- by Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

For those of you who have never gone to a restaurant in a group (or can no longer remember it) this analogy will fail.

For the rest of you, there are parallels between that experience and the way our city is run by members of council and the committees that make recommendations to them.

I noted the other day that men outnumber women on those bodies by 3 to 1 and that I thought that made a difference and would write about it. I'm sure some readers were preparing for a fiery feminist diatribe, but they will be disappointed.

Instead, I will take you to your restaurant experiences. Is the decision-making the same when a group of women go out to eat as it is when the group is all men?

What is the process for ordering– is there consultation among the group – "What's good here? Are you still avoiding dairy? Would you like to split a dessert"?

Does a mixed group of men and women change what's likely to end up on the table – how much food, what kind, what happens to the leftovers?

What about paying for dinner? Do men fight over the cheque when it's an all male group? Or is that more likely if their partners have joined them, or if there are different generations of men at the meal?

I would not argue that it's a more delicious meal or better value or even a more enjoyable experience if there are all men or all women or a mix at the table – but I am absolutely certain that the process will be different.

And if there is a mixed group at the table, I believe the chances are greater for more variety, more options you might not have considered, and more interesting leftovers. It is possible that the bill will also be shared more equitably.

So what does this have to do with our city governance?

Let's start with who is at the table. Our council and all three standing committees are 77.7% male. There are five members of council and four members of the public on each of those committees, all Chairs and Vice-Chairs are councillors, and all but one of those is a man.

Just to be clear who these politicians and public members represent - the population of Owen Sound is 53.4% female.

In a decade or more of watching Owen Sound city council and committees up close, I've seen the way the menu is selected and paid for, and the table manners. Sometimes the differences are subtle, simply personalities. But the gender patterns become quite clear.

The term “kitchen-table issues” comes up frequently in elections, and municipalities have more of these day-to-day concerns than any other level of government. Women see some of these issues from a different perspective than men - safe street lighting, access to washrooms and getting babies on buses - just to offer a few examples.

When a local woman raised the issue recently of re-opening safe, accessible walking space for seniors at the Bayshore, she went to city hall. When staff were unable to answer her request, she went to her representatives, writing a letter to members of council and sharing it publicly. A local businessman read it and started calling his businessmen friends. The money those men raised to pay the bills at a city facility persuaded some members of council to change their thinking. That was one way to do it, and it did the job.

If the make-up of council, or the committee making recommendations to it, were different, what else might have been different? Perhaps they would have discussed ways of serving this group of residents with tax dollars, the way they chose to meet the needs of a neighbourhood with a crime issue, or to rebuild bleachers in a ball park?  Maybe there would have been a volunteer component, or an organized way to get more hours of access.  Or just more consideration of possible solutions.

I would not argue that City decisions would be better made by women.

But I am confident that the process of making those decisions would take a broader perspective, consider a wider-range of options, and be more representative of the community it serves if there were more gender balance and more diversity.

Applications for seven vacancies on city committees are due this Friday. And we are more than halfway to the next municipal election.

Let's mix up those tables, shall we?