Are we aiming for a dictatorship? - Keith Roulston editorial
Okay, I’m going to show my age here, but what’s the rush to try to get rid of democracy? Seems like every time I open the paper somebody is proposing to reduce the size of this or that municipal council.
In last week’s paper, Huron East approved the establishment of a committee, involving some council members and five members of the public to look at future representation in the municipality. This came after council rejected a proposal in December that had to be accepted then in order to be put into effect for this year’s election. Though there were several possibilities in that proposal, Mayor Bernie MacLellan made it plain he thought council should be smaller.
Other councils periodically make the same proposal in the name of “efficiency”. It seems to me we’ve been reducing the number of people in our democracy for years in the name of efficiency.
Decision-making has become such a dirty word that we seem to want to have as few people making decisions as possible – or at least as few that we’re responsible for electing, anyway. On the other hand, as the number of people who run for election to municipal councils and school boards has gone down, the number of people who work for them – who make decisions that change our lives but have only a limited number of people we elect looking over their shoulders – has increased.
Now this isn’t a diatribe against civil servants, just a questioning of how we came to a place where we seem to distrust people who are our neighbours or relatives who make decisions that can affect our day-to-day lives. After all, we like to call what we
live in a democracy. It began in ancient Greece where one in every 10 people (thus the word dem-ocracy) took part in making decisions for the whole community.
Once democracy was true here. In my lifetime there was a one-room school every couple of miles that was overseen by a school board. Although our school had been closed and we were bused into Lucknow to the “big” school, we still had a school board to hire the bus and pay our share of the costs of that urban school. My dad took his turn on that community board.
Later, in the mid-1960s after I was already in high school in Lucknow, school amalgamation came along and instead of one-room schools, kids were bussed to central schools. Some of the construction became delayed, however and my younger brother, who had his early schooling at a large school in Lucknow, ended up spending three months in an older one-room school in the neighbourhood because the central school wasn’t ready – although there was only one grade in each school.
Meanwhile, mine was the last class to finish Grade 13 at the old Lucknow District High School because new provincial requirements for physics classes meant the board at that small school decided it made more sense to send students to F.E. Madill Secondary School in Wingham and close the old Lucknow high school.
At university, I studied journalism and in the summer of 1967 (Centennial year), I worked as a student for A.Y. McLean at the old Huron Expositor in Seaforth. Among my duties that year was to cover Tuckersmith Township Council. I also interviewed the principal of the new public school at Brucefield, the largest in the area.
After graduation, I became editor of the Clinton News-Record and covered Hullett, Goderich and Tuckersmith councils.
From there, Jill and I bought the Blyth Standard and I had Blyth, East and West Wawanosh, Hullett and Morris councils to cover. Without doing much research I’d guess there were more than 30 people giving their time and talents to municipalities on those councils.
Around that time, I remember attending a nomination meeting in Londesborough when a school board official told us that the
province had declared there should be only one public and one Roman Catholic Separate School board in each county, not a board for each school. After that came the announcement that there’d be a combined board with Huron and Perth Counties and there have been suggestions since then that Huron, Perth, Bruce and Grey Counties will all be combined.
When Mike Harris was Premier, he declared either municipalities would amalgamate or he would force amalgamation, so local councillors quickly found partners, and for the past 20 years we’ve had the current council set-up. Even then, we periodically have people arguing that for the sake of “efficiency” we need to reduce the number of people on councils.
Hey, it makes life easier for the majority that doesn’t want to bother with local politics. Heck, I don’t know who my school trustee is.
In fact, why not get so efficient we get rid of politicians altogether and have one person responsible for decision-making? Oh yeah, that’s the sort of thing that Vladimir Putin does, and that hasn’t worked out so well.