative is to  increase the number of women from diverse communities who are actively informed by, and engaged in, local government decision-making. Five municipalities, including London, Sioux Lookout, Montreal, Halifax and Edmonton will engage racialized, Indigenous and newcomer women in local decision-making processes and leadership roles.

The City of London, along with Women and Politics as a community partner, will work with women from diverse communities to implement strategies, recommendations, policies and procedures within the city that better represent women from racialized, Indigenous and newcomer backgrounds.

We are excited that the City of London has made the commitment to this project and is taking steps forward in becoming more inclusive and representative of all Londoners. This is just one step of many that needs to be taken, and we will continue to push our local government to be more responsive to gender and diversity needs in our City on all fronts. Stay tuned for more updates as this project moves forward and get in touch with us if you are interested in learning more or being involved in any of the work we do.

Women and Politics statement

i Jun 22nd No Comments by

The past week has been a trying time for our city, and in particular, for the family members impacted by this situation. We are grateful that the Integrity Commissioner has provided his report so promptly, which will hopefully allow London to move forward, and continue with the business of running our city.

As the Integrity Commissioner has stated, “the public nature of these disclosures and the resulting public comment and criticism is in and of itself a significant penalty.” While some Londoners will be satisfied with this, some will not, and the calls for resignations continue.

We hope Councillor Cassidy continues to contribute to our community whether through her continued role on Council or in other capacities. She has been a strong voice for Ward 5 and an effective Councillor. Nevertheless, we are disappointed by the Mayor and former Deputy Mayor’s multiple breaches in the code of conduct, and we must move on from here. We cannot afford to lose momentum on critical priorities for our community.

As we move forward, we need to continue to commit to diversity on Council. We need more women on council, not less. We also need more diversity in the leadership roles at the top. Diverse lived experiences at the table means that decisions made by council represent the full spectrum of Londoners. Diversity makes the decisions better grounded and more informed. As council moves forward in the selection of a new Deputy Mayor, we highly encourage them to consider diversity – including gender – as a priority for the role.

How we write about Indigenous news matters

Last week, I had the opportunity to connect with a reporter from the London Free Press to talk about critical initiatives coming to London that will help address homelessness in our city – particularly for the most vulnerable populations. The published article, “Help on the way for aboriginal homeless”, probably looks like an accurate and balanced piece of reporting to most people in London. Through Indigenous eyes though, there are key contexts missing, and in some ways this article contributes to outdated stereotypes about Indigenous peoples and Nations – stereotypes we need to continue to call out and address.

I came to this conversation as an Indigenous woman with the lived experiences of colonization and homelessness, and from the lens of my work with the Mayor’s Poverty Panel.

As an Indigenous woman, sitting down with a reporter is never an easy thing to do. Too often, well-meaning reporters simply lack the education or context to the stories we are trying to tell them. We spend more time in an interview educating about the histories of colonization, oppression, and racism, and how these histories colour the message we are trying to convey.

Sometimes no matter how on-message we are in an interview, the most critical pieces of information get missed, because a journalist may not have the lens to hear it.

This is not the fault of individual journalists, but signals a broader problem with the education journalists have access to, and how they are equipped to enter into Indigenous communities to tell our stories.

The article completely sidesteps racism as a social determinant of health and a barrier for Indigenous peoples seeking affordable housing – despite the lengths I went to trying to convey this key message.

Through the engagement sessions of the poverty panel, I’ve heard over and over again that race, not income, employment, or education is one of the biggest barriers Indigenous peoples face in London to accessing housing. While we absolutely need funding for programs and initiatives, money alone will not solve this city’s race problem. And mark my words, we do in fact have a race problem. When Indigenous peoples tell us again and again about rental ads stating “no natives” – we have to accept that we have a bigger problem than money can fix.

Additionally, the idea of help being “on the way” for Indigenous peoples further perpetuates the myth that as Indigenous peoples, we are dependent on our colonizers. We do not need to be saved. What we need are partners at the table who will help us address racism, colonialism, and the legacies of government-sponsored assimilation policies.

It is by no means my intention to slap the author of this article on the wrist. I sincerely hope we can work together again on future stories. What I’d like to highlight is a systemic problem with Indigenous storytelling in the Canadian media.

My intent here is to challenge all journalists to thoroughly commit to education on Indigenous history and colonization – and on more than a surface historical level.

This is the role you have to play in reconciliation – and as story tellers – this role couldn’t be more important.

Stories are how we define our identity together as settlers and Indigenous peoples, and how we create a shared history together moving forward. Let’s start telling these stories in the right way.

Vanessa Ambtman-Smith is a member of the Mayor’s Poverty Panel and lives in London with her husband and two young children.

Candidate survey results – Kate Young, Liberal Party of Canada, London West

i Nov 23rd No Comments by

How do you think our current electoral system (FPTP) impacts women and minority groups? What difference would a proportional representation model or other electoral reform make to these groups?

Our current electoral system impacts women and minorities in two ways. First, as potential candidates and elected officials. Both groups are already under-represented politically in Canada. As we see in Europe, countries with proportional-representation have a higher representation of women within government. In Canada, parties and leaders dominate the public discussion; so, if there is no political will to ensure that a fair representation of women and minorities exists, then it is impossible to translate that to a ruling government. In other electoral systems, there is room for further nuances which can better and more accurately represent the values of the population voting. I believe we need a new electoral system that better represents all Canadians. The second impact is on the voter who must choose only one candidate and then, either feel as if they’re not represented at all, or worse, there is no one on the ballot who speaks to their values and experience as a woman, an immigrant, someone of First Nations heritage, etc. This further disenfranchises voters. Every vote counts and all Canadians deserve a voice in Ottawa. When every one is heard, then we can have policies and laws that truly reflect our country.

