A thought on Democracy

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As you may have noticed, the North Grenville Times has dedicated a section of the paper to Merrickville-Wolford. It was, of course, the idea of my ambitious and fearless employers to expand the paper to serve more people and, without a doubt, it has been met with a lot of positive response. As a way of getting even more connected with the community (as none of us at the paper live in Merrickville-Wolford), it was decided that I would start attending their bi-weekly council meetings. To be very honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. For many years I have heard politics and the democratic process talked about with some scorn. “Nothing ever gets done,” or “there is definitely a political agenda behind that decision,” are some comments that come to mind. With the popularity of TV shows like House of Cards and Scandal (I admit to having watched both), it is easy to become disillusioned by the political process and democracy as a whole. Does it actually exist, or are politicians puppet masters focused on nothing more than their own gain? While I don’t claim to have any idea what happens behind closed doors, and I have no direct connection to our own federal leadership, let alone the White House, what I have seen while attending the Merrickville-Wolford council meetings proves to me that the democratic process works.

The first council meeting I ever attended was four hours long. Yes, my butt was sore and I was yearning for bed by the time I left, but it was a real eye-opener to the way that the democratic process works in a Municipality. It is true that the agenda for that meeting was quite full, but the main reason it ran for so long was the thorough debates that occurred over issues that affected Merrickville-Wolford residents. One such debate was over whether or not to let ATVs and ORVs stop in the Village for food and fuel. There were councillors on both ends of the spectrum: those who thought that the vehicles would be a disturbance to the local residents and visitors to the Village, and those who believed that denying them access would be detrimental to potential tourism dollars. Both sides are valid, but only one decision could be made. During the discussion the viewpoints of ATV and ORV owners, as well as those who might be opposed to the vehicles, were heard and councillors were adamant in expressing the point of view of the people they were representing. The end decision, to deny access to ATVs and ORVs to the Village, was resolved in a recorded vote and was definitely not unanimous.

This, though, is what I think democracy is all about and why a council of representatives is elected for a Municipality. In the best case scenario, there are many different viewpoints on a council which fosters heated debates on subjects that affect the public. In the end, not everyone wins, but at least everyone’s voice is heard and the most well thought-out decision can be made. This, of course, can lead to a population of people who are not happy with the decisions that council has made for them. It is important to keep in mind, however, that it is impossible to please everyone. We are constantly told that as an individual, but, when it comes to the political figures we vote into office, we expect them to make the decision that is right for us all the time. But council represents almost 3,000 of “us” (when it comes to Merrickville-Wolford).

According to nobelprize.org, all countries in the world claim to be Democracies except for four: Vatican City, Saudi Arabia, Burma and Brunei. This is not the case. Over 100 of the countries who claim to be democracies are non-democratic, or only partly democratic. In fact, according to Freedom House, an organization that assesses global freedom, because of more aggressive tactics by authoritarian regimes and an upsurge in terrorist attacks, the level of freedom in the world dropped for the ninth consecutive year in 2015. This alone should reiterate how lucky we are in Canada to have a fully democratic government. Our democratic system is by no means perfect. In fact, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made the promise that the 2015 election will be the last with the first-past-the-post system, admitting that it does not allow for a proper representation of all the votes cast in Canada. That being said, even Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef, who is championing electoral reform in parliament, says she sees benefits to the current system. She herself has witnessed what a non-democratic country is like, as she fled from Afghanistan when she was a child. Countries like Afghanistan would welcome the first-past-the-post system regardless of its flaws. However, she believes that a mature democracy like Canada can do better.

We can always do better. And it is great that people like Maryam Monsef and Prime Minister Trudeau are looking towards making our electoral process even more fair and representative of the population. In general, though, I think we should still be grateful to have the freedom we have in Canada to speak our minds, and local governments like Merrickville-Wolford that have councillors who care about their constituents and are willing to stay late into the night to ensure decisions that affect the people they serve are well thought out and as fair as possible.

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