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Diversity at city hall difficult but important, new female committee member says

Being a committee member allows new appointee Amy Harder to understand how ideas turn into reality in city hall. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

By Shira Rubinoff [1]

BELLEVILLE – Amy Harder may have only just been appointed to a Belleville council committee, but she is no stranger to using her skills and knowledge to better the community she lives in.

At Monday’s council meeting, new members of various city committees [2] were announced. Seven of the 10 new arrivals are women. Four of those seven also applied to fill the city council seat that opened up after Coun. Pat Culhane died last November. In the end, council appointed Tyler Allsopp, runner-up in the most recent municipal election, to fill the seat – a controversial move because many had argued there was a need for more diversity on council.

Culhane’s position being filled by a man means that for the first time since the 1970s, only one out of the eight council members is a woman. 

Amy Harder is one of the seven new female committee members appointed Monday. Volunteering for the Lighting Display and Gateway Signage Committee is a way she gives back to her community, she said. 

On the subject of gender and racial diversity at city hall, Harder said she understands the difficulties in reflecting the makeup of a city’s population in its political representatives.

Noting that it is city tradition to appoint the runner-up to an empty position, she said it’s also important to recognize the benefits of having voices from different communities represented on council and its committees.

“It’s one thing to change systems; it’s an entirely different thing to change hearts and minds,” Harder said. 

Even though these conversations are difficult to have, Harder said, it will be worth it down the road when there are board members and committee volunteers who are more reflective of the city.

Kathryn Brown, owner of the downtown shop Kate’s Kitchen and a member of council’s Planning Advisory Committee, said she thinks that rather than make a big deal about appointing more female committee members, the city should have placed more importance on making council itself more diverse.

At the end of the day, we have a city council that I personally don’t feel is representative of the community that we have,” Brown said in an interview with QNet News.

Councillor Kelly McCaw is currently the only woman on Belleville city council. QNet News file photo

The lone female member of council, Kelly McCaw, noted that women make up 52 per cent of the population, but together she and Culhane made up only 20 per cent of council – and now, with Allsopp replacing Culhane, it’s much less. “If you wanted fair gender representation, it would probably be four (men) and four (women),” said McCaw. 

Asked her opinion as to why there aren’t more women on council, McCaw said that when she first ran in 2014, she found it intimidating – and expensive: “If you want to run a successful campaign, you need to raise money, and that’s hard to do sometimes. I pretty much funded my own campaign.”

As for the intimidation factor, she said, “There’s still that fear of inequality and the fear of how they’ll be treated by their male counterparts. If anybody watches council, they’ll get an idea of how that can be.”

Not everyone feels that equal representation is the most important thing, however.

I hope that people are going to be chosen for a passion and an interest in whatever committees they have put forth,” said Janna Munkittrick-Colton of the Municipal Heritage Committee. “If you’ve got seven people and they’re all equally passionate about wanting to be on the committee, it shouldn’t matter what they look like.”

As for Harder, she said the end goal in her political career is getting a position on city council. As someone who was born and raised in Trenton, a self-proclaimed “farmer’s daughter,” Harder returned to the Quinte region from the Toronto area to raise her family and get back to her roots.

“If there’s an opportunity for me to amplify what makes this city amazing, so that I can help ensure that my children and future generations have a great future here and can see this as a place that they want to come back to, just like me, I want to do that.”