Incumbent Red Deer City Councillor Ken Johnston wants to know why it takes a United Nations Declaration to tell us that Canada’s founding people should be equal to all other people?
“Do we need the UN to tell us that indigenous people have the right to existence?” said Johnston, who gave the most impassioned response to questions about diversity and tolerance at a Red Deer City Council candidates forum at Festival Hall Thursday night.
The public event, hosted by the Red Deer Welcoming and Inclusive Communities Network, drew about 120 Red Deerians, who wanted to hear what various candidates had to say on the subject of discrimination – and how they planned to help stamp it out.
Candidates gave answers, ranging from the rational to the emotional, when asked questions such as: What have you learned about diversity and inclusion in the last three years? or What do you know about the City of Red Deer’s commitments as a signatory to the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism?
Of the latter, Social Studies teacher Brice Unland admitted he knew very little – and he found this disturbing, because he feels city council should be doing more to inform and engage the community on these matters. As a teacher, he said he could even help make young people more aware by planning lessons around the city’s involvement in this coalition.
The city’s signatory status was also an “eye-opener” for candidate Doug Manderville — even though he could have benefitted from the knowledge since he uses a wheelchair and advocates for people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities.
Jonathan Wieler suggested using language that puts the person before the disability or issue as a way of treating someone with more dignity than using a label such as “homeless person.”
Lawrence Lee, who along with fellow incumbent candidate Frank Wong, brings the Asian community’s voice to city council, talked about how important good support systems are — especially while he was growing up in Red Deer as one of two visible minority students at his school.
Lee feels Red Deer is becoming more inclusive. Wong gave an example of this, talking about a city program that hires and trains Aboriginal workers, giving many a full-time job.
Several candidates, including Bobbi McCoy and Kris Maciborsky, spoke about the importance of standing up and speaking for those who don’t have a voice in society.
Incumbent candidate Tanya Handley said her term on city council has taught her to how diverse this city is. Valdene Callin learned the same thing through her involvement with local organizations, saying “Everyone has value. That’s what I’ve learned.”
Vesna Higham feels reading and understanding inclusion policies is important.
As an archivist, Michael Dawe believes we can all learn from historic mistakes – such as Red Deer’s Klu Klux Klan chapter – and learn to do much better, in terms of respecting all citizens as we go forward as a community.
Sam Bergeron said learning tolerance and inclusion starts at schools like St. Patricks, where her children have learned to get along with all sorts of students from different backgrounds. Jim Kristinson and Jason Habuza talked about ensuring that Red Deer gets needed services so some citizens don’t have to go to larger centres.
Rick More spoke about learning new perspectives about mental illness through losing his daughter. Incumbent Buck Buchanan recalled how he learned to help other police officers with personal difficulties after he conquered his own drinking problem in 1980.
Incumbents Lynne Mulder, Dianne Wyntjes, also spoke about the importance of learning and listening from people — as did Jordy Smith, Matt Chapin, Ian Miller, Robert Friss, and Jeremy Moore.
While Bayo Nshombo Bayongwa did not speak at the forum, he listened to other candidates and later said that more diversity on city council wouldn’t hurt.
Several candidates did not attend the forum.