Renfrew Town Council Faces Critical Vote on Diversity Project Funding

The Town Hall in Renfrew, Ont. (Dylan Dyson/CTV News Ottawa)

Renfrew’s town council is on the verge of a pivotal decision regarding the future of its investment in diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism projects, as reported by CTV News. This comes in the wake of the Community Services and Economic Development Committee’s vote, which leaned towards discontinuing support for such initiatives.

Controversial Committee Decision

At a meeting on November 21, the committee voted 2-1 against pursuing any action to support community, multicultural, or anti-racism initiatives, despite having received a grant of $55,591 in 2022 from Heritage Canada for this purpose. The committee had mulled over four options, including funding a community art project or mural, investing in a flag sidewalk display, creating a crosswalk display, or opting for no action.

Councillors’ Perspectives

Councillor John McDonald, voicing his stance at the meeting, stated, “The priority of our council and staff should be a town hall that remains a neutral place for everyone.” He added that taxpayers he communicated with desired a professionally run town hall without promotion of specific identities or interests.

Committee chair Andrew Dick and Councillor Jason Legris voted in favor of taking no action. Dick elaborated, “My issue with option two and option three is we are endorsing one diverse portion of the community and we’re not doing a whole (of the community).”

Renfrew Mayor Tom Sidney

Mayor’s Disappointment

Renfrew Mayor Tom Sidney expressed his disappointment in the committee’s decision. He emphasized the importance of not just verbally welcoming diverse groups but also demonstrating it through actions. He pointed out the inconsistency that would arise with a stance of neutrality, implying it would mean the cessation of practices like displaying nativity scenes or Christmas lights.

“We can’t say one group can do one thing and another group can and still make people feel welcomed. I don’t think that’s how it works,” Mayor Sidney said.

Community Reaction

Renfrew Pride founder Chris Kyte told CTV News about the group’s feeling of betrayal, especially after councillors had expressed support for diversity during their election campaigns. Kyte highlighted the setback this decision could mean for the town, saying, “And now suddenly, they don’t want to support any projects that have to do with multiculturalism, anti-racism, and diversity, and that’s setting our town back.”

Current Investments and Future Implications

The town has made some strides in promoting diversity with the installation of a pride bench, a truth and reconciliation bench, and the development of an indigenous cultural center. Kyte stressed the importance of projects like the proposed crosswalk, not as a plea for special treatment but as a means to raise awareness of ongoing challenges faced by marginalized groups.

Upcoming Council Vote

The motion to cease funding for diversity projects will be put to a vote before the town council on Tuesday, November 28. This decision could be a defining moment for the town of Renfrew, as it grapples with balancing the aspirations of a diverse populace with the views of its elected representatives.