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Ottawa city council still falls short on diversity

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2018-10-24 CBC/Radio-Canada

Racial diversity was not a winner in this year's municipal election in Ottawa.

While many are celebrating the fact that more women are headed to the council chamber after Monday's vote, there's also disappointment that more people of colour weren't elected.

"I'm just really tired of the same issue persisting," Erica Ifill, an advocate for gender and racial diversity, told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

"I think Ottawa still has a small town mentality. I think to be a candidate who is a minority … you probably have to be known in the community for years so that people feel comfortable with you."

Black candidates fall short 

There were plenty of diverse candidates across the city, and many voters held high hopes that Ottawa would elect its first black councillor. 

As of 2016, black people — Ottawa's largest visible minority group — made up six per cent of the city's population. But voters have never elected a black man or woman to council.

The possibility seemed bright in River Ward this year, where there was strong energy behind Fabien Kalala Cimankinda's campaign. But in the end, incumbent Riley Brockington won with more than 54 per cent of the vote.

"Fabien, who basically got into the race because he wanted to help his community, he literally was a hero," said Rawlson King, a board member of the Overbrook Community Association.

Erica Ifill runs a digital public relations agency called Not In My Colour and advocated for more gender and racial diversity in this year's municipal election in Ottawa. © Miriam Katawazi/CBC Erica Ifill runs a digital public relations agency called Not In My Colour and advocated for more gender and racial diversity in this year's municipal election in Ottawa.

'We need representation' 

"I think that we have great candidates … but the question is, can those candidates get 250 volunteers working for them? Can those candidates get full funding to the election expense limit?... Those are the challenges," said King, who ran for school board trustee but wasn't elected. 

People in diverse communities, which often include low-income residents and newcomers, can find it more difficult to find time to volunteer for a candidate, or even to vote, he said. 

King said his own decision to run was to give a voice to the diverse communities in his ward. Without representation, he said, politicians can make poor decisions on behalf of minority communities. 

Rawlson King, a board member with the Overbrook Community Association, ran for school board trustee but wasn't elected. © Miriam Katawazi/CBC Rawlson King, a board member with the Overbrook Community Association, ran for school board trustee but wasn't elected.

"We do need more diversity around the table — that's something I said in the beginning of my campaign," King told Ottawa Morning. "We need representation … because representation reflects our lived experiences and realities."

More women on council 

Seven new faces were elected to council, four of them women.

That brings to seven the number of women on city council, compared to just four last term.

Women's advocates have welcomed the change as a step in the right direction, but Ifill said that it's still not enough. 

"I canvassed and heard people be surprised that a woman is taking some sort of a leadership position," she said.

Breaking new ground

The City of Cornwall made history Monday by electing its first female mayor, who may also be the first black woman elected mayor in Ontario.

Bernadette Clement, a city councillor for the last 12 years, handily defeated fellow councillor David Murphy and incumbent Mayor Leslie O'Shaughnessy.

Clement, who claimed nearly 54 per cent of the vote, said she's "humbled and proud" to make history.

"I hear that I'm the first black female mayor in Ontario," said Clement, who is also francophone. "What I hope is that there are all sorts of young people out there who are watching this and understanding that this is just part of our history now."

Fabien Kalala Cimankinda ran for city council in River ward but lost to the incumbent, Riley Brockington. © Laura Osman/CBC Fabien Kalala Cimankinda ran for city council in River ward but lost to the incumbent, Riley Brockington.
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