Whose democracy is best?
It was disappointing to see a large number of people leave council chambers of Monday evening prior to Councillor Pat Molloy being sworn in as interim mayor of Uxbridge.
It could be the walkout was their way of protesting the manner in which the interim mayor was chosen, but to this observer it wasn’t so much a protest as a display of temper at not getting their own way. They wanted the mayor chosen according to their rules and council decided to go its own route. Not getting their way resulted in a silly version of “my bat, my ball, I’m going home.”
What was particularly disappointing is that many of those who walked out rather than watch Mr. Molloy take the oath of office are considered to be leading citizens of this community, well-respected and acknowledged for their contributions to the township. By walking out as they did, they showed disrespect, not only to Mr. Molloy, but for the office of mayor and the rest of council as a whole. From such normally upstanding citizens, I’m afraid I expected more.
This whole problem of filling the mayor’s seat for six months was not of council’s making. It landed in council’s collective lap when Gerri Lynn O’Connor left the mayor’s seat vacant to become interim chair of Durham Region. It fell to clerk Debbie Leroux to comb through the Municipal Act to determine what courses of action were open to council. It turned out the only two viable options available were a) for council to select one of their own to fill the vacancy, or b) select a member of the public. Council chose the former, and there was no breaking or bending of any rules, no end runs around democracy.
The aforementioned disgruntled citizens thought council should appoint a fellow member only if that member promised not to run for the office this fall. Otherwise, they claimed, being appointed interim mayor could give a councillor an advantage in the fall election campaign by virtue of name recognition resulting from whatever news stories carried his or her name in the interim. Do these proponents really believe Mr. Molloy needs the advantage of name recognition? He’s been on council for years, has been head of the finance committee for years and every year gets his name in the papers a lot at budget time.
And while these opponents don’t like the idea of council selecting one of their own – (undemocratic, don’t you know) – I’m quite sure the opponents would have no problem selecting one their own to fill the position. So whose democracy is better?
And if council had opted to select a member of the public to fill the vacancy, imagine the outcry. No matter who they might have selected, there would have been those who disagreed vehemently with the choice. Of course, if council had taken Doug Moffatt up on his offer to fill the position, Monday night’s opponents would likely have believed that democracy had been served.
Councillor Fred Bryan put it quite bluntly when he said: “We make a lot of decisions people don’t like.” Exactly. No one is ever going to agree 100 per cent with the decisions a council makes during the course of its term and anyone who thinks they can please everyone all the time has no business running for office.
I am no apologist for members of council. I have often taken them to task for what I see as wrong decisions or wrong moves and I try my best to ask hard questions. But at the same time, having attending virtually every council meeting for the last 13 years, I know the work they do is difficult. Over those 13 years, I have seen councillors who completely floundered in the job, They usually don’t run a second time or they get defeated. But I have seen others who are dedicated to the task and work hard to keep up with the ever-changing rules that the province and region lumber them with and toil to do their best for the community within those rules.
It seems to me, if you don’t like the rules, don’t blame council. Council takes enough flak for some of the terrible bylaws that are sometimes enacted within our borders: they shouldn’t have to take flak for someone else’s rules. And they shouldn’t be subjected to the rudeness that was on display on Monday night just because they made a decision others didn’t like.
Tell me, am I wrong?