In the months leading up to the upcoming election, a grassroots initiative is diversifying the landscape in Ontario’s rural urban politics by offering free online video lessons to anyone interested in campaigning for the first time.
First session of City Campaign School led by Guelph board member June Hofland in 2018. Volunteers are supporting the expansion of the school to Wellington and Oxford counties by 2021. It aims to encourage women and members of Indigenous, Black, racial, and LGBTQ-plus communities to engage politically at the municipal level.
The school has released instructional videos on its website covering building a values-based campaign plan, preparing for debate, and being an effective member of a rural council.
“In rural towns, we are faced with very few female leaders in urban politics and very few women in leadership positions in general,” said Lindsay Wilson, a principal volunteer with the City Campaign School in Oxford County, who is running for the Democratic nominee. in the June provincial elections.
Wilson says that’s why he decided to team up with former municipal candidate Kate Leatherbarrow, who ran for Woodstock’s board in 2018, to be part of the campaign school.
“We really wanted to vote for a new, diverse vote for the city council,” Leatherbarrow said. “Our focus is on women’s representation, but you know, we have an invitation to all kinds of diverse voices that can better represent our community as all communities continue to grow, develop and change.”
Oxford County city council is all white
There are eight municipalities in Oxford County, including Ingersoll, Tillsonburg and Woodstock. According to the Stats Canada 2016 census, there are more than 2,700 individuals identified as having First Nations in the county, and more than 3,440 as visible minorities.
The six municipalities in Oxford County have only one woman elected to the council, and no mayor is a woman. All of the 43 mayors and elected councilors are white.
Hannah Hodder, a Western University student and organizer of the Black Lives Matter chapter in Oxford County, called the figures “alarming.” He also sits on the anti-racism advisory committee for Woodstock Police.
“There are no different perspectives or voices heard at the table and their voices and opinions matter,” Hodder said.
He added the City Campaign School was a good starting point to create much-needed change.
“We all know the specifics of the historical problems of the black community, as well as the LGBTQ-plus community and the Indigenous community. They face significant obstacles in the social as well as political sphere,” he said.
“Their voices are rarely heard. This is a critical time for us to take a stand by empowering and promoting people from these marginalized communities to take positions of power, and to help dismantle the barriers and challenges that stand in their way.”
In addition to the new videos, City Campaign School has a comprehensive list of online resources and tools to help candidates with their planning, vetted by experienced campaigners. There will be more resources added throughout the spring.
The next municipal election will be held on October 24, 2022.
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