Major changes are underway in Canada’s capital; changes we probably thought we’d never see in our lifetime. We’re a few weeks away from the opening of the LRT line. A film and television studio was approved earlier this year. The waterfront is finally being developed. A “super library” and “super hospital” are in the works. We recently hit 1 million people in June. The local music scene is on the verge of blowing up. Tall buildings up to 65 storeys are either under construction or were approved. Ottawa is growing up, both literally and figuratively.

Despite all the changes underway in the capital, one of the things that always bothered me was the lack of people of colour in key positions in the city, especially among black people. Representation is important, especially in positions of leadership, because it opens the door to a diversity of knowledge, experience and perspective. It also inspires the younger generation to dream and projects an image of cosmopolitanism to the world.

When I first moved to Ottawa from Toronto, I went on a tour of one of the local media outlets where they had cardboard cutouts of all their personalities. All of them were white. It hit me hard in my chest. I actually started to get emotional. Unlike CityTV that I grew up on in Toronto, there was nobody that even remotely looked like me. The same can be said when you look at the lists of Canada’s richest people or current sitting Members of Parliament. People who aren’t a part of a minority group will never know that it’s like to feel underrepresented.

The good news is Ottawa has made significant progress in 2019, a year of many “firsts”, with three key official coming into office as recently as this week. Although Ottawa is a long way from becoming Wakanda (which I joked about recently on social media), here are three leaders changing the face of the capital in 2019.

Camille Williams-Taylor, Director of Education, OCDSB

In January, Camille Williams-Taylor assumed the role of Director of Education for the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board after being appointed by the Board of Trustees. She’s the first black person to hold the position.

Board Chair, Shirley Seward said of the appointment, “We are very pleased to welcome Camille Williams-Taylor to the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. Camille is a recognized leader in public education in Ontario, known for her creative and innovative leadership and her capacity to lead change. We are confident that our district will benefit from her extensive knowledge and commitment to equity, inclusion and human rights. Camille is passionate about bringing voice to students, staff and families to foster positive relationships and support student success.”

Williams-Taylor brings to the table 29 years of experience in education at various levels. Most recently she served as a senior executive with the Durham District School Board, a position she held since 2011.

At the time of her appointment, Williams-Taylor commented, “I am honoured to be joining the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and would like to thank the Board of Trustees for this opportunity. I am excited about the work this district has done and look forward to the opportunity to build relationships with staff, students, families, and community partners. Working together, we can build a vision for public education that ensures our students have the best learning opportunities in a safe and caring environment”.

 

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Rawlson King, City Councillor, Rideau-Rockcliffe

This past April, history was made once again when Rawlson King was elected city councillor for Rideau-Rockcliffe in a by-election. He became the first black city councillor in Ottawa’s history when he replaced outgoing councillor Tobi Nussman who became head of the National Capital Commission. Prior to being elected, King was a long-time community volunteer.

As the councillor for Rideau-Rockcliffe, King has the tough task of representing a ward with probably the largest income disparity in the city. The ward includes Rockcliffe, one of the richest neighbourhoods in Canada whose residents include ambassadors and tech entrepreneurs, and Overbrook, which has some of the highest food bank usage in the province.

“The key thing is having a unified approach towards resolving poverty. We have one of the richest neighbourhoods in Canada, and we have one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada”, King told SHIFTER in a recent interview on The Morning Shift radio show. “In fact, a neighbourhood that sees some of the most food bank usage in the province. It’s a challenge because some days I’ll go get a tour of Rockcliffe Park from residents and in that same day I might be attending an event at an Ottawa Community Housing project in another part of the ward, and so you do see those disparities. The key thing is having a unified approach towards working on poverty”.

It’s this approach towards working together to tackle social issues in the ward that allowed King to connect with both the wealthy and poorer residents in his community.

Just over four months into the job, King has already started work on an initiative that may one day his legacy project. After discussions with members of the community, King will be spearheading the creation of a new anti-racism secretariat, similar to those seen in Toronto and other big cities and provinces. In future budget cycles he also plans on advocating for the creation of an anti-poverty strategy for both his ward and the city.

Peter Sloly, Chief of Police, Ottawa Police Service

Just this week it was announced former Toronto Police Service deputy chief, and former Canadian national soccer player, Peter Sloly, would replace current Ottawa Chief of Police, Charles Bordeleau, upon his retirement. It was a coup for the capital and a disappointment to many in the city of Toronto who had long hoped he would take over as top cop in Canada’s largest city. Sloly brings to Ottawa 27 years of experience in the Toronto Police Service. The Kingston, Jamaica native previously applied to be Ottawa’s top cop in 2006.

Sloly left the Toronto Police Service after making comments about excessive spending in the police force; a message that should be music to the ears of Ottawa mayor Jim Watson who preaches the gospel of modest tax increases and fiscal responsibility.

According to Ottawa Police Services Board chair, Diane Deans, Sloly was hired for his experience in facing big city problems now being faced in Ottawa. Following the announcement, Deans told Postmedia, “Having come from Toronto and some of the big city issues that we are now seeing, it was important.”

At the announcement the new chief told a packed room of reporters, the board and community members, “I’ve travelled some interesting roads and had some interesting experiences along the way, in policing and outside…I’ll bring the full package here for you folks. I’ll give you my full effort for the full time I’m here.”

Sloly will start his new position in October on a five-year contract that will see him in the position until 2024.

All of this comes on the heals of Justice Marlyse Dumel becoming the first Haitian woman to be appointed a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice in 2017 and Isobel Granger becoming the first black woman to rise to the rank of Ottawa police inspector in 2018. Only time will tell if this newfound diversity in city leadership is the new normal for a growing big city or just a blip, but it’s definitely a sign that Ottawa growing in the right direction.


Listen to KB The Boss and Vlad Ayiti on The Morning Shift, Monday to Friday, 6am to 8am on CHUO 89.1FM

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