When we started the NG Times, we called it “The Voice of North Grenville” because we wanted it to be just that. It seemed to us that the people of this community had no forum in which to express their ideas and positions on the issues that affected them. But we also wanted to give the politicians and bureaucrats space, too, to speak directly to the people who elected and/or hired them to do the work they do on our behalf.
What has been clear over the past six months is that we really did need such a voice. Instead of having the Province simply announce plans that affect us all, without bothering to consult us first, we can talk to each other in these pages and give them a chance to respond, or to tell us what they think we need to know. We can debate, discuss, write letters, and generally sound off on whatever bugs us this week.
But we need to be aware of the downside to all this too. This is a fairly unusual experiment in popular democracy. The voice is everyone’s, whether you agree with them or not. Letters to the Editor, or Municipality Matters columns, are not edited for content. Letters may be cut for length, or if they contain something a little too strong about individuals. But people are allowed to speak their minds: that is the essence of democracy and we have to live with it. So, if you don’t like something you read in the Letters to the Editor section, don’t blame us! Write something yourself, if you feel strongly enough about it. Or sit at home and swear at the paper – throw it in the fire if you want. But remember, the voice is for everyone.
Believe it or not, the word “mean” was used about one of my Editorials recently. Some people thought I was being biased, or perhaps didn’t like my tone. Fair enough. Be upset. But tell me when I’m incorrect in my facts and I will apologise. The fact is that the paper is also needed because there was no other voice questioning the way things are done, much less criticising it. As is often said, democracy requires an informed electorate, and covid has made it difficult to gather anywhere in order to discuss issues. Council meetings are only on-line, aside from a few registered attendees.
But in normal times (if you can remember them), council meetings were lacking public attendance. At the time of amalgamation, newspaper reports reported when less than a couple dozen people attended Council: that was considered a bad sign. What happened? I think it was partly a matter of people feeling that attending meetings didn’t affect anything. Instead of hearing from the public, or debating among themselves, Councillors seemed to sit there like bumps on a log, voting through whatever came in front of them. There was rarely debate of any real content. The idea that “Council speaks with one voice” was abroad in the land: a most insidious undermining of the democratic process.
I do believe that has changed, and for the better. This council, unless they are very good actors and very bad people, have committed themselves to transparency and honesty, even though many are rather suspicious still. Given the lack of opportunity to meet in person with Council and staff, it becomes ever more important that we the people, speaking through the NG Times, act as the unofficial Opposition in our Municipality. Issues need to be debated. Questionable decisions need to be exposed and questioned. Alternative ideas need to be brought to the table now and then.
And we all know there are things that really deserve exposing. Like the By-Law Officer who doesn’t seem to know where the parking spaces are in Kemptville, or the way in which contracts are handed out (see Letters to the Editor).
The fact is that North Grenville is growing. We would all like that to be, as the motto says: Green and Growing. None of us are against progress, growth or development. But these things, which will affect all of us in the coming decades, need to be directed, planned and deliberately considered. This is not a job for elected representatives alone. It is most certainly not the job of municipal staff alone. We all need and deserve a say in the location of pits, quarries, shopping malls, seniors residences, schools, landfill sites, housing developments and high-rise condominiums. Oh, yes, and prisons. We all need to be aware of the disadvantaged among our neighbours, and that more and more are being left behind. Food banks are running out of food, for goodness sake!
We at the NG Times do not think we should have the monopoly on opinion either. That is why there is an open door policy on letters, articles, or whatever the community sends us. Some people were surprised to see who writes Letters to the Editor, or even complete articles. But they shouldn’t be surprised. This is the Voice of North Grenville: not just mine, or yours, or the people who like or agree with us. We all live here. We all have a right to be heard. Just don’t blame me if you don’t like what you read all the time!