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Show Your True Colours Red Deer

Updated: Oct 7, 2021

With election day fast approaching (October 18th) and advance voting already underway, now is the time to take a look at who’s running in the 2021 Red Deer municipal election. We’ve seen how important it is to elect people of integrity to govern us, and how quickly issues can divide us if our best interests are not looked after in a thoughtful, fact-based, and unifying manner. So, I am excited to see that we have a number of progressive candidates running this year; nine people who I believe can make a difference for the queer community here in Red Deer.

Meagan Parisian and Jaelene Tweedle are both allies and new candidates for Public School Trustee. Both candidates are dedicated to pushing for inclusivity, equity, and safety for all students. Parisian's platform includes expanding the current mental health programs offered in Red Deer’s public schools and ensuring tech equity with a minimum standard of technology.

Meanwhile, Tweedle wants to ensure students have access to the resources and support they need, and that these supports absolutely must include an inclusive, safe, and welcoming atmosphere for all students.

Current Public School Trustees Dianne Macaulay and Cathy Peacocke are running for re-election. These two women are both allies, and were the only two Trustees who voted in favour of a division-wide Pride Week this past winter. In fact, it was Macaulay herself, who presented the motion.

Lisa Spencer-Cook is a long-time ally and is running for City Councillor. As her website states, she believes in equitable and accountable change. She works to raise awareness for neurodiversity and has been quoted saying that “conversion therapy is abuse and torture. It needs to be banned.” She wishes to work toward an inclusive, healthy society, where everyone’s needs are met.

Dax Williams is another ally running for City Councillor. He believes Red Deer needs an accessible, accountable city council with representation, and a fresh perspective. He is running on a platform of revitalization, inclusivity, and advocacy.

Dianne Wyntjes is a proven ally who is running for re-election. She was first elected in 2010 and has 11 years of experience as a city councillor for Red Deer. She has been fighting for us as an ally and, although it was ultimately rejected by city council, was the councillor who called on the city to support a conversion therapy ban back in 2020. Wyntjes is active in our community beyond city hall; I actually met her at a candlelight vigil last week for our healthcare workers at Red Deer Regional Hospital which was put on by Terri Grills. I was glad to see that Wyntjes’ heart belongs to the people of Red Deer. She wishes to see Red Deer move forward through environmental sustainability, economic recovery, reconciliation, and inclusivity. She wants to continue to work for us.

Along with these allies, we also have a few members of the queer community available as progressive choices this election. I wanted to take some time to better get to know these two amazing candidates. I am very grateful that they were both happy to make time to talk to me during such a busy season for them.

Terri Grills, who identifies as bisexual and polyamorous, has had a relationship with Red Deer Public Schools for 25 years. She is running for Public School Trustee. As a biological, adoptive, and foster mom, she has put over 20 children through the public school system, many of whom have disabilities or special needs, as well as some who have 2SLGBTQIA+ identities. She says this has made her a fierce advocate out of necessity. Grills wants to see every child have a chance to live up to their full potential and to succeed, which can only happen when their specific needs are met.

When asked what spurred her to run, Grills said “I’ve always been interested in being a trustee or city councillor, but it was always put on the back burner because the kids came first. Now that we have fewer kids in our care, I have the privilege of time on my hands and, when Council voted against Pride week thinking a Diversity week was equally good, I knew that now was my time.”

Because Grills knows from personal experience that wonderful feeling of finally getting to be openly herself, she believes that supporting the 2SLGBTQIA+ community is a necessity in school; having a devoted Pride week could be the start of that.

She believes that “in fully equitable and inclusive environments, there wouldn’t even be a need to have a policy that says ‘this is when we are celebrating Pride week’ because it would be automatically ingrained as part of the system. It would become the norm instead of something we have to make a policy about. But, we’re not there yet. We need all staff and students to feel welcomed and equal. Pride week is one way of achieving that. It’s a time when we can learn our history and celebrate who we are.”

Grills has talked to many people who have moved away from Red Deer to build successful lives in larger, more progressive cities. She says that, despite the many wonderful aspects of our city, Red Deer continues to have a reputation for hate and bigotry. Many of the young people who have moved away after high school have said their decision to leave the community was because of how they were treated in school. Terri knows Red Deer needs to address this because “aside from the human impact, this has a huge community impact. We don’t want our youth all moving away. We want them here helping us build Red Deer into a vibrant and successful city.”

