#WomenCrushWednesday : Margaret Forsyth

Election papers are out and voting has started! Last year only 33.6% of Hamiltonians voted and we want to bring that number up, so we have been interviewing the local women running for our local council to see who they are. This week we spoke to Margaret Forsyth about her motivations for running, growth and women in politics.

Tell us about yourself!

Ko Margaret Forsyth ahau.  No Kirikiriroa ahau.

I grew up in Hamilton in Hillcrest.  I’m the eldest of 3 so I have those eldest child characteristics of being a high achiever, a leader, having a close relationship with my parents and at times being demanding.  I value hard work, openness and fairness.  My professional life has largely been about service.  As well as teaching in Hamilton I’ve policed, worked in a law office, and worked and volunteered in the sport of netball in just about every capacity. I was a Hamilton City Councillor from 2010-2016 and I've held governance roles on netball boards and more recently, The Waterboy and Sport Waikato.

 

I stand for a family-friendly, affordable and beautifully green city.  I've always been active.  I know the value of exercise for our physical, mental, emotional and social health.  Playgrounds, cycleways, parks and walkways are all sound infrastructure that council can provide for our people in all stages of life.  Planting lots and lots of trees is a cost-effective and beautiful way of fighting climate change.  We can plant more native trees in our gullies and riverbanks, fruit trees in parks and playgrounds, even citrus trees in our grass verges.  And lastly, Hamilton must be a city we can all afford to live in.  We need to respond to growth but we also need to look after our existing infrastructure and keep our rates affordable. I’m up for that challenge.

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It’s awesome to see how involved with the community you have been! What’s one thing that having a strong community connection has taught you in regards to council?

That there are many people in our communities that already do wonderful, amazing, selfless, charitable mahi. I am constantly humbled by the work people do to support, uplift and activate our people and our environment

What has made you return to council after not running in the last election?

I’ve been motivated by 3 things:

1.       I am a strong cheerleader for active places, spaces and infrastructure.  I along with others invested a lot of time and energy into forming the Destination Playground Plan and the Bike Plan.  As these 2 plans have stalled or spluttered along I’ve been motivated to come back and advocate for them again. Let’s keep improving and delivering playgrounds and a connected and safe cycleway network. Green painted dashes on roads will not make people feel safe and will not get them on their bikes - off road or protected on-road cycle ways will.

2.       I believe the city is spending way above its means.  My engagement with Hamiltonians while campaigning has really cemented this for me.  The continual rates increases are unsustainable for many people - particularly those on low or fixed incomes.  I’ve spoken to one woman considering selling her car, (where there is one example there will be others) and others selling down so that they can pay their rates.  To me this is not how it should be. Hamilton should be affordable for us all to live in not just for those who can afford it.

3.       Service is important to me.  It’s the ultimate expression of leadership.  I wish to serve my community again.

 How do you propose to create a ‘family, friendly, affordable and beautifully green city’?

My 3 campaign priorities are:

1.       As described, be a cheerleader and advocate for playgrounds, parks, open spaces, cycle ways, walkways, fitness trails, skate parks, dog parks.  These spaces and places allow young and old and those in between to get active, to meet people, to connect with their environment and sometimes themselves.  Now more than ever it’s important to have access to places that nourish our physical, mental, emotional and social wellbeing.

2.       Planting lots of trees is another priority for me.  I have a grand vision of planting 300,000 trees and shrubs in Hamilton.  We know that trees absorb carbon and over time they’ll keep absorbing more and more carbon from our atmosphere.  Native trees in our gullies, along the riverbank, fruit trees in parks and near playgrounds, planting thousands of cherry blossom trees in our parks and even citrus trees on grass verges are what I’d like to see.  I’ve had great feedback in support of these plantings.

3.       Rates affordability is my last priority.  Affordability means different things to different people.  What I do know is that over the next 9 years our rates under the current council are planned to increase by around 40%.  Most of us will not be able to increase our income by anywhere near that amount over that time. I’m advocating for stopping that trend.  To do this we’ll have to prioritise projects and spending. I’m not in favour of the recent purchases of commercial buildings in the CBD valued at $6.49M, nor am I in favour of buying more buildings in the CBD.  This intention has already been signalled. Scrutinising spending is a tough job. It means you have to ask the right questions and make some hard decisions. I’m up for the job.

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We hear the word ‘growth’ a lot in elections, what does the growth mean to you?

In an election context, it usually means providing more infrastructure for more people choosing to live in Hamilton. There is obviously a cost to that for the city. What usually happens is developers build houses and council builds the roads, pipes, playgrounds and community infrastructure like libraries and swimming pools.  Growth at any cost is unsustainable. In Hamilton, the 2 biggest sources of income for council are rates and DCs. Hamilton City Council does not have any other reliable, constant, significant source of income. So when growth is rapid or too many projects are on the go the ratepayer (and debt) will basically fund everything - today’s infrastructure and tomorrow’s infrastructure.  It’s a balancing act to fund growth, look after our existing infrastructure all while making rates affordable. I believe we need to rein in the spending to get the balance right. 

It has been 126 years since we gained the right for women to vote, and 100 years since the first women were able to become elected representatives, do you think women are where they are meant to be right now in politics?

No.  I think we have come a long way but I still believe we have a way to go.  Women are still under represented in politics and in governance. The quality of women candidates for this election is very high.  I would love to return to the council table and sit alongside more women - even have another woman for mayor. We are well qualified and experienced to lead and serve.  I most definitely enjoy working with my male colleagues but I certainly appreciate the voice, the perspective and the spirit that women bring to the table.

What does being a woman in politics mean to you?

Being a woman in politics to me means being a voice, eyes and ears for women.  It means looking at the picture from another vantage point.  I stand in a different place to that of a man. My other view adds to the fullness, depth and context and this is what good decisions are based on.   

What would you say to people who aren’t sure if they should vote?

I like Maya Angelou’s quote about action: “if you don’t like something, change it.  If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”

This quote resonates with me.  If I think something can be improved I’ll act.  If I can’t do that then I’ll move on. Life is too short to dwell on what might have been or what should be.  The now is where it’s at.

We only get the opportunity to vote once every 3 years - whether it’s for central or local government.  It’s something that is relatively easy to do and yet has so much significance in determining what will happen and how things will happen in our daily lives -the roads you drive or ride on, the library you use, the venue you go to for a match or a show, the water you use and dispose of.   

To vote is a privilege not to be taken for granted.  Our foremothers and fathers fought a tough personal and political battle to bring us the right to vote, the least we can do is use it.

You can find out more about Margaret at her website or follow her campaign on Facebook.

If you haven’t received your voting papers in the mail you’ll have to request a special voting paper from your local Electoral Officer – if you just need to check your enrollment details you can still do so at vote.nz.

Among our normal #WomanCrushWednesday posts, YWCA Hamilton will be running #WCW with local women that are running for Hamilton City Council, Mayor and Waikato Regional Councils. We want to support all women who are running in the local elections this year, as well as supporting women in the Waikato to vote for a representative that support them.