First woman of colour on Halifax Council sees her role as opening the door for more diversity.

Iona Stoddard first ran for Halifax Regional Council in 2016. She remembers there were only four women on the council at the time and she thought the city could do better.

“Women bring a different perspective, ask different questions and new experiences to council,” she says, and she wanted to be a part of that. She started her campaign in July of that year, building on a life-long passion to help people. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.

Fast-forward to 2020 and Stoddard found she still has that passion to serve so she tried again, this time winning the right to represent the Timberlea, Lakeside, Beechvill, Clayton Park West, and Wedgewood areas of District 12. She also earned herself a page in the history books.

“I’m proud to say there’s now gender parity on council, so I’m glad to be a part of that,” Stoddard says, “but it’s really hard to believe I’m the first woman of colour on council. So, I did some research, saying to myself, ‘There must have been one somewhere along the line.’ But no, I’m the first.”

It does seem like it was a long time coming, but now that it’s here, Stoddard believes she is well-positioned to pave the way for others to follow in her footsteps.

“Being the first opens the door for other women of colour. Maybe there’s a young woman out there that will say, ‘If Iona Stoddard can do it, then so can I.’

“I believe I’m in an excellent position to be able to mentor. I learned a lot about the election process and that’s something I can pass along by sharing my experience on council. Maybe I can go to schools and speak about my experience and what to expect once you’re elected. For example, for the first three months it’s like you’re drinking from a firehose; there’s so much information coming at you fast and furious. Plus, the day after you’re elected you’re going to start getting calls from those you represent and you have to have answers for them even though you’re still trying to learn your new role.”

“Being the first opens the door for other women of colour. Maybe there’s a young woman out there that will say, ‘If Iona Stoddard can do it, then so can I.’

Mentorship is something Stoddard has experienced herself on many occasions, starting with her first job after moving to Halifax from Toronto to start her family.

“One of the first jobs I had when my daughter was old enough to go to daycare was as a legal secretary for Gus Wedderburn. I really admired him for taking me on with no experience and teaching me the ropes. I was there for three years and he taught me a lot, like how to deal with people whether they were happy or sad. He was a great mentor.”

Himself an immigrant to Nova Scotia from Jamaica, Wedderburn didn’t embark on his law career till he was 41, spending his early career as an educator. This might explain why he was willing to take a chance with Stoddard. Her lack of experience might have reminded him he too was new to the profession.

During his 50 years in Nova Scotia, Wedderburn is credited with being a founder of the Black Educators Association, the Black United Front, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, and the Black Cultural Centre. He was also a driving force for many years in the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People.Wedderburn was a great mentor to many.

Stoddard’s next position was with another well-known local lawyer, A. Martin Smith, that she says furthered her love of helping people who found themselves in trouble.

“Helping people has always been a passion of mine and the people you encounter in a law office are usually not there at the happiest time of their life. Still, there’s always a way to help people deal with any emotion.”

It was dealing with a particular emotion that first brought Stoddard to Halifax. She met her first husband while he was visiting Toronto and returned to Halifax with him to start a family. She then fell in love for a second time, with Nova Scotia.

“The hustle and bustle of Toronto was not for me,” Stoddard says. “It wasn’t a place I wanted to raise a family. So, I did a lot of comparison. Here you can travel in any direction and find water, whether it be lakes or rivers or the ocean; there’s little or no pollution; and the skies are blue without that layer of smog.”

Stoddard says she lived mostly in the Etobicoke area when she was growing up and there were always stories of the pollution in the Great Lakes and of dead fish washing up on the shores. “It didn’t smell very nice,” she recalls. She says the water here is so much better and one of the main reasons she loves it here.

Things that first attracted Stoddard to Halifax continue to inform her new role as councillor. She wants to use her position to protect and improve the environment, be it through better transit or increased green spaces.

“We’re not making any new land, so we have to protect what we have,” she says.

Her other priorities include timely communication for all constituents, being an advocate for persons with physical disabilities/challenges and/or mental health issues, and supporting the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement by bringing more diversity to all levels of government and senior management positions.

Affordable housing is also a top priority, especially in the wake of COVID-19. The pandemic has forced a lot of people to the brink of eviction and Stoddard says she and council share a passion for finding a solution, despite the fact housing is a provincial responsibility.

“Communications is a big part of what I do as a councillor. Helping people find answers to their questions and teaching them what council can do and what it can’t do. Housing is a good example of that. Public housing is a provincial issue, but we’re passionate about it too, and Halifax Council is working on it.”

Photos by C. Crawley-Williams.

Ken Partidge

Ken Partidge

Ken Partridge is the Managing Editor and Head of Content at My East Coast Experience Media. He is a 34-year veteran of the Halifax journalism scene and worked at both the local and national levels to help provide better resources for journalists.

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