Two first-term councillors hope the City of Nanaimo will look at measures to encourage others, particularly women, to get involved in local politics moving forward.
Councillors Erin Hemmens and Tyler Brown presented notices of motion last week around gender parity on city committees and childcare reimbursement for councillors and committee members. The motions call for staff reports and draft policies at this point, not final decisions, and are expected to come to the council table Monday, Dec. 2.
“Women face greater barriers to getting to leadership tables,” said Hemmens. “There’s a lot of different reasons for that, and the childcare piece is one of those.”
Both councillors stressed that a gender parity policy wouldn’t mean that the city would appoint people to committees and task forces who didn’t have appropriate qualifications.
“I’m not suggesting by any way, shape of form that we put unqualified people into positions, because that’s unfair [for] everyone and I think that’s actually counterproductive to what I’m trying to do and what Tyler’s trying to do,” Hemmens said.
She said part of a gender parity policy would be “focused recruitment,” adding that might include not just women but anyone who might be facing barriers to participation. Brown said it might simply mean that the city could extend deadlines to fill committee seats, re-advertise for applicants or try different strategies for outreach.
The two councillors said they weren’t sure if women are currently under-represented on committees or whether that has been the case in the past, suggesting it probably varies depending on the committee.
“When you take a broader view of things, that’s where the evidence and the data really starts to show there are some discrepancies, from those in elected office to those on not-for-profit boards or corporate boards, etc.,” Brown said.
Hemmens said she and other council members campaigned on lowering barriers to women’s participation in the political realm.
“A gender policy … can be seen as a bit of blunt tool for something that’s really nuanced and socially based, but that’s the conversation that I’d like the council to have,” Hemmens said.
As for the motion on child-minding reimbursement, Brown suggested the policy would recognize the challenges of accessing night-time childcare, for example, and attempt to fill gaps where other government childcare subsidies don’t suffice.
“If a woman has all of the credentials and all of the qualities and all of the desires that a man has to serve her city in the same way, but she’s looking after young children – which we know disproportionately falls to women – then we’d like to just kind of ensure that that’s not what’s keeping her away from the table,” Hemmens said.
Both Hemmens and Brown, the two city councillors with young children, said they wouldn’t need to access that funding, for different reasons, so there would be no cost to taxpayers on that front.
“I can’t imagine that for volunteer committees it’s going to be exorbitant; in fact, I know it won’t…” Hemmens said. “It can be a very minuscule line item in the budget, but the greater conversation is philosophically, how do we feel about it?”
Hemmens said her expectation is that council will defer the gender parity and childcare motions to a governance and priorities committee agenda.
“This notice of motion, if it results in a gender parity policy and a childcare policy, that’s great, but if it fails on good debate, that’s [fine] … the conversation is what’s valuable,” she said.
The motions are scheduled to be discussed at a regular council meeting Monday, Dec. 2, at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, following a budget-focused e-town hall meeting that starts at 7 p.m.