To all intents and purposes, one election is over and there’s at least one more to look forward to this year. The meeting of candidates, sponsored by the Times last week, was a fascinating exercise in popular democracy. There were the four individuals, vying for the votes of the audience in front of them. And there were the voters, free and willing to question, assess, and, ultimately, judge the four on what they had to say, how they said it, and what impression they left behind.
The great thing about democratic elections is that it is one moment in time when we, the people, are in the driver’s seat. Once the votes are cast and counted, we usually become spectators, watching the elected act as if we don’t exist, or maybe just don’t matter. They disappear into that famous bubble, a world of their own in which they can easily develop rather undemocratic ideas about their role in society.
This is a pity, because I think the meeting last week worked well for all sides: the dialogue was positive and fruitful, and the candidates could get a feel for the mood of the people. If only the eventual winners in elections would continue that dialogue, instead of thinking they don’t need to listen anymore. Because it was very clear that night who those four people were, and, at times, how they felt about each other.
The municipal election in October will be another opportunity for voters to question, assess and judge, and for candidates to listen, respond and gauge the mood. What is the mood? Well, I think people want to see members of council represent them, not become spokespeople for bureaucrats. The article about the Kemptville College Alumni in this issue does not paint a good picture of our CAO. We need a council that leads and directs staff, and deals with this kind of behaviour; the problem is that there has been a vacuum of leadership that has allowed, or even demanded, that staff take on more responsibility than is good in a democracy.
It was noteworthy that, at the candidates meeting, Steve Clark responded to Anouk Tremblay, Trustee for the French Catholic School Board, by stating clearly that he believes that the Board have been unfairly treated by the municipality by not including them more fully in plans for the Kemptville Campus property.
Councils can also outlive their useful lives and need to be replenished, especially ones that have such a poor record of activity and accomplishment. The beauty of democracy is that this can happen with each election: not necessarily through a change of personnel, but maybe with one or two new faces to introduce new ideas (or any ideas) and vision to a tired and blinkered set-up.
The current council will have a clear advantage over the coming months: they are in place and can use that advantage to raise their profile in the community. Appearances at every public event will become the norm. Awards and celebrations will feature members of council that have not been seen so much since the last campaign. There will be a sudden interest shown in every event, story, presentation, and opening for the next few months, while the challengers work hard at becoming known to the voters.
I understand that there is a candidates’ meeting being planned in October, so the Times may not have one also. We will try and interview all those running for office, as we believe that residents need a chance to get to know the individuals asking for their vote, and to put on record the many promises, plans and predictions that will be made during the campaign.
In this way, the eventual winners in October can be held to answer for their success or failure to follow through on campaign statements.
In the coming months, we will be reviewing the interviews we conducted with current members of council during the last election campaign and reporting on their track record in keeping promises made at that time. Of course, there are always reasons, valid or otherwise, that can be given for not doing what was promised. It is a standard excuse that, once in office, the actual facts of the situation are found to be much worse than expected; or the budget suddenly wouldn’t allow for what was planned. Perhaps councillors came to a sudden and unhappy confrontation with the Municipal Act, which meant that their plans were incapable of fulfilment.
These, and other, statements should be taken with the proverbial pinch of salt, as should extravagant claims by challengers about the wonderful miracles they intend to preform if elected. Really, when you think about it, this whole democracy thing is a lot of hard work! And I don’t mean for the politicians. You just can’t afford to take your eyes off them for a minute. Oh well, roll on October 22!