Fort Frances councillors are looking to diversify town hall by encouraging young residents who represent all demographics of the town to put their names forward. With almost a year until the next municipal elections and an aging population in Fort Frances, current councillors are encouraging young constituents to put their names on the ballot.
Coun. Andrew Hallikas said even though they have to continue providing services for the seniors in the community, it’s incumbent on the town to ensure the community is attractive for young families and young adults.
That being said, Hallikas added that having two women on council, one of which is the first woman to be mayor in Fort Frances, is a step in the right direction.
“I really want to see younger people on council,” Hallikas said. “We really need to have younger people and people who are representative of our community, because for years and years, council was mostly older white guys.”
Hallikas is not the only current municipal politician who holds this belief.
Coun. Douglas Judson, who also happens to be the youngest member of the current council, said council wants young people who are working age, who are Indigenous and who have young children involved in the community.
“We want people at all stages of life to be part of the municipality and to be part of its decision making on council,” Judson said.
Although Judson said online activity that is aimed at ripping down council efforts and attacking the staff of the municipality could be a turn off for those considering to run, the town needs to develop what he called a recreation strategy.
This recreation strategy, according to Judson, will provide recreation opportunities for young people and young families to reflect the transformation the community is going through.
“Some people have been a little slower to realize that not everyone in the community has the same access to family cabins, snow machines and boats in order to do things outside of Fort Frances,” Judson said.
“We want when people see a job opportunity in Fort Frances, that they can Google search the town and see all the opportunities and great things that their kids, spouses and maybe their aging parents that they care for will enjoy and want to be a part of.”
Fort Frances being a small community in northwestern Ontario adds insult to injury, according to Judson, because the town does not have the same services and institutions in large geographic centres.
“It’s not sustainable for us simply to become a retirement town. That’s going to lead us down a very difficult road, where an increasing portion of our population will be on fixed incomes and will be sensitive to the tax increases we need. When six of seven people at the table more or less come from the same [age] group, I don’t know if it helps us make decisions in the most community-minded way.”
Although he has not decided whether he will run again, Judson said he is more than happy to guide potential councillors through the election process, timeline and deadlines.
Fort Frances Mayor June Caul also said she would like to see young people work by her side, because they have fresh new ideas that they can share.
However, Caul said she also understands why this could be hard for someone who holds a full time job.
“The hardest part of being on council is that meetings are usually held during the day because administration works in the mornings,” Caul said. “I think that’s the reason why you often see older adults take on the challenge, and we need history and we need older people who have lived here for many years because they know the town and what’s appropriate.”
Caul, nonetheless, said she challenges young people to get involved in the community, even if it is by joining a committee.
And even though Hallikas said he enjoyed working with what he called a progressive council, he is more than willing to take his name off the ballot to make room for younger candidates.
“One thing that will factor in my decision is if I see that there are some young people putting their names forward, I would consider not running to provide space for a younger person to get on council,” Hallikas said.