Sunday, July 14, 2024

Showing up

They say that 80 per cent of success is just showing up.
An estimated 500 people, give or take, showed up at the five public presentations on the incinerator project held across the Pontiac through late March and much of April. It seemed the more people learned about the idea, the less they liked it.
This, plus the 124 people who attended the Citizens of the Pontiac gathering in Campbell’s Bay on March 2, produced a groundswell of opposition to the proposal to import hundreds of thousands of tons of other people’s garbage for burning in the Pontiac.
People who normally keep their head down when it comes to local politics were speaking up at community meetings. They started writing letters to the editors of local newspapers, showing up at council meetings to make their views known to their elected representatives, launching a petition, and waging a ground battle with door-to-door campaigning complete with lawn signs and bumper stickers.
Altogether, it was a marvel of local democracy, and a suitable antidote to the under-the-radar attempt to get this train well down the tracks before the public even knew what was coming.
A busload of mayors was given a private tour of an incinerator facility. There was a behind-closed-doors effort to secure mayoral support for the project and a tour of municipal councils to convince them to follow along with a pre-written resolution. A private session with a designated supplier to be hired in a non-competitive process, and on and on. It felt to many like an effort to bamboozle people, starting with the mayors, into going along with an ill-conceived idea.
And it might have worked had it not been for the reaction by the citizenry of the Pontiac who rose to the occasion and said just hold on a goldarn minute. One thing led to another to the point where we have now witnessed a vote by all mayors of Pontiac County reversing their earlier support for the incinerator project and putting an end to it, once and for all.
Still, we are hearing arguments designed to draw into question the legitimacy of the 16 per cent of Pontiac residents who signed the Friends of the Pontiac petition on the grounds that it falls short of the 51 per cent threshold the warden would prefer. In the same vein, should we not also question the legitimacy of an election in which a warden takes office with the support of just 25 per cent of the population, also well short of the 51 per cent mark?
Then there is the complaint that the municipal councils were unprepared for citizens showing up to public meetings to express their thoughts on the issue. How different is this than the warden’s visits to those same municipal councils, months before the public had cottoned onto what was going down, to press them into passing her resolution in support of the incinerator project?
The implication is that the decision by 100 per cent of Pontiac’s mayors last week to abandon the incinerator project was somehow less than democratic.
Au contraire.
There is nothing more democratic than municipal councillors keeping their thumb on the pulse of their local electors and translating that into policy that is carried forward to the county level by mayors.
If it was legitimate to corral the support of the 18 mayors in private, months before the people who elected them even knew what was afoot, then surely their withdrawal of that support as the culmination of a very public, democratic process is at least as legitimate.
No, by any measure, this project is done. People are ready to move on to a better use of our time. There may be some mysterious allegiance on the part of a few to seeing a garbage incinerator of some size built somewhere in the Outaouais, but the people of the Pontiac showed up in force and let it be known that it won’t be here.

Charles Dickson


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