She Speaks Column

She Speaks: Here we go again

Perhaps this sounds a little whimsical. But I have come to learn to trust myself. It’s how I left unhealthy relationships, it’s how we caught my cancer early, and if I was meant to be on town council, then by golly that’s how I’ll get there too.

Originally published by Huntsville Doppler.

I’m sure by now we’ve all heard that pithy quote about the definition of insanity, but for those of us who may not have, it’s like this: ‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.’

I kind of think this is us, humanity, running around in circles and wondering why we’re so dizzy.

On February 11, Huntsville Town Council voted on who will take the vacant seat for Huntsville Ward, a space previously occupied by current mayor, Karin Terziano. Mayor Terziano became mayor by council vote (though unopposed) after former mayor Scott Aitchison became our Conservative Member of Parliament. Former councillor Bob Stone, who lost his re-election bid in the 2018 election, vied for and was awarded the vacant council seat.

Prior to the vote, the Town had an interesting choice to make. Do they allow the vacancy to be filled by a mid-term election put to the voting public in that ward, or do they accept applicants and make the appointment by internal vote?

An interesting, but perhaps not insane, decision was made to allow applicants to apply, introduce themselves and present in front of Council, and then have Council do a live vote, with the successful applicant taking the oath of office immediately.

As I mentioned in my speech to Council during my bid for the seat, I suffer from what’s been called an insatiable curiosity. I’m a “need-to-know-it-all.” It’s part of what makes me a good writer, and it’s part of what drives me to challenge existing power structures. My favourite word growing up?

“Why?”

So when the opportunity to put my name in for the seat came up, I thought, well, isn’t that curious?

Is this a message from the universe? Should I enter the political ring?

The issue of ‘women in politics’ has a sordid and complicated history. Though women are not a voting or decision-making monolith, nonetheless it is political to be a woman. How else can we explain to young people, who may want to grow up to be prime minister (heaven help them), that in Ontario, it’s only been 90 years that women have been considered people?

This is the stuff young women need to know if we’re ever going to stop running in circles. This information floored me when I first learned it. How could that be? It was as plain as the acne on my 12-year-old face that I’m a person!

Why?

Well, power. Power that got rebranded as tradition.

On the last day the applications were due, I woke up feeling like a decision had been made for me. My hysterectomy to remove cancer had been less than two weeks before (obviously I was a good candidate, no longer suffering from what Plato described as a ‘wandering womb’, which ostensibly made women poor decision makers despite being exclusively entrusted with creating and raising humans).

I hadn’t had many good days yet since the surgery and knew I might be in for more bad news later. But I printed off the application and scurried to my appointment at the nurse practitioner to get my staples removed.

I figured if I saw three people who would support my bid before the deadline, I’d submit.

Perhaps this sounds a little whimsical. But I have come to learn to trust myself. It’s how I left unhealthy relationships, it’s how we caught my cancer early, and if I was meant to be on town council, then by golly that’s how I’ll get there too.

The first person signed for me right away. The second, while I was at my NP appointment. The last, as I was walking into the building to deliver the application. And just in case something had interfered with those instances of serendipity, a fourth person who surely would have signed for me entered the Town Hall elevator at the same time.

Application submitted, I worked on my speech.

I’m a better writer than speaker, but it was a good speech. Many of them were. Out of 11 presentations to Town Council, four were women. Look at us humans go!

I told Mayor Terziano that it was an honour to speak before the first female mayor of Huntsville, and I meant that. I don’t take ‘firsts’ lightly, though it’s beyond frustrating how we often let ‘firsts’ become ‘lasts’ because we transform failures of a leader into failures of womankind (Kim Campbell, anyone?). Men do not suffer this fate, alas. They are allowed to be individuals, and if the previous leader failed, we don’t say, ‘this is why men can’t lead.’

But I digress.

I met Bob Stone at a women’s strike I co-hosted in front of Algonquin Theatre, years ago. A hardy and hearty group of women rallied to reveal women’s unseen labour: emotional labour in the workforce, and unequal labour at home.

Hey, Iceland got 90 per cent of their female population to strike and brought the country to a standstill—an event that inspired a female prime minister in what’s now considered the world’s most feminist country.

Mr. Stone approached our group with hands raised in a placating gesture—understandable, as it’s well known that feminists are responsible for the majority of violence worldwide—and introduced himself. He indicated his support and asked what’s to be done about men and boys and their struggles. Another strike attendee encouraged him to take on that project because, as a man, he is in a better position to make changes to benefit boys and men! (It’s that whole power thing I keep mentioning. Also, insanity.)

I share this anecdote for two reasons. One, he had a great question and a promising response to the answer. And two, I hope that Councillor Stone will use his renewed position of power to do what he said he’d do that day: look into the issue and take it to social media. Make change.

I heard a lot of amazing ideas, passion, and expertise from the people who presented their cases to Council that day. There were innovative tech solutions, alternative housing models, and calls for more space and support for the arts, all of which have the potential to elevate life for the citizens of Huntsville and further establish us as a town to emulate.

I thought, wow, this is an amazing opportunity to stop spinning, stop getting so damn dizzy, and shift our focus. It wasn’t necessarily that I wanted my own name to be revealed as the new councillor—but I desperately wanted something to disrupt the status quo.

Many issues that Huntsville faces were identified, by councillors, the mayor, and applicants alike. We all seemed to know what the problems are. Some had ideas to resolve them, some needed to know more, some would have voted with the majority, some may have been contentious.

How interesting!

It was not the best speechmaker that won (apologies, Councillor Stone, but I daresay you might agree with me). However, it was someone who had experience with the position, with co-ordinating with our community, and with the intricacies of the position of councillor. Those are very sane reasons for the vote to have gone the way it did.

Yet, I can’t help but be reminded of the definition of insanity.

Historically, members of Huntsville Council have been mostly white, male, upper-middle class, straight. I’d say those demographics are still well represented today. There were opportunities with multiple applicants to challenge this entrenched dynamic. Council seemed very appreciative of and interested in new ideas, fresh perspectives. But that is not how they voted.

Business as usual, as usual. So I guess we just keep spinning our wheels and wondering why nothing changes when we change nothing.

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