A proposal to cover city councillor child care costs in the 2017-2021 budget has led to some public backlash for one councillor.
As the youngest member of Port Alberni’s city council, Councillor Sharie Minions said she supported the mayor’s initiative to encourage younger people to engage in municipal politics, but wanted to emphasize that the initiative was not for herself.
At the end of a March 1 special meeting of council, councillors were asked to bring forward their ideas for supplementary projects for the 2017-2021 financial draft plan. Mayor Mike Ruttan brought forward the concept of child care costs for younger members of council.
Specifically, he asked for $5,000 to be put into the budget for a pot of money for daycare costs.
“If we’re going to encourage younger councillors who have children to be on council, it costs them way more money to be attending council meetings than it does someone like myself who doesn’t have young children at home anymore,” he said. “If we’re going to encourage that kind of participation in our democracy, I think it’s a small investment to put aside for councillors to dip into.”
The topic was talked over briefly during a Mar. 8. meeting of council, but nothing came of it.
“We didn’t really have any discussion about it,” said Minions. “If you noticed during the last meeting, we were skipping things that were not priorities. And, to me, it seemed like we felt it wasn’t a priority.”
That’s why Minions was caught off guard when the issue was raised during an interview with the local radio station.
“I don’t have childcare costs,” said Minions, whose husband is on paternity leave. They are parents to four young children, two of whom have been born during Minions’ present term on council.
“It wasn’t my initiative.”
But the question was still asked of her. She explained in her interview that she did support Ruttan’s motion.
“I do think we need to do more to get young people involved in municipal politics,” she said. “To encourage young people, minorities, women. This is one way to do it.”
The motion, as well as Minions’ comments, resulted in some public backlash, from individuals who felt that it would be benefitting her and her alone.
“It got taken to Facebook and completely twisted around,” said Minions. “Even in the public, I’ve had quite a few people approach me and tell me they think it’s greedy. I don’t mind explaining it to people. But I do mind people passing judgment without getting to defend myself.”
Minions said that she would support such an initiative, but would support it for next council, and explicitly stated that she would not use it, herself.
“It should be a positive conversation,” she said. “It’s a fact that council is a job that accommodates retirees best. Is that what’s best for our council? It’s not what’s representative of our community.
“I think we should encourage more segments of our population, and do more to encourage them to get involved.
“Childcare costs may not be the way to do that, but it’s a conversation we need to have.”
Port Alberni’s current council has implemented a number of changes since the last civic election. A council break was Minions’ suggestion, and it was widely supported by other members of council, established so that she would be able to nurse her children. Council members now also have the ability to participate in a meeting electronically, so that Minions was able to call in to council meetings and get a vote while she was on pregnancy leave.
“I think our council’s done a really good job with some of the challenges I faced specifically,” said Minions. “And I think we’ve made it clear that these issues are important to us. I think this was another attempt by [Ruttan] at that.
“The more things like this we can do now, I think we’re sending a strong message that we value young peoples’ participation.”