Glasnost in the Pontiac

A few weeks ago, Warden Jane Toller told THE EQUITY she planned to discuss with the mayors the statement she was preparing for the upcoming public hearings on the nuclear waste facility proposed for Chalk River.
But when we learned that her discussion with the mayors was to be held in-camera, it struck us as odd that, in a democracy, a public policy question of such importance would be discussed by elected representatives out of public view.
So, we asked the MRC whether the public might be invited to attend last week’s discussion. The thought was that it would not only be good for the public to hear what their mayors had to say, but also the public’s right.
Our question was never answered.
Apparently, the in-camera plenary meeting did happen. But exactly what happened behind closed doors is anybody’s guess.
Meanwhile, we have heard that there is a plan afoot for the MRC to hold a meeting next week where members of the public are invited to express their views on the proposed nuclear waste dump, with an intention that mayors express their views on the matter, as well.
This is a good idea, and the warden deserves credit for opening up the discussion on this particular issue. At the same time, it is not a substitute for providing routine public access to the deliberations and debates of mayors in their formulation of public policy on all manner of issues of importance to the people of the Pontiac.
In recent issues of THE EQUITY, we have had a bit of fun with references to Mikhail Gorbachev. But in all seriousness, we could benefit from a bit of his glasnost policy about now.
Given that the public is not privy to discussions among mayors on any issue, we decided to seek their views directly on whether policy discussions should be held in-camera or in public. In Brett Thoms’ front-page story, Mayors open up about closed door meetings, you will see the answers of the nine mayors he was able to reach in the run-up to Easter weekend.
To varying degrees, some mayors endorse the idea of holding public policy discussions in public, with the reasonable proviso that certain delicate matters be discussed in-camera to protect such things as an individual’s right to privacy or a company’s proprietary information, when warranted.
A range of other comments included the view that it is much easier to hold meetings in private and a comparison to the private sector where private meetings are acceptable.
So, there is disagreement on the matter, which means there needs to be a discussion to sort out any misunderstandings about how democracy works. And, who knows, maybe the outcome of such a discussion would be a unanimous decision in support of opening things up to the public.
All that is required is a resolution stipulating that meetings of mayors for the discussion of public policy be conducted in public, and that, under rare and clearly-specified circumstances, certain agenda items may be conducted in-camera.
And all it would take is one mayor among the 18 to make a motion, and another to second it, to start the ball rolling.
As for the rest of us, we carry responsibility in this as well. If we want more transparent and accountable local government, we need to contact our mayors and urge them to do what they can to make this happen.
Municipal politics is all about here. It is us. It is where we can make a difference. And it is up to us here in the Pontiac whether we do or don’t.
Our argument is that we should. That we must.
There is too much at stake for us not to know whether and how our elected representatives are engaging on issues that impinge on our lives now and will shape our future.
And it is our democratic right.

Charles Dickson

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