What Mississauga’s Diversity Committee should be all about

Pradip Rodrigues

Last week Mississauga’s City Hall sent out a press release announcing the multiculturalconfirmation of the Citizen Members for Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee. Initially just ten members were to form this committee, but the City realized that it would be more beneficial to have 20 appointed members, four stakeholder members and Members of Council including Mayor Bonnie Crombie, Ward 6 Councillor Ron Starr and Ward 10 Councillor Sue McFadden. One of those members happens to be this columnist.

Council doesn’t reflect the city’s diversity

Following the municipal elections in October last year, every single Councillor in multicultural Mississauga ended up being Caucasian, (it certainly is no fault of theirs) despite the fact that 53.7% of its residents happen to be so-called visible minorities, which is actually a bit of a misnomer. It is not that there were no non-Caucasian candidates who stood for elections, it was just that they failed to get elected. Even their own communities who promised them their vote, ended up supporting the Caucasian candidates. Talking to many ethnic minorities I realized that there was a problem with the visible minority candidates. For one, most of them were first-generation businessmen or more specifically real estate agents with little or no understanding of issues that went beyond their own communities. Secondly, the more articulate professionals from the second generation mostly steered clear of municipal politics or any politics for that matter. This continues to ensure that the ‘burden’ of governing Canada’s sixth largest city to Caucasians members of council who are happy to oblige.
But not having any ethnic representation on council in a city that prides itself on its diversity didn’t go unnoticed which is why Council proposed the first-of-its-kind Committee last December as a way to improve diversity and foster greater inclusion of all residents and stakeholders.

Many residents are skeptical

In the past week I have spoken to over a dozen visible minority residents about what this new Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee should aspire to achieve. After all this is unchartered territory. There was a healthy dose of skepticism as well as hope for a positive outcome but lets talk about the concerns and red flags that have been raised.
The DIAC should not end up being used to sanitize unpopular decisions. Having 20 citizen members runs the risk of the committee being too unwieldy. Secondly, the committee is to meet just four times a year for a period of two hours. I am hoping there will be enough time to discuss important or contentious issues.

What the DIAC should be all about

The DIAC should devise ways to develop and harness talent and leadership skills among ethnic minorities. Galvanize and encourage ethnic immigrants to participate in civic life, integrate into the mainstream and get to know other communities and cultures as well. Simply having ethnic communities co-existing harmoniously in neighborhoods without really interacting isn’t healthy. How do we promote better understanding and tolerance? It is only when ethnic immigrants truly integrate are they going to make great leaders. Viola, there’s the answer to more diversity on Council!
The reason the DIAC is there in the first place isn’t something to be proud about. The citizen members hopefully don’t have their own agendas and see the big picture. And yes, it would be helpful to have the input of the members of DIAC but more importantly, there needs to be a strategy to bring ethnic minorities into the mainstream.

There should be no need for DIAC in ten years

In ten years there should be absolutely no need for such a committee. That would be the true achievement of the DIAC, because by then hopefully there will be enough ethnic minorities playing an important role on Council and will sit on committees. Both Council and City Hall will truly reflect the diversity that exists in the city.

Pradip Rodrigues started out as a journalist at Society magazine, part of the Magna Group in Mumbai. He wrote extensively on a variety of subjects. He later moved to the Times of India where he was instrumental in starting the now defunct E-times, a television magazine. He conceptualized Bombay Times and became its first assistant editor where he handled features and page three. Since coming to Canada in 2000, he has freelanced for newspapers and magazines in India and written autobiographies for seniors.

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