Stéphanie Plante hopes to be ‘champion’ for Inuit at Ottawa city hall
New city councillor represents Rideau-Vanier ward, home to many Inuit in Canada’s capital
Stéphanie Plante put her stamp on her community even before she was elected to Ottawa city council last October.
She’s now the councillor for Rideau-Vanier, a downtown ward home to many Inuit. In 2021, Plante was one of the driving forces behind the renaming of Annie Pootoogook Park in Ottawa, to honour the celebrated Inuk artist who died in the city in 2016.
“It was really sort of my first deep dive into city politics,” Plante said.
She had met Pootoogook a few times while walking around the Sandy Hill neighbourhood. She often used to be at the park that’s now named after her.
“I think about her often … for whatever reason, sociocultural, economic, she didn’t make it and I did, and that weighs heavily on me,” Plante said.
“I wanted her to be remembered in the same way that we remember Terry Fox, or any other notable Canadian that has a lot of things named after them, because she’s a person who was super-talented, who was well known around the world, who was an arts superstar.”
The months since Plante was elected have been spent getting up to speed on her new job as a councillor in Canada’s fourth-largest city.
“It’s like drinking from a firehose,” she laughed, explaining it’s a lot of information to take in all at once.
“I really love the tangible aspect of municipal politics. I personally find traffic calming and snow removal very exciting,” she laughed, “so it’s really a good fit for me in terms of community engagement and just being really able to shine a light on some people in my community.”
Rideau-Vanier houses several Inuit organizations and Nunavut Sivuniksavut, a well-known school for Inuit students studying a culturally focused curriculum before they attend university.
Statistics Canada’s most recent census data, from 2021, shows that 1,730 Inuit live in Ottawa, but Plante believes the number fluctuates and is probably closer to 3,000.
Representing a large Inuit population is a responsibility she said she doesn’t take lightly.
When she was young, her father travelled to what was then called Frobisher Bay in the Northwest Territories (now Iqaluit, capital of Nunavut). He brought back some Inuit sculptures and told his daughter stories about meeting the people in the North.
“I just remember him saying that these are the toughest people he had ever met in his life and the kindest people he had ever met in his life,” she said.
It became one of Plante’s dreams to see the Arctic for herself. Now she feels it’s her role to “uplift her community” and everyone in it, she said.
Plante, who lives with her family in the ward she represents, holds a master’s degree in political science and taught a course in municipal governance for two years at the University of Ottawa.
Before she was elected, she was involved in numerous community organizations in the Ottawa area.
Some of her priorities for the ward include ensuring continued funding for Isaruit Inuit Arts, a local art collective, and getting the city to officially acknowledge International Inuit Day on Nov. 7.
“I want them to treat it like a mini Canada Day, like with funding and speakers and events and all the things you would associate with a day of that significance,” she said.
Another priority is housing.
“Not just for the Inuit population, but to me, if you have a lot of affordable housing options, then that means that you’re attracting a lot of creative people,” she said.
Plante recently came out in support of the Lowertown Community Association’s push to have social services such as shelters and addictions support spread out more evenly through the city, rather than being concentrated downtown.
“Initially, it can seem a bit NIMBY [“not-in-my-backyard”], but the problem is there’s a real effort by the city to concentrate any and all sorts of services within like 800 metres of each other, and it’s not going well,” she said.
“There’s an over-concentration of services. We can’t help people who need help … We need to have housing support, food banks, job banks and vaccination clinics in all 24 wards of Ottawa.”
Plante sits on the board of Ottawa Community Housing and wants to make sure there’s culturally appropriate training with emergency services like paramedics and fire services.
While it’s not located in her ward, Plante said she also supports Larga Baffin’s efforts to build a larger facility for Nunavummiut receiving medical services in the city.
The plan for a six-storey building in the South Keys area, a few kilometres from Ottawa International Airport, was approved by city council last July, but a community group is appealing that decision.
A hearing before the Ontario Land Tribunal is set for April.
“I do support the expansion of medical services for Inuit population. I don’t want to judge the outcome of the tribunal, but I think people don’t understand how bananas it is, seeking medical care hundreds of kilometres from where you live,” she said.
Plante said that by the time she reaches the end of her four-year term as councillor, she hopes Inuit in Ottawa will feel they have a “champion” for them at city hall.
“My door’s always open,” she said.
“I just hope they know that I am someone who cares very deeply about them, especially them living in my ward, and I just want to elevate the work they do and the amazing things they bring to our community.”
the public expression of opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or social conscience or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue.
Silly me, I thought that her job was to represent her constituents, and that the role of the Inuit orgs is represent Inuit.
Representing constituents also includes indigenous people in our ward.
Absolutely agreed, but at the end of the day a constituent is a constituent, regardless of ethnicity or race. The racially based representation is the job of the Inuit orgs and other racial/ethnic special interest groups.
The creeping acceptance of such racial (some would say racist) ideology in political representation is a concern.