Life as councillor ‘eye-opening’: Caul

Duane Hicks

Life as a town councillor, first and foremost, is a learning experience.
Fort Frances Coun. June Caul offered some insight into life in public office during the “Women in Politics” symposium last Wednesday evening at Confederation College here, noting her first term has been an eye-opening experience into the how the town’s operates–something every citizen should experience.
“I have learned more than I have ever learned in my life this past three years. It’s unbelievable the learning experience you go through,” she told the small crowd of women and men in attendance.
“Running the town is a lot huger business that I ever realized before.
“Every single resident in your community should sit on council, even for a little while,” Coun. Caul later said.
“Go to meetings, find out the commitment involved, and find out how your town really runs because very few people have got a clue about all of the stuff involved in being on council.
“I’ve learned what an immense responsibility and commitment it is to run the municipality–from the importance of good drinking water to how much it is to replace one block of roadway that needs new sewer and water and then restructuring,” she added.
Coun. Caul noted it’s one thing for a resident to want their road fixed but when they find out replacing one block costs $1 million, it sheds light on the sort of tough decisions council often has to make.
She has learned how the town’s four divisions work, found out all of the services the town provides, toured the various facilities, and learned about the financial considerations that go into keeping it all running.
“It’s been a wonderful learning experience and I am so gad that I did it [ran for council,” Coun. Caul remarked.
In addition to the learning curve, Coun. Caul said a major barrier for those running for council, especially women, is the time commitment.
Each councillor in Fort Frances belongs to two of the four executive committees, which meet twice a month during the daytime. In between those are committee of the whole and council meetings, which are held Monday evenings.
The mayor and council also are involved with other town boards and committees.
The job also requires a great deal of reading, with agendas sometimes topping 200 pages in length. This takes time, too.
How, then, are moms, who may have a day job and often are busy in the evening, as well, supposed to find the time to go to meetings in between making supper and taking their children to hockey practice and dance lessons?
There’s no easy answer.
“God bless your husband if you have one that does those jobs to help you out,” Coun. Caul said. “Because you would need that help and that support, for sure, to help you run.
“That’s something that, for sure, is a real issue as far as women in politics go.”
During a later question-and-answer session, Coun. Wendy Brunetta said it’s possible councils could make it easier for women by paying for female councillors’ child care costs so she could attend meetings or changing meeting times to be more flexible.
Alternately, a woman candidate could make those types of reforms part of her campaign platform.
Coun. Caul suggested a woman also could bring the issue forward to council now–prior to this fall’s municipal election–for its consideration in order to make it more feasible for women–or, in fact, anyone with a day job–to be able to meet the time demands of being a councillor.
By that same token, Coun. Caul urged women interested in a political career to continue to put their family first because they are “the most important thing in your life.”
“Everybody else on council, boards, committees–they need to know that that is important and to remember that that is important, and that maybe meetings can be rescheduled or maybe held at a different time to suit you if you’re on that board, committee, council, whatever,” she reasoned.
“Don’t be afraid to speak and say, ‘You know what? That’s not going to work for me. We need to change that timeframe,'” Coun. Caul advised.
She admitted it’s been a challenge being one of just two women on town council, along with Coun. Brunetta.
“It’s taken a lot of determination and perseverance to get my suggestions taken seriously at times, I find,” Coun. Caul remarked.
“I have left many meetings frustrated and misunderstood, and also left out of the loop on some issues.
“It’s difficult for a woman because we see things from a different perspective . . . it’s difficult to get your point of view across to a group of men who have been there for many years and you’re new and you’re a woman” added Coun. Caul, though noting she has become less intimidated as the years have passed.
Coun. Brunetta later said she’s seen a change from the time she and Coun. Caul first started.
“Our opinions are more respected now than they were at the beginning and it’s probably because we were the newbies, maybe not so much because we were women,” she noted.
“[But] you don’t really know.
“I feel like we’re now at an equal playing field at the table,” Coun. Brunetta added.
Coun. Caul said she there’s no doubt there needs to be more diverse perspectives on council, which includes not only more women but younger people, in general, even suggesting a high school representative who would not be able to vote but still could provide their opinion is a possibility.
“We look around our council table and we’re all older citizens in Fort Frances, and we really do need a young perspective on council–not just guys but younger women, as well,” she stressed.
“Your perspective as a young person is so much different than mine is,” she remarked. “Your perspective as a younger woman is so much different than an older man.”
She strongly urged women to consider running for town council, and offered some words of encouragement.
“As women, especially those in positions of added responsibility, we must remind ourselves that our thoughts and ideas are just as important as anyone else’s,” Coun. Caul said.
“You must not be afraid to speak up and voice your opinion,” she urged. “You may not always agree with what I think or say, but you’re going to hear what I think.
“I might not always be right, and I will admit when I am wrong,” she added. “And I will listen to your ideas with an open mind.
“But voicing my thoughts, just maybe you’ll understand and agree with me,” Coun. Caul said. “By speaking up, you engage in conversation and when you’re engaging in conversation with anyone, you always learn something.
“And we never do stop learning.
“Take a chance if you’re interested in running and learn along with Wendy and I because I think we’ll probably still both run again,” Coun. Caul noted.
“It would be fabulous to have some other women with us and some younger people, for sure.”