Councillor Jibs Abitoye will be taking a seat with other committee members during upcoming meetings of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM).
Fort Saskatchewan City Council recently voted 5-2 to support Abitoye in her plan to join five FCM committees, setting aside $8000 in the city’s budget to send the councillor to meetings in September, November and March.
The FCM, an advocacy group representing local governments from over 2000 Canadian cities, towns, counties and rural areas, negotiates with the government of Canada to make municipal interests heard in federal policy making.
Earlier this year council also supported Abitoye in her bid to represent the city on the FCM board of directors. Abitoye said that after her unsuccessful run in FCM's June election, the organization approached her asking her to take part in the committees.
In seeking council’s backing on August 28, Abitoye said that she believes the committee work will make for a great opportunity to tell Fort Saskatchewan’s story at a national level.
“It's also an opportunity to influence policies on national issues. And also an opportunity to be part of the group that lobbies the federal government on municipal matters," she said.
Mayor Gale Katchur and councillor Lisa Makin voted against supporting Abitoye’s request.
Katchur said that she loved Abitoye’s passion, but questioned the value of discussions taking place so far from home.
"To me, if you want to try and encourage women to participate more in municipal government, I'd rather see it done at a local level."
Katchur also wondered about finding room in the city’s budget for the $8000 cost of sending Abitoye to the meetings.
“Knowing that we're going to have a tough budget coming up, people say well $8000, well that can go a long ways towards maybe having a few more hours at the swimming pool or doing something else,” she said.
Abitoye argued that the committee work would help her gain the experience Katchur previously said she needed to be successful in FCM board elections. She also dismissed Katchur’s worries about finances.
"I know that we had said that the budget is going to be tight this year. But $8000 compared to a budget of $77 million is really nothing," Abitoye said.
Minutes later Abitoye apologized for the comment.
“Because that's a really wrong statement I made. $8000 is absolutely something.”
Abitoye expects to gain some new knowledge at her upcoming committee meetings. She plans to bring back what she learns and share it with city staff and council.
"There are things that people are doing down in the eastern coast that we're not doing here. And we can bring back home that will benefit our community."
Councillor Lisa Makin also voted against Abitoye’s request, emphasizing that it was a tough issue.
“I've seen this council debate over $500 on small projects," she said.