Our municipal neighbour to the west is drawing attention – national attention, as it turns out – for its Council’s decision to defeat a motion in a 3-2 vote that would have seen the Pride flag flown in the month of June as a display of support for 2SLGBTQI+ residents. In my view, the defeat of the motion is much less striking than the dramatic context in which the matter unfolded during a regular meeting of the Council of the Village of Merrickville-Wolford.
Motions come before Council members during meetings in every municipality across the country routinely. There shouldn’t be anything scandalous about Council’s decision to pass or defeat any one particular motion. Council members are employed to do a very important job. They must make decisions that they feel are in the best interests of the communities they serve.
Motions often have recommendations to either be passed or defeated written directly within them, based on meticulous research carried out by educated municipal staff. This does not and should not mean that Council cannot decide how it wants. Having five Council members (the legal minimum under provincial law) is an excellent safety net in preventing one or two members’ biases or personal interests from overriding the interests of the community.
I understand the outrage about the vote defeating the Pride flag motion. As you’ll see in this issue of the Times, we received a letter of outrage on the matter from all the way across the country, in British Columbia! In the days after the September 11 Council meeting, I received several “news tips” about the story. For context, I typically only receive a few news tips in total in an average week!
I think people would have been far less outraged, myself included, if not for the manner in which the Pride flag motion was defeated. There are some valid reasons I can think of for not wanting to fly the Pride flag for an entire month every year. One is that, depending on what statistics you find, only about 4% to 7% of the population identifies as non-heterosexual. While I don’t agree that this makes the 2SLGBTQI+ group a “special interest group”, it would be within a Council’s purview to make this decision and communicate it in a respectful manner.
That said, this reasoning – had it been given during the September 11 M-W Council meeting – would have still made me roll my eyes. We all know that suicide rates are high amongst 2SLGBTQI+ people, especially youth, and that the Pride flag is intended as a symbol to show that a particular place is welcome for all. It is not an “anti-straight” symbol, nor does it mean anything more scandalous than “everyone matters here”. Regardless, no reason was given during the September 11 meeting for defeating the motion by any of the three members who opposed it. If three Council members were about to vote to defeat a beautifully written bill about inclusion, didn’t they think they at least owed M-W residents a reason? It seems very obvious that quashing a motion which speaks of inclusion and the value of all residents of the Village could be taken as extremely hurtful to some residents. Surely the mental health of these people was worth saying a few words, such as “everyone is indeed welcome and valued here, but unfortunately, due to our policy about…”
Instead, what happened was the epitome of unprofessionalism. After the vote took place, with three hands that seemed to be symbolically raised in support of division and hatred, Councillor Gural was understandably upset. Despite this, she did not attack the three fellow Council members with whom she disagreed. Instead, she asked for a recorded vote, as is her right. I took this as a request intended to show any 2SLGBTQI+ people reading the meeting minutes that there were two members of their local Council standing firmly by their side.
There was no excuse for Mayor Cameron’s arrogant tone in his response, when he was trying to convey incorrectly to Councillor Gural that a recorded vote could not be called since the vote had already taken place. Council members don’t always have to agree, and in fact I have argued many times in the past that sometimes it’s best when they don’t agree, because issues are then debated in a healthy way instead of being rubber stamped. But whether they agree or not, Council members need to speak to each other with respect, and I heard no respect from Mayor Cameron in the September 11 meeting. For me, the issue wasn’t so much “which” motion was defeated as it was “how” the motion was defeated. If anyone made assumptions about the three male Council members’ attitudes toward 2SLGBTQI+ people after the meeting, I am confident that it was because of the Mayor’s tone, and the looks on all their faces.
Is there a way forward from here? I think that the Mayor and Council should release a statement in support of the rights of people from all races, genders, sexual orientations, backgrounds, etc – even a joint statement would do.
“I have been watching with alarm, the increase in the intolerant and, oftentimes, violent rhetoric in our country and around the world aimed at those who identify as a member of the 2SLGBTQI+ community,” Councillor Gural told the Times. “It is important for all levels of government to reassure those who feel vulnerable that we will do what we can to protect them. By voting for the motion, I believe I demonstrated that willingness and showed my support as an ally. I want to add that the vast number of emails and comments I have read and received from residents and business owners demonstrates that Merrickville-Wolford is a welcoming and inclusive community.”
Councillor Gural emphasized that her comments are her own personal views on the matter. No other members of M-W Council responded to a request for comment by deadline.