Nanaimo City Hall. (NEWS BULLETIN file photo)

Nanaimo city council defers motions on gender parity and child-minding

City staff will not prepare reports or draft policies at this time

Ideas about working toward gender parity at city leadership tables and looking into reimbursing childcare to try to make that happen did not receive enough support from city council to move forward this week.

Motions put forward by councillors Erin Hemmens and Tyler Brown were deferred Monday night to a future governance and priorities committee meeting.

One motion asked for a report and draft policy on ensuring gender parity on City of Nanaimo committees and task forces and the companion motion asked for a report and draft policy on reimbursement for child-minding expenses for city councillors and committee members.

The motions were deferred after debate and the motion about child-minding was criticized by Mayor Leonard Krog.

“I think it speaks to a sense of entitlement. And I know that’s not where it comes from, but I can say to my fellow councillors, that’s what the public reaction is, and not inappropriately, quite frankly,” Krog said. “This is public service. It is about showing leadership. You do not show leadership by giving yourself a benefit that nobody else in the community has. You show leadership by sacrifice.”

Coun. Tyler Brown took offence with how the mayor worded his argument.

“I think the tone in which we discuss and the language which we use is important at this table,” Brown said, “and I don’t ever want a councillor to feel like they shouldn’t bring forward a motion and feel like their leadership on things that are important to them should be questioned.”

RELATED: Motions coming on gender parity and childcare for Nanaimo councillors and committee members

Brown had said his motion was about lowering barriers, and Coun. Don Bonner supported it for that reason, saying he didn’t want someone to make a decision not to run for council because he or she couldn’t afford it.

“If that is going to be the decision, then the people making that decision will be the ones who can afford it and those will be the men in our society who are well-off or they’re retired,” Bonner said.

Coun. Sheryl Armstrong was concerned about the cost, and said she also struggled with the notion of residents supporting their own families having to pay, through their taxes, for child-minding for city councillors.

Coun. Ian Thorpe said the matter related directly to discussion on council compensation, which he said is regularly examined.

Coun. Zeni Maartman’s motion to defer passed 6-3, with Brown among the group voting to defer his motion and councillors Hemmens, Bonner and Ben Geselbracht opposed.

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The vote on gender equity measures actually happened first. Hemmens introduced her motion by talking about how women come to leadership tables “in a different way” than men and those differences help reflect society’s makeup. She said at the current pace, gender parity will happen on its own around 170 years from now.

“Women are under-represented due to a number of barriers they face broadly as a result of their gender – interestingly, none of those barriers that women face are a lack of qualifications,” Hemmens said.

Maartman made the motion to defer, but noted that women are under-represented in municipal politics across the country including Nanaimo, and indicated she was interested in talking more about gender equity at the committee level.

Armstrong, a retired RCMP sergeant, was firmly in favour of deferral.

“I worked in an organization in the federal government where gender parity was a big issue and I’ll tell you, I don’t know how many policewomen or firewomen [there are] that believe in it for the simple reason, you question yourself, why did I get that position?”

Armstrong added that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities is already working on a report on gender equity and felt a City of Nanaimo staff report would be unnecessarily doubling up on that work. Hemmens replied that she’s been in contact with FCM.

“I know these reports and this work is being done,” she said. “This is an evolution, it’s not a Step 1, Step 2. It all goes together.”

Geselbracht and Bonner spoke against deferral, with Geselbracht saying he thinks there’s “systemic issues that need to be addressed” and Bonner saying he doesn’t want to wait 170 years when the inequity is here and now.

Krog said gender parity measures would look like a “quota system” which he said wouldn’t help advance the cause.

“If you want to ensure gender parity on city committees, then for heaven sakes, go out as individual councillors and do your jobs – with great respect – and recruit the women who have the opportunity and chance of succeeding and developing their profile in the community so that maybe next time they’ll be running against you for your position,” Krog said.

Brown rejected any suggestion councillors weren’t doing their jobs.

“When it comes to action, when it comes to encouragement, when it comes to doing what you can … you have to look at the tools that are available,” Brown said. “And the tools that are available to me as a councillor on the City of Nanaimo council is to enact policy that helps secure a more just and equitable future for all members of our community.”

The motion to defer passed 5-4 with Hemmens, Brown, Bonner and Geselbracht opposed.

RELATED: Nanaimo councillor sparks initiative to stress importance of women in leadership



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