When Halifax councillor Lindell Smith joined the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) in 2020, he quickly realized there weren’t many people of colour, something he wanted to change.
The FCM is the national voice of municipal governments and advocates for citizens’ needs to be reflected in federal policies and programs, according to its website.
As a board member, Smith advocated for a way to address anti-racism within FCM. When he was asked to become the chair of the group’s new Standing Committee on Anti-Racism and Equity the following year, he accepted.
FCM announced the appointment last week, calling Smith a “bold and visionary leader” who’s been breaking barriers since becoming Halifax’s first Black city councillor to be elected in 20 years.
“I was skeptical of FCM in the beginning because I felt that my voice wasn’t part of the conversation.” said Smith, who represents District 8 in the Halifax Regional Municipality.
“But once more people like me who are of diverse backgrounds get to the table, those discussions happen and then things get addressed.”
As the chair, he said what he envisions for the committee is twofold. The first being to look internally on whether FCM has the proper policies to address any inequity or anti-racism.
“FCM has been around since 1901 … so there could be policies that we’re not aware of that could be creating barriers for people of colour or diverse backgrounds,” said Smith.
As the group continues to advocate for municipalities across the country on different issues, such as housing, Smith said the new committee will make sure there’s a lens of anti-racism to that advocacy.
This would be done by focusing on the needs of marginalized communities. For example, advocating to have a specific focus on Indigenous housing within federal programs.
Smith said FCM has been able to get “hundreds of million dollars to municipalities, counties and townships across the years,” so an anti-racism lens is needed to make sure money is going into the communities that need it most.
“FCM is in the best position to make federal changes because of the advocacy and the connections they have directly to the federal government,” he said.
At the moment, members of the committee have not been announced.
“The committee is new and we are building it from the ground up,” said Smith.
He will also need to find members from across the country interested in this work.
Smith said what he’s looking for in a member is somebody who’s been advocating for inclusion or fighting against homophobia or xenophobia.
“Folks who are working towards breaking the walls of injustice around the country,” he said. “I’m not looking for any researchers or professors or doctors. But if you’re somebody who’s been advocating for this work or have firsthand experience, then I think that is the type of person I’m looking for.”
Part of what Smith wants to do is get those who are elected but not part of FCM involved in the new committee.
“There are members who didn’t want to be part of FCM because they didn’t feel their voices were part of the conversation,” he said. “So having those folks at the table is going to be important because then we can really understand where that gap is and address it.”
There’s also a lot of members within FCM who would love to be part of the committee, too.
“Many of them are white colleagues who advocate in their own municipalities and their cities for these issues … So I know at the end of the day, there will be there will be enough people to make the work happen,” Smith said.
He said more information about the committee will be shared in the next couple of months.