Town council needs more diversity: Judson

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer
memara@fortfrances.com

The results of the 2021 Census data show that the population in Fort Frances declined by 3.5 per cent, since the last Census in 2016.

This revelation was what Fort Frances Coun. Douglas Judson called bad news for Fort Frances because it has the distinction of having the 25th worst population loss among Canadian cities of 5,000 or greater.

At 4.7 per cent, Dryden is the municipality in Ontario with the highest decline of population.

This also sparked Judson to speak, yet again, of the work that needs to be done in order to build a community that makes for an attractive destination for new residents, investments and businesses.

Judson gave an update during last week’s council meeting, and said that the Census revelations puts the town near the bottom of about 3,500 municipalities across Canada.

“We are competing with municipalities across the region and across Canada to keep young people and attract new families,” Judson said. “Our community is at a turning point, and the decisions which are made in the years ahead will be critical in determining what direction we go.”

Judson said one way this could be addressed is to make sure that municipal decision-making processes are more inclusive of the demographics that could put down roots in town. Numerous studies have recognized that diverse governing bodies make better decisions, he said.

Judson took the council table as an example to drive home his point.

He said while the community is evenly-split between men and women, only two council seats are held by women. With 75 per cent of the community being under 60 years of age, Judson said 71 per cent of council is 60 plus. Even though the Indigenous population males 25 per cent of the community, zero are on council. Judson said 34 per cent of the households in our community have children in them, but none of the people around the council table live in those homes.

“These figures are not purely coincidental. I know from speaking to people who are interested in being part of Council that there are very real systemic barriers to their ability to run, or to serve if elected. Some of these are as simple as scheduling or technology,” he said at the council meeting. “Others are more complicated.”

Judson said he will be an active advocate for diversity, adding that he will bring some proposals to council through the Administration and Finance Executive Committee to address these challenges, with a more extensive governance review planned for the year ahead.

Judson said council is not a rubber stamp for staff, and that as elected officials of the local government, they set the agenda, and not simply follow one.

“We need to address these issues in order to send a clear message that we want the full diversity of our community to have opportunities to be part of this council and civic debate in our community,” he said. “Being age-friendly, in particular, needs to mean that our municipality is friendly to all ages.”

Finally, Judson said he encourages members of council and the public that have specific ideas or suggestions that will support young people, people from equity-seeking groups, or other under-represented cohorts to participate in the work of Council to reach out and share their thoughts.