Council spars over gender parity

Prince Albert City Hall -- Herald File Photo.

What would normally have been a quick confirmation appointment turned into a 10 minute debate during Monday’s city council meeting.

A motion to appoint a male representative to the Community Services Advisory Committee took longer than usual after a challenge from Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp, who expressed concern about a lack of gender parity on the city’s committees.

The incoming male candidate was set to replace an outgoing female candidate on a committee that had only four female representatives on an 11-member committee. Although Lennox-Zepp’s motion died without a seconder, she had plenty to say during the ensuing the debate.

“If we are serious about encouraging women to apply to these committees and to be involved in our civic politics, we need to be serious about who we appoint,” she said.

A total of eight candidates had applied for the vacant position, including the male and female candidates under the microscope on Monday. Lennox-Zepp said she saw nothing in the application packages that merited not selecting the female candidate, and objected to the decision.

“We’re losing a female spot,” she said. “Let’s replace it and consider gender parity…. We want different types of people on each committee. We want diversity.”

Lennox-Zepp’s added that none of the city’s committees were 50 per cent female, and she encouraged her colleagues to send the matter back to the mayor’s office for further debate.

Her proposal was met with heated objections from Mayor Greg Dionne and from Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick.

Dionne quickly objected to the suggestion, which he said was “out of order.”

“We don’t pick, in this council, by gender,” he said. “We pick qualified people and we go through a process.”

Dionne added that the proposed female candidate was not selected because she asked to be more involved in transit and housing issues, which were not part of the Community Services committee agenda.

“I believe in the best quality, and I don’t care if it’s a man or woman or whoever,” Dionne continued. “It’s whoever can best fill that void.”

Dionne said the majority of candidates who have applied to serve on city committees over the past five years have been men. He said he wished more women applied for those positions, but did not think automatic appointments to achieve gender parity would solve the problem.

Ogrodnick, who served as the Community Services Advisory Committee chairperson, wasn’t as fiery as Dionne in his criticism. However, he remained steadfast in his opposition to the idea.

“The views of the entire community are represented on this committee, and to just make it strictly about male or female (members), I think, is wrong,” he said.

Ogrodnick added that the eight community appointments to the committee were split evenly between men and women. That will change now due to Monday’s new appointment.

While Ogrodnick and Dionne objected to the idea of gender parity, other council members were more concerned with the process, arguing that the decision should have been brought forward before the issue was voted on in council.

Lennox-Zepp replied that committee appointments were only suggestions from the mayor’s office and could be changed by council if they disagreed. However, she also said she would accept sending the matter back to the Mayor’s office for further consideration as a compromise.

After much debate, the motion to appoint the male candidate passed by a 7-1 margin.

Typically, a three-member panel that includes the mayor debates community member appointments to city committees. A recommendation is made and then forwarded to city council for approval.

@kerr_jas •