Sunday, July 14, 2024

Distinct society

Watching the video of our warden’s recent incinerator presentation to mayors of Renfrew County has provided a glimpse into what an open county council meeting can look like.
It may seem incredible, but just across the Ottawa River at the monthly meeting of Renfrew County mayors, issues are actually discussed – gulp – in public. Yes, right out in the open, where people can see and hear what’s being said. Unbelievable.
Unlike Pontiac’s mayors, Renfrew County mayors don’t hash out the issues in a closed-door meeting the week before. No, they hang the laundry out for everyone to see right there in the public meeting. They have actual debates on the issues and, from time to time, even feel free to disagree with each other. In public, if you can believe it.
And the crazy thing is, they all seem quite comfortable with it. How do they do it? Could it be something in the water?
It’s perplexing to some of us over here on the Quebec side of the river where we do things quite differently. Here in the Pontiac, managing public affairs is considered an entirely private matter.
The prevailing view here is that the public doesn’t really need to know what the mayors are thinking on any given topic. In the Pontiac, nobody needs to know how or why decisions are made, what alternatives might have been considered, what ideas might have been offered for or against, and who might have taken which positions. None of that is really anybody’s business.
Plus, on the Pontiac side of the river it seems to be a lot scarier to speak your mind in public than it is on the Renfrew side. People might disagree with you, and who knows where that could lead.
Politicians elsewhere - except possibly Russia, Saudi Arabia and North Korea - seem to have this idea that they are actually supposed to formulate thoughts on issues and debate their views publicly. Not here. Here most of our mayors prefer to keep it all to themselves, except when they’re in the safety of a closed room among like-minded colleagues.
All that open democracy nonsense may be fine across the river, but it has no place here. Why would the public here even want to know what is really going on in their local government anyway?
And if anyone is teaching these democratic niceties in high school civics class, fortunately it’s all been forgotten by the time people have become adults.
No, best to leave the mayors to do the job we elected them to do. And let’s leave all the fancy notions about the need to develop public policy in public to people elsewhere.

Charles Dickson


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