New Westminster aims for more diversity on city committees

The City of New Westminster is aiming to make its advisory committees more reflective of the city’s diverse population.

New West resident Gurveen Dhaliwal met with Mayor Jonathan Cote and Coun. Mary Trentadue to discuss the idea of implementing a diversity mandate for the city’s advisory committees. Dhaliwal said there’s a clear lack of diversity on city committees, advisory boards and task forces, and the advisory groups need to have a broader diversity, including Indigenous people, people of colour, people with disabilities and individuals in the LGBTQ community.

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In addition to addressing a “very problematic” situation on city committees, Dhaliwal said a diversity mandate has a “transformative power” and could lead to positive impacts on other organizations, clubs and community groups in the city.

“It is pretty powerful,” she told council Monday night.

At Monday’s meeting, council approved a motion to direct staff to research, review and report back on best practices regarding embedding a diversity mandate into the city’s current committee programs and policies.

“I think it’s important to recognize that it’s not going to happen overnight. It might not even happen within a year or two,” Dhaliwal said. “In introducing a mandate, I feel it’s important to note that it needs to be done in parallel, and as a complementary strategy, to actually engaging with the many diverse community organizations that we do have in the community, and to reach out through other methods throughout the year and really recruit through the engagement.”

New West resident Nadine Nakagawa, who has served on several city committees, voiced her support for the plan.

“Something that has always stood out to me is that the committees that I go to, that I see, don’t represent the community that I see when I walk around the neighbourhood, when I take transit,” she said. “There seems to be a startling difference between the community at large and city committees.”

That’s something that really hit home for Nakagawa, when attending one of the city’s civic dinners for volunteers.

“I was a member of the multiculturalism advisory committee at the time. At that civic dinner, the committees were asked to stand up and be acknowledged, which is a really nice practice. When the multiculturalism advisory committee stood up, it seemed to me that all the people of colour in the room stood up. That was quite a stark visual image, with the fact that I think cultural diversity is very much siloed on that committee and isn’t represented on the other committees,” she said. “I think this is a big problem.”

Nakagawa believes the city’s motion is “a really good first step” to addressing this problem.

“I think that having those diverse perspectives embedded in all the committees will make the community stronger,” she said. “I also think that it will enhance leadership in different areas of our very diverse community and allow for people to be more broadly represented in the social agenda and the social policies of the city.”

Trentadue said New Westminster is a highly diverse community, noting students at Lord Kelvin Elementary School speak 54 different languages.

“To have a diversity mandate that affects our committees, and possibly move it internally into our other city policies as well, would go a long way to making sure that we are attracting and welcoming all of the people in our community and finding out what their needs are and their opinions are on the work that we do,” she said.

Trentadue said the city’s standard advertising practices aren’t getting the word out to everyone, so the city will have to determine how it can break into some communities that aren’t aware of the city’s committee structure and how they can get involved.

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