New Pembroke, Ont. mayor shuts down diversity, climate, and other committees

In a unilateral decision, Pembroke’s new mayor has made shutting down multiple advisory committees one of his first moves.

“Very, very surprised, shocked, and confused,” said Pembroke resident Garland Wong on his reaction to the news.

Wong co-chaired Pembroke diversity advisory committee since its inception a year and a half ago. It was formed after an elderly Asian woman was physically assaulted in 2020.

Wong says he feels lied to by Pembroke’s new mayor Ron Gervais, who was acclaimed in the most recent election.

“The present mayor, who then was the deputy mayor, sat on our committee and he made a comment that he sees this diversity advisory committee continuing in the next council,” Wong tells CTV News.

Pembroke’s diversity advisory committee, which was run by volunteers from the community, was not the only advisory committee that Gervais.

He put out a statement saying the following:

“I, as Mayor of the City of Pembroke exercised my prerogative to implement the slate of committees for the new term. […] Some previously instituted committees were not included for the new term of council. These committees include not only the Diversity Advisory Committee, but also include the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee and the Seniors’ Advisory Committee.”

Pembroke’s climate action advisory committee has also ended.

“The work is certainly not done,” said Dorian Pearce, former chair of the climate action advisory committee.

“The 2017 flooding, the 2019 flooding; our community needs to be ready.”

Renfrew County Pflag chapter lead Jill Holroyd says Gervais needs to explain his decisions to end all the committees’ hard work.

“That’s the big question,” says Holroyd. “There was no conversation or consultation around that, so it’s a mystery as to why he would see it that way.”

Holroyd adds that now is not the time to be taking away community voices, as she sees homophobia and transphobia on the rise in the region.

Since being established, the diversity advisory committee has also provided guidance to the city of Pembroke when markings were left on Indigenous murals labelled as culturally insensitive.

“So to say that we don’t need a diversity advisory committee is a slap to the members who’ve put in their time in the past year and a half,” says Garland.

The decision by the city’s new leader is widely being seen as a regressive action.

“It’s being seen as a step backwards and I personally see it as a step backwards,” says Holroyd. “People are saying in our Pflag group, for example, they’re questioning whether this is a community they want to stay in.”

“I think this continues on with that message of Pembroke not being a welcoming community,” adds Pearce. “That’s the message that this sends.” 

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