First-time HRM councillors reflect on a year of gender parity

·4 min read
Iona Stoddard of District 12 is the first Black woman to serve on the Halifax council. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Iona Stoddard of District 12 is the first Black woman to serve on the Halifax council. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

It's been a year since the October 2020 municipal election that saw Halifax regional council achieve gender parity for the first time.

All of the first-time councillors were women.

CBC News spoke with three of them about their first year in office.

For District 13 Coun. Pam Lovelace, the pandemic has been the biggest challenge.

"Not really having the opportunity to come together in council chambers has been a bit of a barrier for us to gel as a regional council," she said.

The council will have its first in-person meeting on Tuesday.

Despite that, she said, returning councillors and staff have been helpful in guiding her through the "minutiae of politics" and the administrative processes involved in running the region's largest municipality.

Lyndsay Doyle
Lyndsay Doyle

Lovelace said achieving gender parity was especially exciting because Canada celebrates Persons Day on Oct. 18 — commemorating the day in 1929 when the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of Great Britain, then Canada's highest court of appeal, ruled that women were included in the legal definition of "persons."

Describing the work of a regional councillor as "a lot like doing a PhD," Lovelace said there is a significant amount of learning and reading involved.

It's a sentiment shared by District 10 Coun. Kathryn Morse. She said many people still erroneously believe that being a councillor is a part-time job, when it is actually a full-time job with a heavy workload.

Morse said her training as a former CBC journalist has helped her in the role.

"You're dealing with the public, you have to research things, you have to kind of dig for information, you have to read reports, that sort of thing," she said.

Unlike journalism, which deals with quick deadlines, Morse said getting things done in the city takes time.

Noting that she is "not the most patient person," she said adjusting to the bureaucracy has been something of a challenge.

Peter Jennegren
Peter Jennegren

The biggest challenge facing the municipality, according to Morse, is massive growth.

"It's about twice as fast as was expected," she said. "I think it's kind of a double-edged sword. There are lots of benefits with growing.... We have money coming into the city and new people coming into the city, so that's all good.

"But I think we're having a few growing pains, too, which we're seeing with our housing situation."

She said people sometimes don't realize that there is a division of powers between the municipal, provincial and federal governments and the municipality is not responsible for some areas like housing construction or social housing.

As someone with a passion for the environment, Morse said her greatest reward of the past year has been getting improvements at a park in Fairview and seeing people appreciating and using the park more.

Iona Stoddard, the councillor for District 12 and first Black woman to serve on the Halifax council, said COVID-19 has been a challenge, especially as it relates to in-person meetings.

A few frustrations

Like Morse, she, too, finds the length of time it takes to get things done a bit of a trial.

"You don't realize until you're actually in council and talking to staff that things don't happen overnight," Stoddard said.

"The whole working of council, how they do things and how one hand has one particular thing and then you have to go to another department, [and] another hand to do a particular thing."

Stoddard said having gender parity on the council makes a difference, as men and women sometimes have different perspectives and now each side is represented, leading to a much fairer process.

As for being the first Black woman in council, she said the reception was excellent.

According to Lovelace, her most gratifying experience of the past year has been the reaction she gets from citizens when he has resolved issues or started projects or other initiatives.

"Boy, oh boy, it's nice to hear from folks that are happy," Lovelace said. "It's a rewarding experience, and it really is humbling because you get to learn from the people who live in your community about what they care about."

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