Grills has a strong connection to many healthcare employees here in Central Alberta, likely due in part to raising children with various health concerns. This connection has been readily apparent over the past months, as you can often find her chalking inspirational messages on sidewalks around Red Deer Regional Hospital or holding up signs of support to be read by workers in the ICU.

Grills has been, and continues to be, a strong advocate for supporting our Health Care workers during this pandemic. She is a member of a number of community groups, one of which (“Community love for our Red Deer Healthcare Workers” on Facebook) started the idea of putting white paper ribbons in windows to show support. Grills then furthered that idea by suggesting they do up actual ribbons for people to wear and thus The White Ribbon Campaign was born. They use the hashtag #LoveForHealthcare.

She also believes “this pandemic has shown us how fragile our (education) system can be. We need to think outside the box, start using new approaches so that we can be more proactive instead of reactive.” As someone who was employed as an Education Assistant for 7 years, she has often had to do just that when it comes to facilitating the learning experience of many children. The keywords in her candidate biography are engagement, equity, and support, which are all values that she has actively shown in her own life. Terri Grills truly walks the walk and so we can be certain that she will be a great advocate for change should she be elected.

Matt Gould, who is also running for Public School Trustee, knows that Red Deer is ready for change. While campaigning as an openly gay candidate, he has been met with a lot of support and feels that people respect the fact that he is being straightforward about his identity during the campaigning process. Gould has been further motivated by the support he’s gotten from various citizens during his door-knocking. If he were elected, he’d be our first openly gay trustee and believes he would bring a much-needed, new perspective to a board in need of more diverse voices.

While the issues Gould’s ready to address are wide-ranging (hunger in schools, fiscal responsibility, the draft curriculum, etc.), his platform is unique in its focus on both the arts and inclusivity. When speaking with him earlier this week, Gould explained that employers overwhelmingly want more creative and critical thinkers in the workplace and that training in the arts creates such thinkers. Gould believes creative people have the flexibility and drive that we need moving forward.

A quick internet search of his name will easily show you how involved in the local arts and culture scene Gould has been over the years. He is an award-winning artist who taught at Red Deer College, was Artistic Director of Tree House Youth Theatre, has been an active member of the Alberta Craft Council and served on the board for Red Deer’s MAG and Red Deer Arts Council. He definitely has the knowledge and experience to back his statement that “Red Deer actually isn’t doing too badly when it comes to the arts, [but] we need to clear a place at the table. Like math and science, art should be a core value.”

One of the things that spurred Gould to run in this election was when the proposed Pride Week was voted down this past winter and was instead replaced with Diversity week. While he says a Diversity week could be a step in the right direction, Gould believes specificity is important.

“Red Deer’s schools are by their nature already diverse, but the practice of equity and inclusion might be beefed up.”

Gould goes on to say that he would love to see potentially multiple weeks of celebration and learning, instead of a catch-all like Diversity Week. He believes that one of the most important things students should learn in school is how to be citizens in a diverse community, which should be done through empathy and conflict resolution.

Gould wants to see the Red Deer Public School Board openly, actively, and loudly support the queer community. He points out that when a student feels confident and comfortable in their school, they perform better, and studies have shown that even heterosexual, cis boys are seen to do better in schools that have GSAs. The presence of GSAs actually alleviates some of the weight of toxic masculinity and gives everyone space to explore and express their true identities. Forming an inclusive community has widespread benefits and Matt Gould asks “Why can’t Red Deer Public Schools lead; show our community and province what’s possible?”

While voter turn-out seems to be a constant issue in all levels of government, Municipal has the lowest. Many people don’t seem to pay as much attention to municipal elections as they do provincial and federal. Both Terri Grills and Matt Gould expressed to me the importance of voting in your municipal elections. Grills believes that our community will not progress if we allow those who don’t share the same ethics as us to have the majority of the vote. And Gould wants to remind us that our municipal level of government is what affects us the most in our day to day lives. It affects our children’s school experiences, our local amenities, our businesses… everything. The closer the government is, the more important it is. So, he urges us to “get out there and vote because this stuff counts”.

Candidate Links:

Meagan Parisian

Jaelene Tweedle

Dianne Macaulay

Cathy Peacocke

Lisa Spencer-Cook

Dax Williams

Dianne Wyntjes

Terri Grills

Matt Gould

Reference Links:

Display art by Kelsey Wroten

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