A hint not taken

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For those early birds who read the Times on the date of publication, you’ll note that tomorrow, March 8, is a very special occasion – International Women’s Day. Every year, the Times publishes an IWD issue to celebrate the women in our community. It’s worth it to reflect on why such a thing is even necessary. There will always be those who cry out with such qualms as “But there isn’t an International Men’s Day!” Yet there is an obvious and straightforward reason for this: every day was “Men’s Day” in our society for hundreds of years before equality became reality. Some would argue that equality still isn’t reality, but we have certainly come a long way. 

Men used to own women – literally. It wasn’t until 1884 that Ontario became the first Canadian province to grant married women independence from their husbands, and the ability to own their own property along with other elements of legal independence. Other provinces unfortunately took far longer to make the same progress. Canada’s first female doctor, Dr. Emily Stowe, did not begin to practice until 1867 and wasn’t licensed until 1880. Canada’s first female lawyer, Clara Brett Martin, was not admitted to the bar until 1897. In 1903, Emma Baker became the first woman to receive a Ph.D. from a Canadian University. 

Perhaps the most famous marker of male-female inequality is that women were not allowed to vote in elections until 1918 (for those who were Caucasian and over the age of 21), and 1960 (for all women). This means that, shockingly, there will be many people reading this editorial in 2024 who were alive during a time when women did not have equal voting rights in Canada. Anyone still have questions about why International Women’s Day is needed? Some celebration of women – and everything that they have always been capable of – is necessary to balance the scales. 

We have a local woman sitting on North Dundas Council currently. We should consider ourselves lucky, because the previous three councils sitting for 12 years between 2010 and 2022 did not have any elected women, though Theresa Bergeron was appointed to fill a vacancy left by resigned Councillor Tyler Hoy in late 2021. 

In North Dundas’ entire history, there have been thre women on Council. Men? There have been 17 serving North Dundas since amalgamation in 1998. Estella Rose is a name that many will know. She sat on the Township’s original Council, and was appointed as SD&G’s first female Warden in 2007. As a politician, she was known as a strong voice for the agricultural community. Just last year, she was inducted into the Dundas Ag Hall of Fame.  

Gail Parker is the other woman who previously served North Dundas in politics. This is something I learned through research. I have met Gail several times, through her work with the Chesterville and District Historical Society, and I never knew that she had a background as one of only 20 people to serve North Dundas in local government. She never mentioned it, likely because those with a passion to serve their communities are too focused on their current initiatives to brag about their former ones. I have always loved working with Gail, Chesterville is lucky to have her. 

Where does Theresa Bergeron fit into North Dundas history? She is the third woman to serve on local government in the 26 year history of our Township. And in my opinion, she is doing a darn good job of it. I have noticed that she is a very original thinker, and she takes time to do her homework on motions before Council, prior to voting on them. She is also confident about raising her concerns in open session, if she has any. My own observation is that she wasn’t treated with very high regard by her fellow Council members when first appointed, though that is a story for another day. 

Most recently, at the February 29 Council meeting, Deputy Mayor Bergeron took on an issue that needed addressing. She talked openly about the public’s concerns regarding the relatively high municipal tax increase proposed in the 2024 budget.  

Let me first say that I understand why North Dundas residents are angry. As a kid, I remember my parents complaining if our weekly grocery shopping trip cost more than $150. Less than that was cause for celebration! Much more than that was cause for a case of the grumpies. That $150 budget had us eating well. We always had plenty of food. 

Inflation is not a new concept. We all know that costs go up. It’s like clockwork, so much so that there are simple online tools called “inflation calculators” that can calculate what something would cost in the modern day, compared to some year in the past. 

When I put $150 into an inflation calculator from 20 years ago, it told me that it translates into an equivalent of $229.86 in today’s money. Here’s the problem: this is pure and utter poppycock. My wife and I budget $350 per week to feed our family of four. We cook basic meals and pack routine school lunches. We do not waste food. Yet we are paying 233% more to feed a family of 4 than what my parents paid 20 years ago to feed a family of 5. The inflation calculator says it should only cost 153% more. Some people simply can’t afford the property tax increase being proposed by Council, especially when it feels like our Township is constantly treading water, financially, giving no hope of sunnier days ahead. 

Deputy Mayor Bergeron was the first Council member who was brave enough to tackle the issue head on, explaining the unique aspects of North Dundas (for example, having two pools and two arenas for a fairly small population) that cause financial strain. While I’m still not happy about the increase, at least I finally feel that my fellow residents and I are being somewhat heard. 

In commemoration of International Women’s Day, I must say a heartfelt “thanks” to the three women who have served here in local government. They all have much to be proud of, a true hint of what women can do when given the opportunity. Hopefully it won’t continue to be a “hint not taken” in local governments to come.

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