An Interview with Diane Therrien

City Councillor Diane Therrien. Photo by Berfin Aksoy.

Diane Therrien was 28 when she was elected City Councillor in the Town Ward in 2014. Since then, Canada has seen a conservative majority in parliament toppled, an open trade war broiling with our neighbours to the south, and a national plan to price carbon enacted by Justin Trudeau. Locally, a woman of colour was elected to Parliament, the city sold off a portion of its electrical distribution grid, and a casino was officially approved for the city. With a municipal election on the horizon for fall of 2018, now is as good a time as any for Arthur to check in on Trent graduate and City Councillor, Diane Therrien.

DM: Reflecting on the past 4 years on council, what do you think your biggest takeaway about the state of Peterborough politics has been?
DT: My biggest takeaway is that Peterborough is fortunate to have so many residents who are passionate and educated about municipal politics, who care deeply about this community, and who want to be part of decision-making at City Hall. It has been inspiring to see and hear this enthusiasm at the Council table and out in the community, and I think it presents us all with a huge opportunity to open the doors to City Hall and make sure people can be involved in a meaningful way.

I’ve also witnessed first-hand the talent, dedication, and care for our community that City Staff bring to the table. City Staff put so much hard work into each and every issue we debate at Council, and countless hours behind the scenes, and I think it’s important to recognize their work.

DM: People always ask why got you into politics, but what keeps you here?
DT: It’s really the engagement with the community that keeps me going: hearing directly from people about what we’re doing right and what we can improve on, and their ideas for making Peterborough a better place to live and work. Everything from helping the people who use the Hamilton Park Disc Golf Course by getting a new portable toilet so they didn’t have to get in their cars and drive 10 minutes down the road to use the washroom, to ensuring that the community had an opportunity to have their voices heard during the debates about the sale of Peterborough Distribution Inc. – it’s all very gratifying.

It’s rewarding when I hear from people that they appreciate my work on council, particularly when I get to engage with kids and youth through my work on the Youth Commission and the Canada Day parade – building a better city for future generations is what keeps me here.

DM: What has been City Council’s biggest failure in the past two years?
DT: It’s easy to get down on City Council and some of the decisions that have been made, and we definitely need to learn from the challenges we’ve faced along the way, but I try to focus on the positive and move the conversation forward about what kind of Peterborough we all want to see in the future. When I’m making decisions on behalf of my constituents in Town Ward, I’m thinking about them, but I’m also thinking about their children and their grandchildren. Children born today are likely to live to see the year 2100, so when we are making decisions and planning for the future, we need to work together and have the long-view in mind.

DM: Do you think having a female mayor would help City Council be more socially aware of the gendered implications of, say, allowing graphic pro-life ads on buses and in public areas?
DT: I think it’s important that every community leader, however we identify, takes on the responsibility of considering how the decisions we make and the policies we put in place will impact all people. We should all be thinking about how our actions will affect those of different genders, ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, abilities, ethnicities, and education in different ways. Of course, we aren’t all there yet, but that’s the approach I try to bring to my decision-making and I encourage my colleagues to consider the same implications.

DM: If you had to choose between a casino or a safe injection site in the heart of downtown Peterborough, which one would you choose and why?
DT: As far as the casino is concerned, the “train had already left the station” before I joined Council in 2014, but I do think that we, as a City, need to support our entire community and especially those who are most vulnerable. Peterborough is already a regional hub for social services, and I believe we need to have a comprehensive detox facility and wrap-around services for those struggling with addictions of all kinds, and I will continue to advocate for financial support from all levels of government to help us deal with these challenges.

DM: Care to offer any predictions about the upcoming provincial election?
DT: I predict it will be an interesting race!

2017-2018 Arthur co-editor Dan Morrison (left) and City Councillor Diane Therrien. Photo by Berfin Aksoy.

DM: How will you be spending International Women’s Day this year?
DT: This year, I will be bringing a proclamation on behalf of the City marking International Women’s Day to the Kawartha World Issues Centre and Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre’s annual community celebration, which is taking place from 5:30 P.M. to 8:30 P.M. on March 8 at Seeds of Change (534 George Street). This year the theme is: “The Art of Resistance” and there are some excellent guests and panelists who will be there, so I’m looking forward to engaging with them and with my community.

DM: Much of the conversation about creating gender equality in Canada is still centered on economic empowerment of women, do you think wealth is the ultimate equalizer?
DT: I think it’s important that we continue the conversations that have started here in Peterborough, and across the country, about the role that women entrepreneurs and business owners play in growing our local economy. This week I had the opportunity to attend the announcement of the winner of this year’s “Win This Space,” which is a contest hosted by the Downtown Business Improvement Association and sponsored by businesses and organizations across Peterborough. For the second year in a row, the contest was won by a woman entrepreneur, with a significant number of female contestants. It’s inspiring to see these entrepreneurs be empowered through the process and supported in achieving their dreams. I hope we continue to pursue initiatives like this one and increase our commitment to supporting small business and entrepreneurs in general.

DM: What are some of the ways that Peterborough is a safe and welcoming community for women, and in what ways does it need to improve?
DT: There are some amazing local organizations here in Peterborough that are doing incredible work for our community and helping us support one another. Just a few examples (because there are far too many to list) include the Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre, YWCA Peterborough Haliburton, Women’s Business Network, and the New Canadians Centre. Each is working to make our community a more welcoming and supportive place where women and girls can thrive, alongside the men and boys of Peterborough. I also think we have some excellent women in places of leadership, like our MP Maryam Monsef, Mayor Mary Smith from Selwyn Township, my fellow Councillor Leslie Parnell, and Chief Phyllis Williams from Curve Lake First Nation, as well as in the non-profit and business sectors. I think we can always do more to make our community a more welcoming place for all to live, and I know that these women will continue to advocate for that.

DM: Will you be our mayor?
DT: At this point, I am considering running for Mayor and I’ve been inspired by the feedback I’ve received since I shared my thoughts. I’ll continue to speak to community members over the next little while and seek their feedback on how we can work together to build a better, brighter future for Peterborough.

No matter what happens, whoever enters the race, I hope the Trent community will get involved in the election. It’s important for the future of Peterborough that Trent students have opportunities here after they graduate, and it’s important to get engaged and have your say about who will be sitting around the City Council table.