Politicians rely on social license- the people need to be heard

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by Jim Bertram

A brilliant man, initials W.S., once wrote :“…but man, proud man, drest in a little brief authority, most ignorant of what he’s most assured, plays…tricks before high heaven as make the angels weep.” To some, since it was written hundreds of years ago, such words are now devoid of meaning. And yet, those words are given meaning by “authority” at various levels of government on a quite regular basis. And sometimes relating to subjects concerning the welfare of considerable numbers of people.

Government authority must, of course be used to making decisions, hopefully well-informed and useful ones. In a theoretically democratic society, much valuable information for the nourishment of the decision-making process should necessarily be taken from the people who must live with the decisions made by government. Even so, when optimistically asked by the editor of this newspaper last autumn about the role of local residents in determining the finality of the decision to impose a jail on the town of Kemptville, a town with an urban footprint scarcely exceeding 4000, our very influential MPP who holds a ministerial portfolio responded that the provincial ‘authority’ had the sole discretion to decide in that matter. Hmmm. So much for the people whose voice had been so important in the recent election.

As matters stand, winter has now passed since last summer’s decree from on high. And, so hope the holders of “authority”, the putative dull-witted populace has slept the problem off and now has only the scarcest memory of it. Methinks they may err in that judgement. Owing to the steady work of the two local jail opposition groups (JOG and CAPP) which are active, pressure has been brought to bear on the municipal council and the province. While the ‘authorities’ gleefully hide in Covid land, it is still possible for concerned residents to attempt to register their views. In fact, a ZOOM meeting on the subject of the jail is being scheduled by the municipality. So, what questions might be asked at that meeting? Last autumn, unlike Facebook from which I have been banned since November for posting anti-jail articles, the Times was kind enough to publish several of my articles on this subject, written since August 29. Some of the questions I brought forward in that series follow for your information:

  1. Why did our provincial MPP not see fit to consult the residents (voters) of North Grenville before initiating this momentous jail project?
  2. Why did our municipal Council not stand up to the insulting and disrespectful treatment not only of our residents, but of themselves as well?
  3. Why did it not occur to Mr. Clark and Mr. Ford that real consultation is basic to democratic practice and it doesn’t happen genuinely after a decision is taken. Real, sincere consultation takes place during the decision-making process.
  4. Is there really likely to be a general broad-based economic benefit to this community from the proposed jail project as claimed by Mr. Clark and your Council? A significant number of Canadian and American academic studies of jails placed in small towns refute that assertion. Given the arbitrary will of the province to push the project through, will the ‘authority’ allocate funding/tax credits to accelerate that very theoretical economic growth process? Or will they continue to stress saving money for the province on this project? (Much more expensive to build in Ottawa where it’s needed.)
  5. What financial support will be available from the province to reduce the impact of necessary jail-related improvements to the municipal water system, to wastewater treatment facilities, enhanced policing? This shouldn’t be a shared municipal-provincial responsibility since the jail project is a downloaded provincial project and the province has far deeper pockets than the municipality. Ultimately, will Council withhold action on this file if financial guarantees aren’t forthcoming? Or will Council continue to play the “kind and caring” card and give ground before the provincial juggernaut?
  6. The brand or image of a place is an important part of the overall reputation of a town or city. What supports will the province offer to help re-build Kemptville’s image as a place attractive to tourists and thus strengthen this part of our area’s economy? Will Council loudly DEMAND this instead of walking softly and carrying NO stick. (Apologies to Teddy Roosevelt who had access to larger pieces of wood.)
  7. Residents of Kemptville are outraged at the lack of respect shown to local residents and the lack of more than superficial concern from the municipal Council. When will both of these levels of government deal candidly with the community they serve and put the complete jail package on the table?
  8. An agenda I have seen for a meeting on the subject of the jail in Kemptville listed “significant stakeholders” as School Boards and the local Hospital. There was no entry for residents under the rubric of significant stakeholders. Why is that? Is the majority of people who will be affected by this project insignificant? Does the province and the municipality even see them as stakeholders? What measures besides grossly inadequate “ZOOM meetings” are contemplated to determine the ideas of residents relative to the jail? Where is the room being made for the “Voice of the People” as the Conservatives said it before the last election, which they won with the help of the votes of local residents?

Finally- Is “Raw Political Power” the only important criterion in the decision-making process of our Conservative provincial government? Do the people of Kemptville intend to allow that to be the case? Or are the people still awake to this issue ?

 

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