Diversity: Building a Welcoming Community

By Myra Ross - Monday, June 23 2014

A number of the challenges facing newcomers to the region were highlighted at the Round Table discussion prior to the Citizenship Certificate ceremony at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre on June 13.

They included comments about the extreme weather, the high cost of accommodation, the struggles associated with underemployment and, once basic needs are met, how to become more integrated into the community.

With an annual population growth rate of 7.1 per cent, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) is acutely aware of the diversity of its population. Weeks prior to the June 13 Citizenship Certificate ceremony, the RMWB hosted Diversity Summit 2014, which featured Keynote speaker Jeny Mathews-Thusoo, an issue strategist on community and neighbourhood services with the City of Calgary and also a coordinator with the Calgary Local Immigration Partnership (CLIP).

Jeny Mathews-Thusoo of the City of Calgary.

Becoming Canadian in Wood Buffalo: This article is part of a series of stories, profiles, photographic essays, blogs and videos documenting the journey undertaken by newcomers to our region.

Series Index:
Becoming Canadian in Wood Buffalo

The focus of the guest speaker — and the 80 participants from service agencies, multicultural, First Nations and Metis groups as well as local government — were the 17 characteristics of a "Welcoming Community":

  1. Employment opportunities;
  2. Fostering of social capital;
  3. Affordable and suitable housing;
  4. Positive attitudes toward diversity and the presence of diverse groups in the community;
  5. Presence of agencies that can successfully meet the needs of diverse groups;
  6. Links between main actors working toward welcoming communities;
  7. Municipal features and services sensitive to the presence and needs of diverse groups;
  8. Educational opportunities;
  9. Accessible and suitable health care;
  10. Available and accessible public transit;
  11. Presence of diverse faith organizations;
  12. Social engagement opportunities;
  13. Political participation opportunities;
  14. Positive relationships with the police and the justice system;
  15. Safety;
  16. Opportunities for use of public space and recreation facilities, and
  17. Favorable media coverage and representation.

Jeny Mathews-Thusoo asked the summit participants to rank the top three where Wood Buffalo has been successful and the top three where the region faces challenges.

The top three results in the success category were: employment opportunities, presence of diverse religious organizations and social engagement opportunities. The top three rankings in the challenges category were: affordable and suitable housing, accessible and suitable health care and employment opportunities.

In advancing the opinion that the region is rich with opportunity for some types of jobs and careers, but not others, one participant observed about youth developing their careers outside the trades: “They have to leave what they are (residents of the region) in order to be who they want to be.”

The Diversity Summit is a community engagement exercise designed to support the municipality’s Diversity Plan 2012-15, a document that reflects the municipality’s commitment to inclusion, diversity and equality. The municipality’s commitment to those principles was officially declared in February 2006 with a unanimous Council resolution that the municipality join the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities against Racism and Discrimination and that it adopt the Common Commitments listed by the Canadian Commission for UNESCO as a guideline for future efforts.

The municipal Council of 2006 also established an ad hoc committee to promote inclusion, diversity and the elimination of racism, which today are known as The Regional Advisory Committee on Inclusion, Diversity and Equality (RACIDE) and the Interdepartmental Committee on Inclusion, Diversity and Equality (IDCIDE).

Both committees hosted Diversity Summit 2014.

Members of the Diversity Summit organizing committee (from left) Caitlin Downie, Cheryl Cooper, Khatra Noor, Latosia Campbell, Laura Roberts, Shirley Sutanto, Anne Sanders, Leigh Aggozino-Organ, Sarah Cadue and Allison Power.

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