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Centre Wellington council commits to diversity, inclusion and equity

'Yes, we’re a small town but we have big town issues and we need to address them even if we’re just a small town'
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Township of Centre Wellington administration building. Keegan Kozolanka/EloraFergusToday file photo

CENTRE WELLINGTON - Council and township staff will be doing thorough training on diversity, inclusion and equity programs as part of their commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion within the organization and to develop clear direction and objectives for an inclusion, diversity and equity strategy.

Township CAO Andy Goldie presented the inclusion, diversity and equity report to council at its Monday’s council meeting. 

In August, Coun. Kirk McElwain presented a notice of motion regarding the need for inclusion, diversity, and equity which included inclusive social media and publications policy and the establishment of a citizens' committee. 

As such, staff and McElwain agreed that education and training was an important component of the process moving forward. This education will assist council and staff in clearly setting out some clear direction, objectives, goals, and possible small early actions which can proceed in 2022.

The education staff would also help devise an advisory committee terms of reference to be approved by council.

Without a complete understanding of all the activities and actions requiring financial support in 2022, township staff felt that initial funds of $40,000 should be allocated for education, training, and possible small first actions. 

“I’ve had more than one discussion from folks where they've let me know that they don’t understand a lot of Indigenous culture and its importance such as land acknowledgements. I think it’s important that we have education around that to get started,” explained McElwain at the meeting. 

“But the recent activity at the high school certainly highlights the importance of the committee and the work that needs to be done in the community. Yes, we’re a small town but we have big town issues and we need to address them even if we’re just a small town.”

Coun. Ian MacRae echoed McElwain’s sentiments of diversity and inclusion but also noted the importance of equity. He explained that the report highlighted a lot of diversity and inclusion but not as much of equity. MacRae explained that there are also gender-based and age-equity issues that the council need to address. 

Meanwhile, Coun. Stephen Kitras noted that there was no religious representation as he explained that the world has become “rapidly radical and secular."

“In our rapidly secular society, those with religious faith are often secluded by the media and the government. I think there are certain ones that get the spotlight, but other ones, not,” explained Kitras.

“During the sad and revealing chapter with the Indigenous residential schools, this summer has unleashed an incredible amount of hatred towards Christians and Catholics. Seventy six incidents were documented where 20 churches were burnt. There was also an Islamic incident in Waterloo; I just think that we need to add religious inclusion.” 

Coun. Steven Vanleeuwen echoed Kitras’ comments and sentiments, but struggled with the word ‘fostering’ in the report as he believes that fostering indicates developing and changing the mindset of all staff and councillors, rather than accepting them. 

Vanleeuwen explained that to be able to serve justice and equity, accepting other people’s mindsets is part of that, and to treat people equally and respectfully even if other people have a different mindset than the majority. He wondered if the council was looking to develop diversity, inclusion and equity within the township or looking to be equitable and just. 

“As we learn from experts, our initial steps really needs to be having these conversations with folks to help us understand different perspectives and viewpoints,” said Goldie. 

“We need to really be defining what we need to be really tackling and why we want to do it; we just need to have these dialogues in our council and township and not exactly to change because we know not everyone has the same perspectives.”

Mayor Kelly Linton also commented that the important thing is to not do symbolic gestures.

“I think that that’s what we can do to make our community 100 per cent inclusive. I know we all have a concern for our community but we need to make sure we have real and authentic actions.”