The Fair Elections Act removes the provision for people to vouch for those with no ID. This has the potential to disproportionately impede people such as those experiencing homelessness from voting. What is your plan to ensure these individuals are able to vote?

Canada depends on immigration and our Canadian values embrace our social responsibility to refugees. It is in our best interests to ensure that all newcomers to Canada have access to the resources they need on their path to becoming Canadians, if they choose. We believe that immigrants should be reunited with their families abroad as quickly as possible. We also believe that refugees must have access to the health care, especially mental health care, they often need urgently after leaving countries in the midst of war and other tragedies. The recent debate over allowing more Syrian refugees into this country is an indication of how the present government’s views of refugees is not in step with the citizens of Canada.

Newcomers to Canada experience high levels of social isolation and often have multiple barriers to receiving optimal healthcare. If elected, how will you and your party address these challenges?

Canada depends on immigration and our Canadian values embrace our social responsibility to refugees. It is in our best interests to ensure that all newcomers to Canada have access to the resources they need on their path to becoming Canadians, if they choose. We believe that immigrants should be reunited with their families abroad as quickly as possible. We also believe that refugees must have access to the health care, especially mental health care, they often need urgently after leaving countries in the midst of war and other tragedies.

Please comment on Bill C24, the legislation that gives the government the power to revoke Canadian citizenship and also makes it more difficult to become Canadian.

The Liberal Party is opposed to Bill C-24. Processing times for all major categories of immigrants, as well as for visitors, have skyrocketed over the past five years. At the same time, the bill proposes to increase the fee for new citizens from $100 to $300. This means would-be new citizens are getting double the waiting time for triple the fee. Further, while we agree with that Canadian citizenship is a privilege and that new citizens should be genuinely committed to our country, we disagree with their decision to extend language tests from those aged 18-54 to the broader age range 14-64. The age 14 is too young, while 64 is too old. We also believe that the Bill will actually devalue citizenship by making it harder to obtain and by providing the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration with extraordinary discretionary powers to revoke a Canadian’s Citizenship with limited access to judicial appeals. While we agree that individuals charged with serious crimes like terrorism or treason should face the severest legal penalties, it is a basic principle in our democracy that those making the laws cannot also be the ones enforcing them. This is the role of Canada’s judicial system, not politicians.

How would you address the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada? Do you support an inquiry?

We can only move forward by acknowledging the failures and egregious wrongs of the past. This issue has gone on too long and without facing this head on, we have failed our entire country with this ongoing national tragedy. A Liberal government will immediately launch a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. We will work with First Nations and Aboriginal partners to develop a process by which it is established. That process will be fully inclusive, designed to find justice for the victims and healing for their families. An inquiry would seek to recommend concrete actions that governments, law enforcement, and others can take to solve these crimes and prevent future ones. We must acknowledge and accept the truths of why this has happened. Only then can we understand the root causes and take action to ensure it does not continue.

Education funding levels in First Nations have long been noted to be sub-standard to what is provided across Canada. On average on reserve education spending is $2000 less per student than what is offered by the provincial education systems. What steps would you take to begin closing the funding gap for First Nations students on reserve?

We are committed to closing the gap for First Nations students on reserve. An initial, immediate new investment of $515 million per year in core annual funding for kindergarten through grade 12 education for First Nations. This will rise to over $750 million per year by the end of our first mandate. It includes not only the funding promised and never delivered by the current government, but an additional $325 million annually.

Canada is the only G8 country without a national housing strategy. Where do you stand on creating such a strategy?

The Liberal Party of Canada believes that every Canadian has the right to safe, adequate and affordable housing. We understand that affordable housing is a possible solution to many of our society’s challenges. Child poverty, struggling veterans, high student debt, and the precarious lives of people experiencing mental and addiction issues are all addressed with better housing. Our platform will include measures to encourage the construction of new, affordable, purpose – built rental housing, investments in innovative programs for supportive housing, as well as predictable and sustained new funding for affordable housing. Liberals will prioritize significant new investments in affordable housing as part of the Liberal’s historic ten-year investment of nearly $20 billion in social infrastructure. We will provide $125 million per year in tax incentives to increase and substantially renovate the supply of rental housing across Canada and we will finance the construction of new, affordable rental housing for middle and low income Canadians. Tackling the housing shortage requires collaborative planning between all levels of government, meaningful engagement with community stakeholders and Canadians, as well as sustained funding. A Liberal government will work collaboratively with all our partners to increase the availability of affordable housing.

Federal funding for homelessness through the Homelessness Prevention Strategy (HPS) has not been increased since its inception over a decade ago. As the rates of homelessness have increased significantly since that time, would you increase funding? What other strategies might you recommend to reduce homelessness? As well the steady decline of low cost housing is contributing to the homelessness problem. What suggestions would you have to address the issue of increasing access to affordable housing?

As discussed in the previous question, the Liberal Party is committed a National Housing Strategy. We also called on the government to recognize the continued need for the HPS. As elected representatives, our duty is to stand up for all Canadians, especially those who do not have the basic neccessities. The purpose of the Homelessness Partnership Fund, originally created by the Liberal Party of Canada, was to provide funds to allow the provinces and cities to determine where funds were most needed. This partnership and the funding must continue. Only by providing people who are homeless with the services they need, from housing, to training, and addiction and mental health treatment can we lift them out of their circumstances, giving them a fair chance to feel the same dignity that all Canadians deserve.