Vive la difference! Does Mississauga need a Council to research and analyse how to best welcome and include new Canadians? This passionate Summit leader thinks so… Words by Julie Pehar
“You want me to do what???”
Co-chair a brand new task force for the Mississauga Summit on Diversity and Immigration? But I’m not an immigrant to Canada! Panic.
Impossible…so no, no thanks. Can’t do it. Ahhh, I have to take care of, you know, things, lots of things like other things that are really time-consuming like feeding my kittens, folding laundry, having day-surgery and taking a Zumba class. So no, it is impossible…
This is how it started, but it is definitely NOT how it ended. Let me start from the beginning. Over 3 yrs ago, two very passionate people Shelley White, CEO of the United Way of Peel Region and Brian Crombie, a local business consultant, approached Mayor McCallion about the idea of a Mississauga City Summit, similar to the successful Toronto City Summit. Mayor McCallion was so excited about the idea; she became the honorary Chairperson and has been supporting the Summit for the past three years. The vision? “Charting a Brave, Bold Future for Mississauga Together”
The 2007 Summit brought together international, national and local leaders to discuss topics related to sustainability, innovation and diversity. This meeting of minds was the start of a continuing process to engage local leaders in defining the future of Mississauga. All
about “civic engagement”, the community assembled again in 2009 and agreed that the success of all organizations depends on educated, healthy and engaged residents. The goal of this collaborative Summit was to ensure that Mississauga remains a vibrant city
where every citizen has the opportunity to thrive. And so, five task forces were born; Human Services, Post Secondary, Waterfront Development and Environmental Sustainability, Work and Centre of Excellence for Diversity and Immigration.
How inspiring, how captivating and how motivating to be around so many people that cared so deeply about their city. And, even though I lacked immigrant experience, I felt drawn to become part of this energy and excitement. Besides, I did have something to offer; I am an equity and inclusion educator and Peel community leader in collaborative processes…and a sucker for a wonderful opportunity to work with a bunch of interesting, smart people.
So I packaged up all my academic and professional training and showed up at the first meeting September 2009. Our mission seemed straight forward. Talk, listen, learn and come up with a “big Idea” in 8 months. And so it began, a complex series of immensely specialized presentations, discussions, workgroups, position papers, phone calls, e-groups, Google groups and little team building competitions.
And guess what? The concept of developing a Centre of Excellence for Diversity and Immigration was less about personal experience with diversity and immigration and more about collegial respect, partnership and the nurturing of meaningful relationships that allowed for the development of ideas that resonated with all of us, even with all of our differences. Following 8 months of gruelling learning, sharing, discussion, disagreement, laughter, friendly bantering, sharing and support-we birthed our “big idea”, the development of a Council for Diversity and Inclusion, with the goal that the council will set Mississauga on the path to becoming a welcoming and
inclusive global city that creates opportunities for the full engagement of its residents.
Our task force strongly agreed that Mississauga will be a welcoming and inclusive global city when and only when all residents feel that they are able to engage as they wish in the professional, economic, civic and social life of Mississauga without barriers. The big idea recommendations from all five task forces are currently in the implementation phase. Stakeholders from across Mississauga have gathered to discuss what resources and supports are needed to get these ideas off the ground. If you are interested in learning more about the recommendations or how to get involved, please visit www.mississaugasummit.ca
In the end, what does it all mean? Technically, the Council strives to lead and model a dynamic change process that will transform the city. It promises to be a focal point for the development of solid policy, procedure and systems and it commits to embody the ethic of partnership and collaboration. It also recognizes the breadth of fantastic work that is already in place and is resolute that future efforts bolster and leverage this work without duplication. And for me, there is a whole other story, a very simple one. Every community has some really cool people who care deeply about making their city great. Better than great…nurturing, welcoming, prosperous, innovative, safe, beautiful and the best place to call home. THIS is what the Mississauga Summit is all about.
The magnitude of immigrant stories that were each so entirely different and unique rendered my absence of a story as nothing more than just another story, a different story. And so, once again my first reaction was wrong. I was wrong to hesitate and I was wrong to wonder what my contribution might be.
My contribution was returned tenfold; working on the Mississauga Summit has been my pleasure, my learning and my personal growth. Most importantly, the summit reminds me of how important it is to truly care about the community in which we share. If I can do it, so can you. Get out there!!