Is Burlington Too White?

Ken Peters, Metroland Media Group (Ontario), June 25, 2010

The problem is, Burlington is too white.

It’s also too white on city council.

And it’s too white on virtually every single city citizen committee and board.

The 12-member Burlington Inclusivity Advisory Committee, which identified the problem, hopes to change that.

The committee presented six recommendations to the community service committee Wednesday that aim to make Burlington’s movers and shakers more diverse.

“Burlington is a white community. Very white. Snow white,” said committee chairperson Ancilla Ho-Young.

“That is not to say we don’t have people of all kinds of nationalities living in Burlington but they are invisible. They are not in the forefront, we do not hear from them. Our city council is not representative of the community it serves.”

Burlington’s seven-member council is comprised of six men and one woman. None are a visible minority.

Advisory committee vice-chair Brian Heagle noted the irony.

“This (report) is going into the valley of the beast. It’s like we’re saying, ‘We’re asking people to change and by the way, we’re asking people to change you (councillors),'” he said.

But veteran Burlington Councillor Jack Dennison wonders what all the fuss is about.

“I don’t see it as broken. Anyone is free to put their $100 down and run for council,” he said.

Dennison said in the past the various city boards and commissions have virtually accepted anyone who has applied.

“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink,” he said.

Ho-Young, president of the Burlington Caribbean Connection, said the city’s ethnic numbers are growing. But that ethnic population is not reflected on city boards, committees and commissions, she says.

Ho-Young said her committee wants to encourage those bodies to actively seek out potential members from ethnic backgrounds.

The committee’s recommendations include;

* Require all publicly-funded city boards and citizen committees to have diverse representation that reflects Burlington’s community demographics, starting with the Burlington Performing Arts Centre.

* Create a database of possible diverse committee members.

* Hold educational workshops on how women, seniors, youth and newcomers to Canada can successful run for city council.

The report is the product of the May 1 Civic Engagement Forum. Ho-Young said her committee is not just trying to increase involvement of visible minorities but also women, people with disabilities and representatives from the gay and lesbian community.

“We want Burlington to be inclusive and listen to everyone and include everyone,” she said, adding the committee has fielded many complaints that city hall is not user-friendly. “If you are from a different background and you go to city hall, if you don’t speak English, you’re in trouble.”

Ted Hildebrandt, director of social planning with Community Development Halton, said 2006 Canada Census figures indicated that Burlington was home to 15,700 visible minorities, representing about 10 per cent of the city’s population.

And more than one in five Burlington residents were born outside Canada. That’s higher than the national average of 19.8 per cent.

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