Saturday, May 18, 2024

Fresh air

Summer in the Pontiac had many encouraging highlights.
From Canada Day celebrations to community barbecues, from baseball tournaments to fishing derbies, people were out in the fresh air enjoying the best the Pontiac has to offer. The weather was strange and, at times, extreme, but the crops were robust and the harvest bountiful.
And to cap it all off, the magnificent Shawville Fair was, once again, better than ever, of which you will find an abundance of evidence throughout this newspaper.
But even in the world of politics, of all places, there were encouraging developments. Various legal challenges to Quebec’s flawed language laws have been launched. Pontiac’s MNA has wisely resisted calls to seek the leadership of his party. And miracle of miracles, the provincial government has finally managed to connect most of us up to high-speed internet.
Even in local politics there were some hopeful signs. In the August meeting of the Pontiac MRC council, for example, dissenting views were voiced in public by a few mayors concerned about the MRC’s plan to suspend its engineering support to the municipalities. It was good to know that at least some mayors are willing to speak their minds outside the closed-door plenaries, and that it can happen without the sky falling.
Also, this summer, two municipal councils swam against the current by voting down a resolution supporting the construction of a garbage incinerator in the Pontiac. A few weeks later, six mayors stood their ground by voting against a motion designed to pave the way to sole-source contracting a company to produce a business plan for the incinerator project.
These small eruptions of independent thought were welcome signs of life in our local democracy. But perhaps the best of all took place on a beach by the Ottawa River.
It was a Friday evening and the rain was pouring down at Sand Bay. Sixty residents on lawn chairs huddled under large umbrellas while a lone member of Clarendon council, with responsibilities to settle cottager issues, walked out on the beach to hear their concerns.(See Sitting on the dock of the Bay, THE EQUITY, August 23, 2023).
In our world of polarized politics, people tend to be either for something or completely against it. A willingness to explore the reasonable middle ground where discussion is possible and compromises can be found is all too rare.
It was into that no-man’s land that this man walked, ready to speak truth to the assembled throng and tell them what some may not have wanted to hear. There are not many who could do that, there are not many who would. But working to his advantage was his completely transparent intent: he was there to help.
It was a sight to behold that harkened back to an old style of politics where someone would wade into a crowd and put their oratory skills and powers of persuasion to work to win minds and, if not minds, then hearts.
It was a nourishing moment for anyone with growing doubts about whether politicians at any level have the means to address issues inclusively, meaningfully and constructively. There was nothing cynical or self-serving about it. People on both sides of the issue were offered a common ground and they took it. People who would like to have harboured resentment had nothing to tie up to. It left people of all persuasions feeling heard, understood and respected.
This was not something hatched in a private meeting in back rooms with doors closed and curtains drawn. This was as open as could be. This was not where people whispered side comments to each other but stood up and spoke their minds freely and without fear. This was the way things can be.
Yes, it had the directness and person-to-person engagement of an old style of politics. At the same time, out on the beach that Friday evening, rain-soaked to the bone but with not a hint of complaint, an earnest man with a big voice gave us a glimpse of a possible future.

Charles Dickson


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