By JAYMIE L. WHITE
Special to The Appalachian
STEPHENVILLE – Krista Lynn Howell, Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs, hosted a virtual meeting about the upcoming 2021 municipal elections last Friday, Aug 20. Among the attendees who joined the event were Pam Parsons, Minister Responsible for Women and Gender Equality, Amy Coady-Davis, President of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, social activist Laurabel Mba, and Stephenville Mayor Tom Rose. Topics discussed included the importance of participation and diversity in municipal politics, having accountable and informed elected officials, and reconciliation.
The conversation opened with Howell sharing her own experiences with municipal council as a newcomer with little experience and understanding of politics at the time.
“They were very welcoming and very accepting and they allowed me to voice my perspective and have my say,” said Howell. “They listened to me and asked my opinions and they treated me with respect and always as an equal. So I can truly say that my experience with municipal council has been a positive one.”
Howell then opened up the conversation to the rest of the participants, with Pam Parsons speaking next. Parsons said she was inspired to enter politics at a young age when a close family friend ran for politics.
“I just remember feeling excitement and I always thought that well, this is something I would like to do when I grow up, and I kept it with me throughout the years,” said Parsons. She also expressed her excitement at being involved in the conversation because of the importance of bringing more diversity to council tables.
Amy Coady-Davis encouraged everybody to attend public council meetings and get involved, and said it is important to have diverse voices to help communities move forward.
“Just being involved, having a voice, and lending that voice around the table, and your shared experiences and your own individual experiences, it just helps shape your community,” said the MNL President. “That’s why it is so important that we have such diverse voices around the council chambers and around that boardroom table, to move our communities forward.”
Laurabel Mba said the government can’t be for the people unless there’s a diverse range of people at the table.
“Diversity is a very important aspect to ensuring a fair and democratic government. There is diversity that exists within every municipality in Newfoundland and Labrador. We’re not just talking racial diversity, but we’re also talking ableism and diversity. We have gender diversity, there are just so many aspects to diversity as a whole,” said Mba. “I think when talking about municipal elections and municipal governments, in order to ensure that the government is a government of the people by the people and for the people, you need the people at the table.”
Mayor Tom Rose stated that, in Stephenville, diversity has provided many benefits.
“What we’re finding is the diversity that exists in our touchpoints and in all the collaboration and projects we’re doing, are showing significant dividends and benefits to the town of Stephenville,” said Rose.
One question brought to the group asked, “When it comes to governance, how can we ensure that the elected officials abide by the legislation and understand it properly?”
Minister Howell said when you are in this type of position, you must be accountable for the decisions you make on behalf of your communities and that her department has looked at the code of conduct specifically.
“Because that is such an important piece of what we do, we’ve decided to take that out into a separate piece of legislation,” said Howell. “So, we’re going to be looking at the code of conduct as very much a large factor of how we do municipal governance.”
Howell added that they are including things such as mandatory training for councilors to better understand their roles and some boundaries that can exist so municipal leaders have the tools they need to make good things happen. Coady-Davis said individuals being responsible for their own decisions and actions will lead to good governance, which allows things to run more efficiently.
“When we have good governance in place, it allows us to make better decisions and to make them more easily, there’s no grey areas,” said Coady-Davis.
Minister Parsons said that fully understanding your role when you are elected into office will make you better able to do your job and speak for the people who elected you.
“I think ultimately, when we know what is expected of us, it is much easier to perform in the most optimal way,” said Parsons. “Something I keep with me every time I speak in the House of Assembly, I always remember first and foremost, I’m not speaking as an individual, I am representing thousands of people who elected me into office.”
Minister Howell opened the discussion on reconciliation by saying that it needs to be at the forefront of all levels of government.
“It’s in everything we do. It’s certainly an important issue for potential candidates and voters alike as we move into the next round of elections,” said Howell.
Tom Rose said that in order to have reconciliation, we need respect and conversation with Indigenous groups.
“I think the biggest thing on reconciliation is that we have to talk about it. We have to sit down with Indigenous groups, we have to embrace their culture and their Indigenous background,” said Rose. “What I find is happening in my community, the more we do this, the more pride that’s happening within all groups in the community.”
Howell said it is important that actions need to reflect the importance of this type of work.
“It certainly is a priority for our government, and in my department in particular, we have a couple of pieces we are working on right now that will ensure that we uphold those commitments.”